Paul Stephenson is a 36-year-old English writer, illustrator, and artist with varied interests (gun and sword collecting, carnivorous plants…you know, the usual). As a writer his work has been seen in various publications: Maleficent Magazine, Freedom with Writing Magazine, and, possibly his most important work to date, a short story in the charity anthology Still Me, a collection of written works about Alzheimers (available at www.amazon.co.uk and www.pewter.rose.press.co.uk). Paul didn’t let his charity work stop there; he’s currently at the helm of another anthology, Sticks and Stones and Stories and Poems, a book aimed at raising awareness of bullying. The anthology, which is still in production, contains poems, short stories, and flash fiction all centered around the subject of bullying, whether from the perspective of the victim or the bullies themselves. Proceeds from the British sales of the anthology will go to Kidscape, a British anti-bullying charity. Paul took time from his busy schedule to talk with us about the anthology and his charity efforts.
First off, tell our readers about the Scribes for Lives anti-bullying anthology project, Sticks and Stones and Stories and Poems, and how it came to be. Where did the idea of the anthology come from?
“The idea, an anthology of poetry, short stories, and flash fiction published for the benefit of a charity with all profits going straight to said charity, came from reading an extract of a poem, ‘I Give Up,’ that was published in a newspaper last year here in the UK by a young girl, Izzy Dix. It was published because the poor girl had killed herself because of the ignorant and relentless bullying of kids in her school. I scrolled through the internet looking for the rest of the poem, and after reading it it kind of lit of fire in me. I started looking for fellow authors to join me in creating an anthology to spread awareness of the horrific consequences such thoughtless behavior can bring.
I contacted Kidscape (https://www.kidscape.org.uk/), a UK charity, and proposed the anthology project to their head of fund raising, Nikki Kerr, who was very interested in the project, which is basically a group of authors from the US and UK writing stories and poems to highlight the problems caused by bullying and shed light upon the seriousness of it all.”
And what can you tell us about Kidscape?
“Kidscape is a UK charity that helps equip children and parents with the necessary skills to help tackle bullying. They offer anti-bullying advice to concerned parents, Free Workshops for Bullied Children, How to Deal with Cyber Bullying, Training for Professionals, and various other projects to help raise money for the cause and awareness of the seriousness of the problems that can arise from bullying.”
How did Scribes for Lives become involved with Kidscape?
“It was really as simple as: I was searching for an anti-bullying charity on the internet and I came across Kidscape, read about them and what they do, and decided that I would like to help. Although all the other charities I’d come across were as worthwhile this was the most well-known, and with them involved in such a project the book would get better publicity and therefore make more money for the cause.”
What are some of the goals of the project?
“The main goals for the project are to raise money for the charity and, through our writing, to really highlight the problems caused by bullying in the minds of those who may have to deal with it at some point, or are dealing with it now. Through the fictional situations we create I hope that readers will relate to the characters, their situations, and how they deal with the problems, and therefore take away the mental tools that might help them, either now or in the future. Some parents and children simply ignore it all, hoping it just goes away – as it sometimes does – but the after-effects associated with being bullied or bullying, depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, antisocial/narcissistic, violent tendencies, do not just go away in a lot of cases and can ruin lives completely.”
Who is the target audience?
“Our main target readership are children, parents, teachers, carers, and basically anyone aged fifteen and above (some of the content may not be suitable for readers below this age). I feel that this issue simply is not highlighted and tackled as it should be. There seems to be somewhat of a stigma attached to being bullied that stems from the bullying itself – the victims are made to think it is their own fault, they are in the wrong, they should be ashamed – and they don’t come forward to get the help they need. It is not just fear of the bullies that keeps the victims silent. It can be shame, or even pride.
Obviously, this book won’t solve the overall problem, but we hope that it may help underscore the issues for those who may simply brush them off as ‘everyday occurrences that all must deal with at some point.’ I believe this is simply not the case and there is no need for it all.”
How do you plan to spread the word about the project?
“The publisher, the charity, and us authors will all do our part when it comes to marketing and as you say, ‘getting word out.’ It also helps with such projects to have celebrity endorsement and I’m currently in talks (although, sadly, right now I’m doing most of the talking) with a very well-known band to see if they will offer their endorsement of the anthology project. Obviously I cannot name the band as they have not officially offered their endorsement; however, from the band member’s reaction to our proposal (‘I will definitely mention it to the other girls x It does sound interesting and if we can help, that would be ace x Let me bring it up to them and I’ll get back to you’), I’m quite confident about getting them on board. I understand they are still on tour at the moment, so can forgive the delay as I wait, biting my fingers down to the knuckles.”
What can readers expect to see in the anthology when it’s published?
“We have quite an array of authors and styles working on the project, and also a very talented artist who we have for the cover art – there may be more art included in the anthology – and the stories and poetry will cover the ‘anti-bullying’ theme from a number of different perspectives and fictional situations to show the problem itself, problems associated with bullying, and how such problems can be dealt with as well as the issues that may arise from not dealing with it all. We do cover a lot of schoolyard type stories and poems, but we also face the more hidden adult side bullying and problems that may and do arise from thoughtless behavior towards others.”
What types of bullying are covered in the project so far?
“Like I said, so far we have covered a lot of schoolyard type stuff, but also there are stories that deal with the more ‘adult’ themed issues, and there are more being written at the minute for consideration as well as stories covering ‘cyber bullying’ and other such technological methods used by bullies to target the vulnerable. We have also covered issues from the bully’s point of view and hope to highlight some of the reasons why these bullies do what they do. I feel it’s just as important an issue to deal with bullying from the source(s) as it is to help those who are being bullied.”
Are the stories and poems in the anthology based on real experiences, fiction, or both?
“This is entirely up to the authors; as it is as to whether or not to disclose if the stories are based on real events and situations. I do not ask them as such things are a private issue . . . however, the best fiction does come from personal experience, and I can admit that some of the stories I have written myself are loosely based on what I myself have witnessed, but fictionalized and changed so much as to not be recognized as memories.”
Have you yourself experienced bullying?
“Yes, I have, from both sides of it. I have been bullied and – I’m ashamed to admit – I have also bullied others in my youth. Of course, at the time I did not see some of the things as bullying – though I have openly and aggressively bullied in my younger years – but now I can see how some of my words and actions could have negatively affected others . . . perhaps in some way this project is an act of atonement? Hmm…”
How did you find the authors and poets that are contributing to the anthology?
“I’ve put together a similar project in the past: ‘Still Me’, published with Pewter Rose Press (http://www.pewter-rose-press.com/) for the benefit of The Alzheimers Society (https://www.alzheimers.org.uk/london) and some of the authors from this project came over to join me with this one. However, as such things happen, some of these authors drifted off and were too occupied in other things to fully commit. I then used Facebook to find other authors and asked them to submit samples of their work, and I chose from the best of them to write for the project.”
What has been the most challenging aspect of gathering and organizing such a diverse group of writers into this collection?
“Choosing from the many who submitted work to me was very difficult, and then refusing some of the authors and asking them to be on standby, to be chosen from a list based on the strength of their work if any of the others quit the project, was quite awkward; however, most were happy to do so. But I suppose the most difficult aspect of such a project through social media is rallying everyone to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done, and contacting everyone when I need to. We all have lives outside of this project, and with such things life tends to get in the way. It’s slow going, but the progress is visible.”
Despite the somber theme of the project, what has been the most fun and rewarding part of it all?
“The most rewarding part of any such project for us (the authors) is the finale, when we are holding our author’s copy of the book. Up until then, I suppose the most rewarding part of any such project is the writing itself; this is what makes such projects, as well as benefiting such a worthy cause, really worthwhile and helps us move forward. If you gather a group of writers and ask them to do what they love doing – writing – then the project can only be a success . . . the only thing holding us back/slowing us down is the difficulty of the subject matter and really making the works stand out among the rest. Each story and poem must stand alone, cover the subject matter, leave you (the readers) thinking about the situations and the conclusions, satisfied and yet wanting more, and each must also encourage further delving into the works after. Very challenging, but us authors do love a challenge.”
If you had one overall message to give to readers, what would that message be?
“Well . . . erm, this is a tough one. I’m trying not to sound too clichéd. I suppose the anthology project in itself would be the overall message: (here comes the cliché) ‘Think before you speak, and/or act; put yourself in their shoes, whether you be the bullied, the bully, or just the passer-by on the street who sees this kind of thing happening. It will never stop if no one is willing to put a stop to it.”