English teachers often fantasise about being writers. Nothing outrageous, just small scale reveries about winning the Booker Prize or hobnobbing with McEwan in Bloomsbury. I always did wonder how it would feel seeing your name on the spine of a book in Waterstones. And now I can tell you - it’s fun.
Mind you, my books are about the work of others - study guides and literary criticism. Sometimes my name doesn’t get credited. I’ll not be troubling the Longlist. Writers like me don’t recline on the chaise longue, popping a cork with one’s agent, darling. Truth is, I write after a day at school once the kids are in bed but before the milkman arrives. It’s hard work and the financial rewards don’t reflect the time or effort, but it’s a brilliant labour of love.
In days past, I’d often photocopy chunks of textbooks for my students without ever considering it an issue. I’ve discovered it is. What it essentially means is that the small rewards that I might get for those long nights writing after work don’t arrive. In the 80s, I used to make tape recording of records. They called it piracy. You might also remember the ads tacked onto the front of 90s DVDs where threatening monochrome images made it quite clear that people who copied films were heading for Hades.
The music world has changed. Recordings are just a means of promoting bands. But the musicians who write and perform in those spheres become wealthy on the back of these products. It’s not the same for a humble writer. Copyright payments are a small but important source of reward for the long night hours.
Neglecting to acknowledge the source of those photocopies for your A level class is easy. It’s anonymous, because it’s difficult to see who might be disadvantaged. Truth is, it’s people like me, like your colleagues. Next time you’re melting the photocopier, spend a minute acknowledging the material. It would be much appreciated.
About the Author
Graham Elsdon is an author and teacher in Newcastle. Find out more at www.theenglishline.com