YA author Non Pratt had her head shaved by fellow writers at the Young Adult Literature Convention (YALC) after raising almost £3,000 for a neurodisability charity.
Actor Benedict Cumberbatch was caught gaping at the spectacle on Saturday (29th July) with an expression of such shock that the image became a “Twitter moment”.
Pratt said that the experience at the two-day event, part of London Film and Comic Con in Olympia, meant she would “never underestimate the power of the YA and children’s book community again”.
She revealed her intention - to shave her head at YALC if she raised £2,000 for the Royal Hospital of Neuro-disability - at the launch of her novel, Truth or Dare (Walker Books), at Waterstones Piccadilly on 8th June. She had conducted extensive research at the facility in London's Putney during her research for the book which features a character with a traumatic brain injury. Around 200 people watched and shouted messages of support as the author had her head shaved.
Pratt told The Bookseller: “After this year’s YALC, I will never underestimate the power of the YA and children’s book community again. Going into the weekend, with nothing more than a few tweets and a blog, we’d already exceeded the target and by the end of the weekend, we’ve raised £2,785 for the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability. On Saturday a huge crowd stayed on after the last event to watch Melinda Salisbury, Carlie Sorosiak and David Owen (among others) shaving my head – and were rewarded by a fly-by Benedict Cumberbatch appearance.”
However, Pratt revealed that a young fan’s reaction had moved her the most. She said: “All of this has been magnificent, but the thing that will stay with me forever is meeting a young reader on the Sunday who told me that she was so happy that I was raising awareness, because she herself has neurodisability. In truth, this was never really about doing a dare, it was about people: I have less hair now and the Royal Hospital for Neuro-disability has more money, and that feels right."
When "Sherlock" actor Cumberbatch walked in on the head-shaving, his expression of surprise was captured and published on Twitter. It was later retweeted by Twitter Moments, the social media site's feed which “curates stories showcasing the very best of what’s happening on Twitter” and is customised to show the most popular or relevant experiences on the site. Cumberbatch attended the London Film and Comic Con as part of his work publicising the film Doctor Strange, which he stars in.
The @UKMoments feed tweeted: “TFW [that feel when] you're having your head shaved for charity and Benedict Cumberbatch stops by for a look. #YALC #LFCC.”
The Teeside-born author was inspired to help the hospital, based in Putney, after researching the character of Kam for Truth or Dare, who must live with the after effects of a traumatic brain injury after surviving an accident. Kam’s brother, Sef, and his friend Claire raise money so that Kam can stay in his rehabilitation unit, by taking truth or dare suggestions on their Youtube channel, one of which is a dare for Claire to shave her head.
She described her experiences of the research in her blog for The Bookseller earlier this monthand revealed her concern over “inspiration porn”. She said: “In the beginning, I believed that my job as a writer was to depict Kam’s character without veering into mawkishness or the troublesome trope of inspiration porn [a tendency to reduce people with disabilities to objects of inspiration] that is dangerous at worst and patronising at best. By the end, I realised this was not enough.”
She added: “Eighteen months of writing about teenagers who feel responsible for changing as much of the world as they can has made me realise that I have a responsibility to do the same.”
Pratt has raised the money from a combination of her JustGiving page, a fundraising YA pub quiz at YALC on Friday evening which had 11 YA authors as team captains, and from cash donations made at the two-day event, which first took place in 2014.
The JustGiving page will remain open until end of August.