Tunbridge Wells local, Leonora Langley is the author of Let The Souls of Our Children Sing. Leonora, who writes about the importance of mental health in youth, gives us a taster of her book ahead of the Tunbridge Wells Literary Festival this May.

I am delighted to be participating in this year’s Tunbridge Literary Festival (as one of a group of local writers who will be presenting their books for the Local Writers Fair on Friday 12th May at the Amelia Scott from 11.00-4.00 pm).

I feel my new book, ‘Let The Souls of Our Children Sing’, about the vital importance of nurturing emotional well-being in the young, (copies of which are available at The Amelia and Tonbridge Libraries) has a strong link with the pioneering work of local social reformer and campaigner Amelia Scott who did much to focus on the needs of young mothers and children. Her name lives on in the new integrated building ‘The Amelia’ in Tunbridge Wells housing a range of arts, heritage, culture and well-being services.

I have had thirty years experience as a teacher, most recently at Bennett Memorial Diocesan School where I was a peripatetic piano teacher for six years, 15 years as a counsellor/psychotherapist and support worker/supervisor with Cruse Bereavement Care, as well as 13 years as an international journalist, most notably in Los Angeles, as a creator/editor of a lifestyle magazine for the Hollywood Reporter and West Coast Editor of Elle USA, the fashion magazine,   during which time I interviewed a vast array of celebrities and executives in the entertainment industry.

In ‘Let The Souls of Our Children Sing’, which has taken me a lifetime to bring to fruition and is the only book I ever wanted to write, I highlight the increasing amount of pressure we are placing on our children, leading to unprecedented levels of stress, anxiety and depression.  With one in six children now suffering from an identifiable mental health issue and 12.3% with a special need, I would go further in my belief that most children in our present society have a special need to a greater or lesser degree.

The first half of my book focuses on parents as educators and the second half on mainstream education as it is (‘an exam factory’) and as it might be (‘an opportunity for young people to develop as free-thinking, spiritually-enlightened and emotionally-responsive, integrated human beings’). Since the 1870s, mainstream education has concentrated on academic achievement, a nineteenth century model emphasising cognition and logic, because it can be counted and measured, and not nearly enough on children’s emotional well-being and soul development which is beyond measure.  The existing anachronistic structure desperately needs a new paradigm. Parents and teachers need to work together in raising their consciousness to help children increase self-awareness, self-esteem, self-compassion and self-love, with the ultimate aim of them reaching self-actualisation as described by humanistic psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.

At a time when arts education is seen as an increasingly marginal activity in state schooling, I argue that it is only by putting children’s innate creativity and curiosity at the heart of our educational mission that we can hope to re-engage the vast number of young people switched off from the current system and avoid the poverty of imagination and the absence of hope which are the root causes of so many contemporary ills.

Don’t miss Leonora Langley at the Tunbridge Wells Literary Festival, Thursday 11 – Sunday 14 May 2023!