Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Voices From the Mill

Yesterday I visited Marple Library (Stockport MBC) to hand over the first prize for the Flashback Fiction short story which we have been running as part of Pages Ago. The winner was Joyce Reed who is a writer of poetry and short stories with some previous success in competitions. You can see some of her earlier work on her own website as well as her winning story on our own Promotions page.

Chatting to Joyce yesterday I discovered that although already experienced in writing as well as running the annual Marple Writing Competition, which attracts 100s of entries from around the world, she had found time to attend the Marple Festival/Pages Ago workshop led by Jo Bell held in September. It was at this workshop she found out about and was inspired to enter, Flashback Fiction. So well done to Jo too for inspiring a worthy winner.

If you read Joyce's story you will see that it is very short and the language is pure poetry. Patricia Duncker, an established writer and academic who judged the short-listed entries said that in short, short fiction every word needs to count. Certainly from all the entries received, Joyce's story stood out for its imaginative and thoughtful language which brings the historical context to life.

You can read this story as well as the runner up and the winners in the under-16 age group on our Promotions page.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Looking back

With rumours that publishers are currently less willing than they used to be to take a risk on new writers, it is perhaps no coincidence that the new year will see the reissue of the works of 2 formerly best-selling historical authors.

Jean M Auel's
The Clan of the Cave Bear was first published in the UK in 1980. Her story, set before the Ice Age, speculates on the possibility of interaction between Neanderthal and Cro-Magnon people. The story opens with an earthquake which orphans a 5 year old child who is found and cared for by the eponymous Neanderthal clan.

4 other titles have followed in the Earth's Children series , which will all be reissued early in 2011, heralding the publication of the 6th and final new volume The Land of Painted Caves in March.
This will conclude the story of Ayla, her mate Jondalar, and their little daughter, Jonayla.

Jean M. Auel's books are reputed to be tremendously well researched and have a loyal fanbase. The series so far has sold tens of millions copies world wide and the 3rd title in the series The Mammoth Hunters (1985) was the first hardcover title ever to achieve a 1st printing of more than a million. I wonder how many are planned for no 6?

Plans have also reached me of a reprint of Mary Stewart's backlist, coming from Hodder. Mary Stewart, now well into her nineties isn't publishing a new title, but her backlist definitely deserves to reach new readers. Her Merlin and Arthurian series, as well as those set in 15th Century Scotland certainly enthused me to read historical fiction more than many another writer.

Friday, 5 November 2010

No Redemption- remembering the miners' strike

I helped with an event last night which took place at the Working Class History Library in Salford. That's a very interesting venue if you haven't been there already. Just ring the doorbell and someone will let you in (during their opening hours). Currently has a special Michael Foot exhibition on.

Last night's event was to promote a book of photos taken during the Miners' Strike in 1984/5 in Easington (Co.Durham) by Keith Pattison. He thought it would be good if they could be published to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the strike, as many hadn't been seen before. His publisher suggested David Peace, author of GB 84, a novel about the strike, would be an appropriate person to write the introduction. David was keen to be involved and suggested a return trip to Easington on Election Day (May 2010) where they carried out interviews with people who had been directly involved in the strike.

The resulting book, No Redemption (Flambard Press 2010) is impressive, as was last night's presentation which included a short film and readings by David Peace along with actress Maxine Peake.

David spoke passionately about his motivations for writing GB 84, as well as for getting involved in No Redemption. Keith and David both seemed pleased that the publication of No Redemption was providing opportunities for remembering such a key period in our relatively recent past, at a time when communities and life as we know it seem once more to be politically threatened.

The annexe of the Library was packed for the event which had been sponsored and organised by Unison as part of their "In Touch with Roots" campaign. This campaign is remembering key campaigns in Trade Union history and fits well with our own library "Pages Ago " promotion. Frank Hunt, the regional secretary of Unison spoke with conviction about the continuing value of Trade Unions and singled out libraries as a service which must be fought for.

Sweetens bookshop from Bolton sold lots of copies of No Redemption as well as a range of titles by David Peace, and both signed copies and chatted for some time after the formal talking was done.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Tatton Park- family book day

Tatton Park's Tenants' Hall was the venue for a day of family activities last weekend. The whole day offered opportunities to have a go at writing and drawing history- historical characters and stories.

That Poetry Bloke, Craig Bradley warmed up the audience and got them thinking about words; illustrator Matt Buckingham described the processes involved in illustrating childrens' history books as well as doing a Rolf Harris act and creating some instant characters; storyteller Amy Douglas mesmerised with her tellings of traditional folk tales; author Jim Eldridge got the audience to create an instant history story- this one a wartime story about the only bomb to fall on Stockport in WW2. Alongside all this children could draw, make badges and find out about how people wrote through the centuries with the help of Janet Bradshaw.

Comments on the day included: Great event! Something for all the children. We loved the storytelling & the badge-making. We’ve gone home with lots of great ideas. I loved the drawing & the story was really good and Really enjoyable for adults & kids

Monday, 18 October 2010

Historical Readers Day raises the temperature

Almost 100 keen readers packed a very warm room in the Mechanics'Institute, Manchester, eager to take part in the Pages Ago Historical Readers Day, programmed in partnership with Manchester Literature Festival and the Historical Novels Society. The audience was a happy mix of readers and writers- some with an expert interest in historical fiction and some attending a readers' event for the first time.

Alison Weir gave a keynote speech, in which she outlined her writing career, explaining how she now alternates writing biography with a linked fiction. Over the course of this talk she covered some of the key debates which dominate the territory- does historical fiction "dumb history down"? how much imagination is it OK to use? How do you fill in gaps in knowledge credibly?

This led seemlessly into a panel debate facilitated by Jerome de Groot. Describing the panel of Alison Weir, Douglas Jackson, Robyn Young, Maria McCann and Sarah Dunant as the "dream team" he asked them each to talk from their perspective about the renewed and very current popularity of historical fiction. A question about historical romance led to an impassioned conversation about researching sexual behaviour in the past. There is what we are told happened and what we can learn from pictures , but much harder to know is what actually went on.

It is what actually happened to ordinary people which is of most interest to most authors of contemporary historical fiction and everything has to be credible within what is known about the period. Passions ran high as each writer talked enthusiastically about their own work.

Following this very inspirational discussion everyone dipersed to lunch then into separate workshop sessions with the individual writers. These were intended to give participants opportunities to find out more about writers and their work. Our "celebrity" panel were joined by 4 other published writers who led workshops on specific aspects of historical writing; Adele Geras spoke on writing history for young people, Mary Sharratt talked about being inspired by place, Sarah Mallory talked on research for historical romance and Andrew Martin covered creating atmosphere.

People bought books, had them signed, met the writers as well as friends. The atmosphere was lively and the impression of an enjoyable and spirited day lingered in the room .

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Mounting Excitement

Two busy weekends are approaching.

Lots of Pages Ago activity around the North West currently. Library staff are so busy delivering events, they aren't finding the time to tell me very much about them. I'll see if I can get some feedback in to post here very soon.

In the meantime, those of you with children aged 7-11yrs should note our Pages Ago Family Day taking place at Tatton Park on Saturday 23rd October. There will be lots of reading and writing-related activity taking place in the Tenants' Hall with NW Library staff on hand to encourage participation.

Children will find out about researching, illustrating and writing about historical characters and events. They will have the chance to make up poetry, listen to stories and browse books. Parents will also enjoy all this I'm sure and be able to take part in our quiz.

Normal Park entry charges apply, with no additional costs for the Big Family Book Day.

Don't forget the Pages Ago Readers' Day and the Bernard Cornwell Book Launch both taking place on Saturday 16th October. Book your tickets now. Details at Manchester Literature Festival

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Looking forward to....

Time is marching on and there are lots of good things coming up over the next few weeks. This is just a selection:

19th Sept Jane Eagland talks about her cross-over novel Wildthorn in Bolton Council's Smithills Hall.

24th Sept Mary Sharratt runs a creative writing workshop in Blackburn's Museum, using some of their artefacts as inspiration.

Tameside libraries have a whole programme of historical activities going on, including on 28th Sept academic and historical fiction expert Jerome de Groot leads a readers discussion of Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels in Tameside's Hyde Library

16th October- a historical readers' day at the Mechanics Institute in Manchester. An opportunity to hear, talk to and meet a host of writers- Sarah Dunant, Alison Weir, Douglas Jackson, Robyn Young, Maria McCann, Adele Geras, Andrew Martin, Mary Sharratt, Sarah Mallory - and who knows who else will be in the audience?

Then in the evening a unique opportunity to hear Bernard Cornwell launch his latest book The Fort Details of how to book for both these can be found on the Manchester Literature Festival website.

If you have stamina and want to make a weekend of it, the next day the Historical Novel Society annual conference is at the same venue.

23rd October, one week on and we host a big Family event at Tatton Park. This is a day full of activities for children all focused on the history of writing and hopefully inspiring participants to read and write more.

26th October and more to go to in Cheshire East as archaeologist Stephen Dean presents an illustrated talk in Macclesfield Library about the now famous anglo-saxon Staffordshire Hoard.

The Flashback Fiction writing competition runs to October 31st and Pages Ago events run on to the end of November.

I hope to write up something about all these events as they happen, but I do hope to see lots of other people at them as well.

Friday, 3 September 2010

More writers discovered

On Saturday I attended an event in Liverpool, set up by Liverpool Libraries in partnership with the World Museum. The location was timely as some Central Library services have just moved on to the 2nd Floor of The World Museum, while their own building next door has closed for a major refurbishment.

Two Transworld published authors, Nick Drake and Paul Sussman,came along with their publicist Ben Willis to talk about their latest titles, both of which feature Ancient Egypt. The event was enhanced by the availability of Ancient Egyptian handling objects from the museum service.

Ben questioned both writers about their writing careers and their fascination with Ancient Egypt and gave them the opportunity to describe and read from their books. While both are passionate about the ancient past, their books and writing styles are very different which made for a lively discussion.

With a background in archaeology, and making his real living from Journalism Paul Sussman's title The Hidden Oasis links a contemporary suspense story with a mystery from the ancient past.
Believable characters, fascinating history and an evocative sense of place - especially Cairo and the dry heat of the Sahara. There's nothing dry about the visceral violence and thrilling action scenes, however, and best of all is the terrifying secret at the heart of the story - The Hidden Oasis itself. Michael Cordy, author of The Messiah Code

As a real archaeologist and someone who still spends 2 months every year in Egypt, Paul's attention to detail and accuracy is impressive. He told us how he broke an arm in 5 places earlier this year while trying to obtain a photograph which would give him the detail he needs to give his writing authenticity.

Nick Drake's style is more reflective of his other life as a poet and winner of the Foward Prize for best first collection in 1999. At this event he was promoting his second novel to be set wholly in Ancient Egypt, Tutankhamun . While Tutankhamun is a name we all know from our limited awareness of Egyptian history, in reality little is known about this character beyond the wonderful artefacts which were found in his tomb. As in his first novel Nefertiti, Nick Drake has been blessed with the opportunity to invent plausible solutions to real mysteries, while using his poet's ear for language to convey his stories.

I brought both books away with me and am looking forward to reading them as soon as possible. This was a great example of how hearing writers speak about their work can inspire readers to want to read books they didn't know about before they arrived.

Both writers and audience alike took the opportunity to look at some of Liverpool's World Museum's fantastic Egyptology collection. Through this event the library service has strengthened its link with the Museum Service and given the current increasing public interest in history and archaeology, there will surely be other mutually appropriate events which could be arranged in the future.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Historical Fiction gets academic

I must thank US blogger Sarah Johnson for highlighting 2 interesting articles in the recent UK press which discuss Historical Fiction. Pages Ago is all about finding links between factual and fiction books, so seeing a current debate in the press is rewarding.

In the Independent Saul David illustrates the potential difficulty academic historians such as himself face when trying to turn to writing fiction. His particular struggle seems to focus on the amount of accurate detail it is appropriate to include and what sorts of detail bring fictional writing to life.
Historical facts are the vital framework around which non-fiction writers construct their narratives; they are, quite simply, indispensable. Yet now I was being told that if I wanted to write decent historical fiction I had to avoid being constrained by events as they actually happened.

Eventually I saw the sense of this. I wasn't being asked to sacrifice historical accuracy per se. Just to accept that a historical novel, or any novel for that matter, stands or falls on plot and characterisation; period detail is important, but only in so far as it gives a sense of authenticity. It must remain in the background and never be allowed to dominate the story.

It was gratifying to see that 2 of the authors he quotes have both appeared in NW libraries recently. Kate Williams- see blog entry for 15th July and Harry Sidebottom- see blog entry 5th August. Both these writers are academic historians who discovered that they needed to research new aspects of history to animate their fictions- essentially in both cases, the domestic detail, sights, sounds, smells of the periods they are imagining.

We must read Saul David's book Zulu Hart for ourselves to see whether or not his cross-over from academia has been successful.

The other article was from A.N Wilson in The Financial Times
He takes Wolf Hall as his starting point but also points us towards other recently published novels such as Sacred Treason by James Forrester (aka Dr Ian Mortimer) and The Courier's Tale by Peter Walker. He highlights the same issue as Saul David above, saying
If reading a work of history is like being guided round an old house by an expert, reading a good historical novel offers the illusion that we have stepped back in time to inhabit that house with its original residents.

He is less convinced by Phillipa Gregory's The Red Queen but seems in sympathy with her approach to challenging accepted historical fact. In a lengthy article which points us towards a number of older books and writers, Wilson celebrates Historical Fiction for its imaginative and creative use of historical fact.

These books surely contribute not merely to our enjoyment but to our historical understanding. Mantel, too, has shown that the phenomenon of genuine historical understanding conveyed by art still has effectiveness. Perhaps, then, the ideal holiday reading would be one history book for every historical novel – David Starkey’s volumes on Henry VIII, alongside Wolf Hall. Or you might decide that you have had enough of “Enerey the Eighth” for one summer and turn back to War and Peace.

I think A.N Wilson might like our Pages Ago promotion!

Monday, 23 August 2010

Holidays are over, the future is almost here

My re-awakened interest in history was indulged on a trip to The Trossachs last week. As well as lots of fresh air on some not-too steep hill walks, we also visited Stirling and Doune castles which couldn't have been more different from each other, as well as the towering Wallace Monument which can be seen across a huge area. We used the very informative audio-guides on visits, but still came away with questions which need to be followed up., so Neil Oliver's History of Scotland should be a good starting point. If I still want more, Christopher Winn's I Never Knew That About Scotland, sounds entertaining and Nigel Tranter's The Wallace, though old now, sounds as if it would satisfy my need for fiction.

I was delighted to find a copy of the brochure for Manchester Literature Festival on my desk this morning. Saturday 16th October is going to be a very indulgent day for anyone who loves reading history. You can find full details of the readers' day, the historical & literary pub walk and the visit by Bernard Cornwell here. Book now to be sure of your places.

Thursday, 5 August 2010

Warrior of Rome

Harry Sidebottom isn't the most glamorous name a best selling novelist or senior academic classicist could have, but Harry is proud of his name and was determined that it was the one he wanted on the cover of his books, when offered a 3 book deal by Penguin.

This was just one of the personal asides offered during 2 talks given yesterday on a visit to Macclesfield and Bury Libraries to launch no 3 in the Warrior of Rome series Lion of the Sun. Harry spoke with honesty and humour about the apparent ease with which he got published, the downsides of academic life (yes, even at Oxford), some of the plotting and character decisions he took in planning this series and some of his literary heroes ( Patrick O'Brian and Mary Renault are top of his tree). All of this underplayed his expert scholarship and facility with language, which has so obviously contributed to making his books into the best sellers they are. Lion in the Sun has gone straight into the top five best seller rankings and is the current Waterstone's book of the week.

The Warrior of Rome novels are set during the great crisis of the Roman empire in the mid-Third Century AD and Harry admitted that this period has not had much written about it. Easy therefore to write what he wants without fear of contradiction. However, Harry is a serious historian and gets deeply annoyed if he discovers that he has made a factual error, as he did in No 2 King of Kings with some Eucalyptus Trees which he has since been told would never have been found anywhere but the Antipodes at this time.

In Lion of the Sun, the series' central character Ballista is facing up to threats to the survival of the Roman Empire- from an Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman! Yet, while Harry can't resist these moments of playfulness, these are hard-hitting books tackling serious subject matter, such as how far can the west go to protect its freedom before it destroys the very thing it is defending? He says on his own website All the novels seek to raise big questions, but each is driven by suspense and action.

Both audiences seemed enthralled by Harry's talks and had plenty of questions for him. While there were some existing fans in the audiences I think many people will have been introduced to this writer for the first time and inspired to go away and read his work.

Read this with Robin Lane Fox The Classical World: an Epic History of Greece and Rome

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

The Lacuna

I took The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver, winner of this year's Orange Prize, away with me on holiday. I have enjoyed this writer's books before so was optimistic that this would be an engrossing read.

I must admit to being a bit disappointed at first; the swimming scenes at the start did not grip me and I struggled to keep reading, but once the central character Harrison Shepherd grew up and found his independence in Mexico, in the home of Diego Rivera the book really took off for me. The real historical background observing some of the life of artists Rivera and Frida Kahlo, followed by the arrival of Trotsky, opened up a colourful and eccentric world. Kingsolver's gift lies in not over-burdening us with fact, but in allowing us to know just enough of this real history to ground the story in reality, describing it through the eyes of an unusual and engaging fictional narrator.

This Mexican section of the book was satisfying in itself and at the end (roughly half way through the total length) I wondered how Kingsolver would keep my interest. I need not have worried. Now set in the USA, the narrative focused on the quiet writing life of the old-fashioned but very perceptive secretary, Violet Brown, who protects him from the outside world. Alongside this the relentless surveillance by the FBI seemed bizarre but full of suspense.

The novel is all about the mismatch between reality and public perception and
the constant shifts in tone as it unfolds through letters, reports and diaries, as well as vividly illustrating this 'lacuna', keep testing your own reactions as a reader. It forced me to think how important it is to read newspapers critically and never to take reports of events at face value. What would I have thought of this writer if I had lived through this period of extreme nervousness and political anxiety?

Its a long time since I felt I didn't want a book to end, but I certainly felt it with this one. Kingsolver has been criticised for being too didactic and she certainly came in for criticism for comments she made after the events of 9/11. But for me, the quality of her writing and the sympathy she has for her characters override any sense of being lectured. Reading this has also made me want to see some of the work of both artsists, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo as well as read more factual history about Mexico at this time. It has opened my eyes. It is a perfect read for Pages Ago.

Image shows cover of American edition of The Lacuna which is more interesting than the UK cover, in my view

Thursday, 15 July 2010

An heir was needed

On July 8th the final Trafford Wordfest ‘Pages Ago’ event took place when Dr Kate Williams gave a talk at Urmston Library on her book Becoming Queen about the young Queen Victoria ( see review from The Independent by Lorraine Fletcher here) . Her description of the events of the family strife behind Victoria’s birth, childhood and accession to the throne was vivid and humorous.

George III produced 15 children who had 56 children of their own between them, not one of whom was legitimate. The Prince Regent’s unhappy marriage did produce an heir, Princess Charlotte of Wales , but her death giving birth to a still-born son in 1817 led to an unseemly dash among George III’s remaining children to produce an heir. This was won by Edward, Duke of Kent, the fourth son, who fathered the future Queen Victoria, but died less than a year later leaving the young heiress to be brought up in a strict and unhappy childhood.

This was an absolutely fascinating talk, very much enjoyed by its audience.

Vintage Penrith

Penrith Library Assistant Rae Lusby says she has enjoyed putting together a display of history books with a Victorian and Edwardian theme, ready for the 'Vintage Penrith' festival at the end of the month. The library will be hosting several talks and a display of old photographs so we thought that it would be good to connect this to a Pages Ago display. She has initally displayed about 30 pairs of titles, but may have to put some more together depending on how well they issue. It was hard to include talking books and large print, but have managed one set of each and Rae says she will keep looking for more!

Rae had a beautiful a jacket dating from 1886 that belonged to her Great Grandmother and thought it would make a good focal point for the display and tie in well with the 'Vintage Penrith' theme, so this is on top of the display along with a photo of the family.

Time To Read particularly likes the way that Cumbria Libraries are literally tying together fiction and non-fiction titles, leaving readers no option but to take them together. The service has created a feedback form which goes out with the books, asking readers to tell us if they have read something out of the ordinary for them as a result of this. If they do, the displays will have been a big success.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Radio discussion and other news

The Radio Lancashire Book Club supported by the Blackburn with Darwen Library Authority, is currently reading The Red Necklace: a story of the French Revolution by Sally Gardner, to tie in with Pages Ago. Although ostensibly a teenage book, it can equally be enjoyed by adult readers - 'the drama moves from Paris to London and back, as the Revolution gathers momentum, and the hope of liberty and the dream of equality are crushed beneath the wheel of terror. Too many secrets, too many murders, and the blade of the guillotine is yet to fall .....'

Radio Lancs broadcasts across Lancashire and Blackpool as well as Blackburn, so other authorities may have some demand for the title. Some of our reading group members go along for the live broadcast and the discussion of The Red Necklace will be on Tuesday, July 20 from 11am - 1 pm so there is still time for readers/listeners to go along to their library for the book.

On 1st July Access Trafford Libraries were very pleased to welcome Anne O’Brien to Timperley Library to give a talk on her new historical novel as part of Trafford’s Wordfest and Pages Ago. Her book : ‘Virgin Widow: England’s Forgotten Queen’ is the story of Anne Neville, daughter of the Earl of Warwick (the ‘Kingmaker’). Caught up in the shifting fortunes of the Wars of the Roses, Anne was married first to Edward, the Lancastrian Prince of Wales, and then to the Yorkist Richard of Gloucester (later Richard III).

Anne O’Brien talked about her experiences as a writer – how she started out, getting an agent, as well as why she chose the subject for this novel. She gave background to the lives of women in powerful families at this time, and highlighted the careers of some particularly formidable ladies in the fifteenth century.

Anne is an excellent speaker, measured, informed and thoughtful, who provided our audience with an enjoyable and instructive event. We look forward to her next novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Pages Ago makes Flikr

Warrington Libraries wanted to widen access to the Pages Ago promotion and bring in an Equality & Diversity dimension. So, working with an ESOL tutor, we set up a session at Warrington Central Library to look at our local studies photographs on Flickr. 4 women attended – 2 Indian and 2 Bangladeshi. The session focused on developing IT skills, speaking and listening skills, reading (through looking at comments posted) and writing (through search terms and posting comments). We also talked about library use and looked at some local history books with lots of illustrations.

They took back photos and history books to use as inspiration for writing in class and to read for pleasure. 3 of the women were already library members, but the fourth one joined. We are now looking at turning their favourite pictures and their comments into a book, which we will add into our Quick Reads section for future use by adult learners.

Another legacy outcome was an offer by one of the learners to take photos of her community eg festivals, dress, and give copies to us for our archives. She also offered to set up an event at which I could come along to talk about reading and the library with members of her community. We also got good feedback on what sort of books they’d like to see in the library.

The tutor was thrilled and all the women said they really enjoyed the session and learnt a lot. One said “ I’m going to go back and share everything I’ve learnt today with my community”.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Trafford Libraries are hosting great History Book events

Access Trafford libraries’ first ‘Pages Ago’ event in Wordfest 2010 took place on June 24th at Urmston Library. It was a talk by Andrew Davies, about his book The Gangs of Manchester. Sixty people attended and the feedback has been excellent; lots of people have said how much they appreciate this kind of event in libraries, and how much they would like to see more.

The talk itself was absolutely fascinating, and became not only about the book, but also about things that have happened since the book was published, such as the author being approached by people descended from the same families as some of the people described, and a play called Angels with Manky Faces which will be held on 15th July:

Still to come in Wordfest are talks from Anne O'Brien, author of Virgin Widow- England's Forgotten Queen ( about Anne Neville who married Richard III) and Kate Williams, author of Becoming Queen, about the young Queen Victoria.

Thanks to Liz McKay of Trafford Libraries for supplying this information. Liz can be contacted on

Monday, 21 June 2010

Wolf Hall wins Walter Scott prize

Hilary Mantels' novel Wolf Hall has been named as the winner of the inaugural Walter Scott prize for historical fiction sponsored by the Duke and Duchess of Buccleuch – distant descendants of Scott. As the organisers of Pages Ago, our own promotion of historical reading of all sorts, we have had a particular interest in following the development of this prize.

Our very supportive partner from Manchester University, Jerome de Groot, published a piece in The Scotsman on Saturday to coincide with the prize -winner announcement. His article entitled The new time-travellers says "Historical fiction works by presenting something familiar but simultaneously distant from our lives. Its world must have heft and authenticity – it must feel right – but at the same time, the reader knows that the novel is a representation of something that is lost, that cannot be reconstructed but only guessed at. This dissonance, it seems to me, lies at the heart of historical fiction and makes it one of the most interesting genres around."

While delighted that one of our launch speakers, Sarah Dunant, was also on the shortlist, I can't admit to being surprised that Wolf Hall was the eventual winner. The sheer scale and scope of the novel is impressive and it seems to be written with such authority and concern for historical detail that it seems to be in a class of its own. At the same time it demonstrates the complex humanity of its central characters, which is needed to make all that detail so readable.

Other Bloggers have already been busy commenting on this win, notably Sarah Johnson on the excellent Blog Reading the Past

It must be clear by now that Hilary Mantel has performed a tremendous service to the "genre" historical novel. Particularly by winning the ManBooker 2009 prize, Wolf Hall must have been read and discussed by everyone who considers that they must keep up with their reading of literary fiction, as well as by 1000s of other "ordinary" readers. Certainly it makes our promotion of a wider range of historical reading of all sorts, seem very timely.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Pages Ago Plans for Wigan

It’s gone kind of quiet in here...
Like a lot of us, I can’t blog at work. (I can view the blog, but not post, reblog, comment, or interact in any way). This is from home...
But we still have a great promotion with tons of potential to engage with new readers, cross boundaries, and generally increase happiness. Let’s enjoy it!
We (Wigan) have some things in development...
I am starting a History Reading Group in, and in partnership with, our new Museum of Wigan Life (The fully refurbished, very nice, former History Shop).
I’m also starting a Shakespeare Reading Group in Leigh.
And we are hosting a Victorian Murder Mystery Evening during the Ashton Festival in September, with more stuff to come.
A book recommendation: I’ve just finished Michael Chabon’s excellent “Amazing adventures of Kavalier & Clay”. It’s set between 1939 and the 1950’s, and is about two Jewish cousins in New York . Their perspective on events in Europe and their attempts to help their families left behind, and to urge an end to America’s neutrality before Pearl Harbor contrast with the utter pointlessness of their war service.
The novel is also a love song to the golden age of Comics, a wry and well-observed look at the complexities of family life, and a tender and understanding account of emerging homosexuality.
Like all MC’s work, “Kavalier and Clay” is remarkably well-written in rich and exhilarating prose that the reader can roll about in.. It won the Pulitzer Prize, and deserved to. Pure pleasure!
Stephen L

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Writing Falco

Every chair in Chester Library was squeezed into the reference area upstairs to seat an audience of over 50 keen readers, eager to hear and talk to Lindsey Davis.

This was a launch event in a series of activities planned by Cheshire West and Chester Libraries for Pages Ago and it felt very right to be listening to a writer of Roman period novels, in the North West's most Roman city

Another happy coincidence (bearing in mind Pages Ago's purpose to promote Fic and Non-Fic equally) was that Lindsey was launching, not one, but 2 books; no 20 in The Falco series Nemesis and a non-fiction volume Falco The Official Companion

Lindsey gave a well-practised talk about her writing career which entertained and informed readers and writers alike. What came through most strongly was her apparent enjoyment of her writing life; she doesn't plan too meticulously but allows the stories and characters to take their own course. She enjoys visits to the places she writes about, regularly and makes sure she builds in variety to what she writes.

Although describing the Falco series as "the Roman Archers" and playing down any notion of hard work, she clearly does take the responsibility of being a historical novelist seriously and believes that she should get the details right. If she doesn't, she gets plenty of feedback from her readers, which might inspire a new storyline in the next book. Story always comes first, followed by careful research.

Unusually, in my experience, she seemed to listen to her readers more than many a writer, writing the Falco Companion to answer questions that crop up from them. Because of readers, she claimed, characters have become much more important than plot and readers who want to follow the fortunes of Falco's large extended family, need to read the series in chronological order

It felt as if the questions could have gone on for a long time but after an hour the formal proceedings were brought to a close, so that readers could talk to Lindsey individually and of course buy books. I don't know what time the library managed to finally close its doors, as yours truly had to leave for a train. I guess it was quite a late evening.

Many thanks to Cheshire West and Chester Libraries for arranging such an appropriate and enjoyable event.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Lindsey Davis visit to Chester

Best selling author of Roman historical crime novels will be speaking in Chester Library on Monday evening (7th June). Unusually Lindsey is launching not one but two books. Nemesis is the 20th title in her series featuring Marcus Didius Falco, perhaps the most well-known Roman investigator in fiction. She is also launching Falco; the Official Companion, perfect for fans and Falco-first-timers alike, giving all the background to Lindsey Davis the writer as well as her characters.

This talk by Lindsey launches Cheshire West and Chester's programme of Pages Ago events. Do come along if you can, but in case you miss it, I will report back here next week.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

More listening at Making History

If you have had your appetite for listening to people talk about history whetted, then you might be interested in the BBC's Making History website where you can listen again to the Radio 4 broadcasts.

Pages Ago gets a mention on the programme dated 18/5/10 and features Jerome de Groot, who seemingly managed the extraordinary feat of being on Radio 4 and at our launch event at The Bluecoat simultaneously.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Pages Ago launch discussion

Please listen to a podcast of some of the Pages Ago Launch event with Jerome de Groot, Joyce Tyldesley, Juliet Gardiner and Sarah Dunant.
I'm sorry we lost the beginning, but much of the content is here.

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Pages Ago is launched

Tuesday 18th May and the sun was shining really brightly and warmly for the first time this year. This was surely a good omen for the event taking place at The Bluecoat Arts Centre, Liverpool, launching Time To Read's latest reading promotion Pages Ago.

Billed as a panel discussion about historical fiction, the (almost) full house of library staff, museum and adult learning staff, as well as members of the public, was treated to an inspirational conversation about what makes good writing about history.

Jerome de Groot, an academic expert in Historical Fiction led the questioning covering the value and purpose of historical fiction, the definition of ‘historical’, as well as the virtue of research and scholarship in writing fiction.

Juliet Gardiner, an editor and reviewer, as well as respected author of non-fiction such as the recent The Thirties: an Intimate History talked about the responsibilities of presenting "fingertip history" i.e. that history which some people alive still remember and can challenge the author's interpretations of .

Joyce Tyldesley, an expert Egyptologist and author of Cleopatra, Last Queen of Egypt talked in detail about the difficulties of presenting history to an audience which thinks it knows a lot, from varying sources (film, theatre etc) but actually knows very little which is evidenced from the past.

Sarah Dunant, author of several renaissance - set novels, including her most recent title Sacred Hearts spoke passionately about the writers' need to place themselves in the time of their characters and to forget all "future thinking", so that what she is writing "stops being history and becomes the present".

All the panellists were suspicious of many film and TV presentations of history but spoke more warmly about many writers, both those which had inspired them to become writers early in their lives (Agatha Christie, Jean Plaidy, Umberto Eco) as well as more contemporary titles
(Restoration, Waterland, Suspicions of Mr Whicher).

The final plea from the panel in support of history, linked us with the present. "If we look back at the past, we can interrogate the present better" and we were reminded throughout that there is never just one version of historical events, but all history is an "endlessly dissolving story".

Pressed on the 60 year rule, first posited by Sir Walter Scott, that to be truly historical a novel must be set at least 60 years earlier than the time of writing, Jerome de Groot argued that a historical novel only needs to be firmly rooted in a particular moment, even if that is yesterday.

At events such as this, it is always possible to tell whether the majority of the audience is engaged or not. I think its no exaggeration to say that the audience for this inspirational conversation were concentrating to the end and more than one person was heard to say that they could have listened for much longer.

As a final treat, Bryan Biggs, Artistic Director of The Bluecoat spoke briefly to the audience about the history of the building and some of the many influential and artistic "celebrities" who have performed and exhibited there since it became an Arts Centre in the early 20th Century. Where better to launch Pages Ago than in the oldest surviving building in the City of Liverpool and England's earliest Arts Centre?

Tea and cakes rounded off a memorable afternoon.

So many literary, book and reading events present just one writer talking about their own work. The quality of this event for me lay in the fact that all 3 panelists took an overview beyond their own work and really thought about what makes for honest historical writing, whether fiction or non-fiction. We pushed them to think beyond their own work and came away inspired to read a wide range of new titles, both fiction and non-fiction, which is, after all, the purpose of Pages Ago.

Friday, 14 May 2010

Launch of Pages Ago

May is rushing by and I have spent much of this week preparing for our launch event which is on Tuesday 18th May at The Bluecoat in Liverpool.

I am looking forward to a thought-provoking discussion led by Jerome de Groot between Sarah Dunant, Joyce Tyldesley and Juliet Gardiner. The complimentary tickets are all taken, but there are still a few left for sale. I'll write something from the discussion up for this blog.

Friday, 30 April 2010

Pages Ago is developing

So its the end of April and nearly time for the Pages Ago promotion to be launched. I feel as if some progress has been made this week, though there is still plenty that could be done. Quite a few library authorities have been telling me about their plans. Bolton Libraries have put some confirmed events up on the website. Wirral have planned an ambitious Victorian themed day for July. I had a very productive meeting in Liverpool's World History Museum this week and they are keen to work with the library service there. We were also delighted to hear in Manchester that Bernard Cornwell will make a rare appearance here during the big Readers Day/Historical Novel Society conference weekend which is very exciting.

But the more that gets organised the more I think of things which still could be done. For example I've just had the notion of collecting together information about all the historical reading websites and blogs out there which deserve more readers. I'm sure that there's work to be done researching and listing them all.

In the land that is the crossover zone between work and leisure I am trying to build up my own reading of historical fiction. I just finished Girl in a Blue Dress by Gaynor Arnold, a fictionalised interpretation of Charles' Dickens family life and treatment of his wife. While slightly overlong and a bit repetetive, I enjoyed this and found it a very interesting expose of how married women at the time had no control of their own circumstances, in this case to the extremity of losing contact with much-loved children.

Next I'm going to read some Roman History from Robert Harris, then I must read a Lindsay Davis in preparation for introducing her in Chester; the list will grow and grow this year.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Pages Ago

Well- I am now settled in my new office. Still some teething problems with the phone, but otherwise beginning to get used to things in my new surroundings.

So this week I have managed some concentrated effort on the Pages Ago project which will launch on May 18th. Display headers are ordered, the launch and a big Readers' Day in Manchester are organised, guests are starting to be invited to the launch, a writing competition is set up. It would be great to hear from some of my colleagues in NW Libraries about ideas they are discussing for their Pages Ago activity. If you want to share any thoughts this might be the place to do it.

On the Move

Well- its been an eventful week in the on-going history of Time To Read, I have been moved to a new office, along with many of Manchester Library Service's "back office staff". Its been a big change for me and for the first time in my career means I am no longer physically based in a library. So no more instant access to books for me, no more browsing the shelves or displays to come across something I didn't know I wanted at (occasional) odd moments during the working day.

In fact I've suddenly become more like a real public library user. I will now need to plan my visits to a library and fit them into my busy working life. I'll need to remember to write down the names of books I want to read and take my lists with me, or increasingly reserve my books on-line and remember to pick them up.
Perhaps this will give me a new perspective on my local services. Are they open at times when I can get to them outside my own working hours? are they located in the best places for me? are the displays enticing when I walk in? do the staff treat me differently if they don't know I work for the service?

It would be great to hear from some other people out there who work for library services, but don't physically sit in libraries. Has this made a difference to your own reading habits? Has it given you a new perspective on the services you deliver?


This is the new blog for Time To Read. For anyone who doesn't know, Time To Read is a partnership of enthusiastic people working in public libraries in NW England, trying to develop the audience for reading. Time To Read members have lots of good ideas, loads of experience collectively and plenty of opportunities to share information with each other. We meet together every 2 months and of course the Time To Read website is an opportunity to showcase activities they are particularly pleased with.

Sometimes, however, Time To Read members want to discuss opportunities and ideas with each other before they get down to detailed planning. This blog area is intended to allow for more general discussions and general airing of opinions, without having to wait for the next meeting.

Views expressed on this blog will be the personal views of library practitioners. They won't officially reflect the opinions of employers, specifically local authority management. I personally hope that some contributions will reflect the impact that our reading activities have on readers and ourselves. There are so few opportunities for us to record some of the positive feelings and emotions which our "work" inspires. For me, there is no greater reward from organising a visit by a writer to a library than hearing audience members say how much they were inspired and motivated by the speaker. Audiences should leave wanting to read more, do more in their local area and visit libraries more often.

In the meantime, the role of reading as an Art form, is clearly moving up the radar. I found out today about what looks like a sizeable event taking place in Manchester over 4 days in early April. I read that "Reading for readings sake aims to unfold the activity of reading, the situations in which we read, reading as a shared event, a private passion, concentration, interpretation, sound and voice, the symbolic and emotional value of the act". Sounds fascinating and I will try to get along to some of it and report back here.