Three writers, three countries, and two ants

Over 100 countries participate each year in World Book Day on 23 April, the annual UNESCO celebration of reading and writing. This year, L’Arche spotlights three members, each with their own exciting literary flair: Felix Scholz from Landsberg (Germany), Gemma Dachs from Els Avets (Spain) and Martynas Šimkus from Vilnius (Lithuania).

But they are just three of many, in fact, whose diverse creative talents are increasingly being recognised in their own countries and beyond. In their own unique way, each author shows that far from limiting a person‘s imagination, an intellectual disability can in reality be a springboard for an exceptionally direct and vivid life experience, which they well convey in words – and sometimes with illustrations too.

Orphan’s share by Martynas Šimkus
(English Translation)

Oh, the orphan‘s share,
Mummy won’t come back,
I’m sorry, oh how terribly sorry,
She’s being sheltered by the earth.

I wish I could, I wish I could,
live in true happiness,
There’s no more houses left
I feel the misery in my heart.

It seems that everything has fallen apart,
I wish I could meet you
I can hear her voice,
feel her warmth,
hold her head.

Like an autumn leaf,
Which has fallen unhappily,
She failed to survive.
And you are a cruel fate,
My true fate
There’s no saving her.

Like Martynas Šimkus, Felix Scholz‘ poetic voice rings out clearly even in translation. He looks forward to ‘making it big’ and was delighted that his poem, ‘Waking up’ was selected for inclusion in an anthology after he won a German national literary prize.

Waking up by Felix Scholz
(English translation)

Many kinds.
Tits, I especially like.
In the morning, I hear the birds singing.
My window is tilted, at an angle.
Then, I too am awake.

In a way, waking up was what launched Gemma Dachs into writing even as a young child. A serious car accident had sent her into a deep coma. Even after finally regaining consciousness after 64 days, she had a long path to recovery ahead of her. Not being one to waste an opportunity, Gemma learnt to use the time to develop her observational skills. One day, she saw two ants that appeared to be helping each other. She thought this was so cute, she decided to make a note of it. When she showed that to her mum, the immediate response was ‘Keep writing, Gemma!’

That simple word of encouragement decades ago set Gemma on a path that continues to this day. Since her 20s, she’s invested a lot more time in developing her talent. With pen and ink long since replaced by her computer, Gemma publishes her thoughts, stories and poetry on her own blog:

Read, for instance, Gemma’s sharp insight into the contrasts of Christmas: (translated from her native Catalan)

Christmas. What a festive word for some who
Only think about skiing, gifts,
Eating fish or seafood, with nougat, wafers on
Marzipan… And on New Year’s Eve eat grapes when they play the
Twelve chimes in the middle of the night shouting ‘Happy New Year!’ And
Then waiting if you win the lottery and if not… another time.
Then back to work and continuing with the same routine.

For me, Christmas is not or shouldn’t be that way.
I think Christmas is the day a child was born
Called Jesus, son of the Virgin Mary and a carpenter,
Called Joseph. And everybody was going to see him
In Bethlehem, bringing him some kind of present. And he goes
On to die at the age of thirty-three, crucified to save the world, and
Whom many thought was crazy.
That’s why I think instead of just thinking about spending
Money, we should think about things that have nothing to do with
Clothes, or eating, or places to sleep. Be more
Human. And do as we would like to be done to.
And helping others doesn’t last
Just one day, but a lifetime.


And Gemma’s advice for all the other potential writers out there:
“Tell them not to feel afraid; to go ahead; I had never imagined I would write down my feelings and thoughts; but it helps me a lot to write – not least as a good way of dealing with stress; when I am stressed I start writing- and before I know it, I am relaxed again!”

If today, we are fortunate in being able to enjoy the writings of Gemma, Felix and Martynas, this is due to two reasons above all: first and most obviously, their own raw talent. But also –vitally- the encouragement of others around them. Such encouragement – in all our lives- is about building the self-confidence we need to risk something new, to try out a new skill. But one can also ask: for the lack of such encouragement, how many talents sadly remain dormant?

So this year, let’s make World Book Day a chance to take a deep dive into the pool of fantastic talents that are just waiting to be discovered, brought to the surface and given a chance to shine. And then, who knows what surprises will be in store for next year’s World Book Day?

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