Empathy Day was established by not-for-profit EmpathyLab, who are on a mission to inspire the rising generation to drive a new empathy movement. On 9 June they will host a day of brilliant online events and home-based celebrations to help children READ, CONNECT AND ACT using empathy. Today I am delighted to welcome Stewart Foster to the blog to mark the countdown to this year’s Empathy Day. Stewart’s book, ‘Check Mates,’ is included in Empathy Lab’s Read for Empathy Collection, he has chosen an extract from his book and tells us why he feel it’s a powerful read to develop empathy.
Check Mates – Stewart Foster
Empathy in Writing – Is It Okay to Pray Only When You Want Something?
I’m going to start with an apology, because I find it very hard to analyse my own writing, what did I do? What did I try to do? Because the truth is, I just sat down and wrote, putting myself in Felix’s position, as I did for the whole six months it took to write the book. You see, empathy is not something I consciously switch on and engage. It’s something that is always there, and it arrives as sure as my heart will perform its next beat.
In this excerpt, Is It Okay to Pray Only When You Want Something, Felix is desperately worried about his granddad, who is ill in hospital. The only way Felix can reconcile his feelings, is to compare it with the devastation he felt when his grandma died. And I think this is something we all, do. It doesn’t matter if it’s your pet hamster, or dog – it is something that affects us greatly when we lose them. I know, up until recently, the most upset I’d ever been was when my dog, Ted, died. I can’t say I consciously thought about that when I wrote the scene, but it is certainly something that was stored in my emotional bank.
As with the rest of Check Mates, Felix does not want you to feel sorry for him, he just wants you to understand. He copes by remembering nice things about his granddad, like the chess pieces, and German sausages. Things that he once found irritating about his granddad, are now the things he misses most. I think that is something that is true for all of us. When his mum tries to comfort him, she does so by recalling the ‘funny’ if irritating things, Felix’s granddad used to do. People often tell me that my writing is funny and sad at the same time and I think humour plays a big part in empathy. It’s always okay to smile, when someone is down, feeling in need of help, and when Felix’s mum says, ‘He’ll (Granddad) will soon be picking you up again from school in his pink car.’ That’s her trying to say to Felix, that she ‘gets’ how he is feeling, but trying to cheer him up at the same time.
And that is about it. In the same way you can’t push yourself to give empathy, I can’t push myself to analyse what I do. Because in both cases, if you force something too much, it will come out as being false. Writing, like empathy, is a delicate balance. Yes, you can understand how someone feels, yes you can help, but the most important thing I take from this is that you can offer all the above, but the most important aspect of all, is to allow people space to breathe. And I hope, that is something you can appreciate, not just in my books, but also those in the #readingforempathy recommendations.
To read the extract, click on the link below
Thank you to Stewart for his thoughtful guest post today and for sharing an extract with us. If you want to find out more about, ‘Check Mates,’ you can read my review.
Empathy Day 2020
For the first time this year, EmpathyLab will host its Empathy Day programme online to support families at home. Events on 9 June will begin at 9:30am with Children’s Laureate and best-selling author Cressida Cowell, who will introduce Empathy Day. The day’s activities, designed to introduce children to the concept and importance of empathy and how to put it into action, include a draw-along with Rob Biddulph, a poetry challenge with Sarah Crossan, Empathy Charades with Joseph Coelho, exercises on listening with Jo Cotterill and Robin Stevens, before rounding up the day with an activity on putting empathy into action with Onjali Rauf and Sita Brahmachari. Finally, an evening event with Cressida Cowell, Muhammad Khan and psychologist Professor Robin Banerjee aimed at parents, teachers and librarians will address the science that drives EmpathyLab.
The full programme can be found HERE https://bit.ly/EmpathyDay2020
Thank you to Fritha and the EmpathyLab for inviting me to join in with the blog tour for Empathy Day. You can meet some of more of this year’s authors on the other blog stops.