Friday, 25 October 2013

Try Reading and more

Manchester Literature Festival, which I am lucky enough to be able to attend, has been and gone. This year I managed to enjoy hearing live writers Patrick Ness and Louise Doughty, learned more about dead writers Barbara Pym and F.Scott Fitzgerald and at long last did a literary walk round Manchester.  One aspect of the festival I really like is the organised way in which a team of volunteers  is tasked with writing blogs from all the high-profile events. So even if you can’t attend in person, and it would be impossible for a working person to attend them all, you can still  get a flavour of most of the events from someone who was there and paying attention.

The highlight event for me, of course, was the Passion for Sport event with Owen Sheers and Ian McMillan, both engaging writers and performers. The writers’ informed expositions revealed  sportsmen and team supporters as fragile and anxious, in stark contrast to the way in which they often appear on television or in press reports. The event was chaired by a BBC sports reporter Karthi Gnanasegaram, who said more than once that she wasn’t used to working with creative writers. I’m sure she will have found that this event revealed a lot more about sport than some more traditional book signing events. You can read the blog post from the event here.

Passion for Sport was a partnership event between MLF and Try Reading, our libraries project linked to the Rugby League World Cup 2013. As I write this, we are anticipating the opening event of the tournament tomorrow. I have been shocked this week by how little attention has been paid to this World Cup tournament by the papers or TV that I see. This lack of profile is something that Tom Palmer has also been commenting on, in his blog posts for the Try Reading project. Perhaps something will happen over the course of the tournament to get the eyes of the media focused on it. Its spread over a month so there should be plenty of opportunity.

This morning I attended the launch of the first Rochdale Literature & Ideas Festival taking place in the new Council Building  & Library in the centre of town. The festival has been carefully timed to take place over the weekend before the town hosts its own RLWC match on Monday between Fiji and Ireland, so that there is a real air of excitement in the town. Festival organisers have put together a varied programme for all ages, which includes visits by 2 outstanding poets, Simon Armitage and Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy,  as well as other creative writers and performers. I hope the people of Rochdale turn out for all of them.

Finally, next week (October 31st) sees the end of our Reading Rewards challenge , so I hope that completed entry forms are flooding into libraries now. Once the closing date has passed, library staff will need to gather all the entries in from all their service points, before picking out their winners for a £50 prize (1 per library authority). We really have a target for entries this year and want to be able top show that it has encouraged people to read more and more widely. There is still time to enter and if you don’t have a form, please enter on line here

Friday, 4 October 2013

4 weeks to go- the final countdown

Now October has arrived we really are in the final countdown to the end of the Reading Rewards challenge for this year. It’s a very strange time  for me. I created and despatched all the print for Reading Rewards to my library colleagues across the region. It is their task to distribute it locally and to try and encourage readers to take part. Many staff work very hard to talk up the challenge with their colleagues and at all sorts of events at which potential participants are present.

I, however, have no real clue as to how successful all this effort has been until the closing date has passed and the numbers have been counted, so I was really cheered this week, by an email which arrived from a happy participant called Margaret  who said: …I was keen to do it when I saw the form a few weeks ago.  I've read all my life, under the covers with a torch, as an adult (working in a library for a while), later to my children and now my grandchildren, but I probably read even more than ever now that I live alone and have far more time and no one there to tell me not to read in bed because they don't want to be disturbed . . .

I've been stuck in a rut and too lazy to get out of it, so the challenge was a great idea for me.  Biographies I'd tried occasionally and not enjoyed, so I went for one of those first… I ticked the box on the entry form to say that I wouldn't read more of my 'new' category, but that's true of now, not then, because I then read Tony Hart's story (another sympathetic character) to try to push myself… 

Anyway, thank you for the challenge.  I suspect I will probably stick with my old favourites most of the time at the moment, but as soon as...I depend less on the escapism element of my reading, I will be branching out! 
I'm looking forward to next year's challenge . . . 
Here is a reader who has taken the challenge in the spirit in which it was created. Even though no one is looking over her shoulder, she has allowed herself to be pushed gently into choosing something different to read. So many people struggle to find books to read when they are browsing because they are always looking for an author or type of book they have tried before. There are so many wonderful books to be read on library shelves, we know that people just need to be open to trying something new occasionally, for some great reading experiences.

OK, Margaret's not hugely enthused by the biography titles she chose this time, but she has been inspired enough by the very fact of reading something different, to tell me her  reactions.

That’s reward enough for me.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Reading Rewards - 7 weeks to go.

Reading is intrinsically a rewarding activity.  It can entertain us, teach us things we didn't know, help us feel better and occasionally provide a  refreshing escape from the world around us. With the help of North West Libraries, readers now also have the chance of being rewarded with prizes.

For the 2nd year running , NW Libraries , through the Time To Read partnership, are offering the Reading Rewards adult reading challenge. To take part, all you  need to do is to read 8 books between now and October 31st, each one from a different category. The choice of title is entirely open, as long as they fit one of our categories. Library staff can help you make your choice, if necessary.

Children have been offered a reading challenge for many years via The Reading Agency's Summer Reading Challenge. This very popular summer activity has encouraged many children to read and they are rewarded for doing so. I saw a very excited child in my local library last week, running round telling everyone they were being rewarded for reading 2 books.

 We want adults to have the same opportunity.  Maybe not to run around, but to be challenged and rewarded. So, with 7 weeks to go, why not challenge yourself ? Enter the book you have just finished, plus one each week between now and the end of October, and you will be eligible to enter. Anyone can take part in Reading Rewards, via a form from a NW library or by entering online here. NB only people using a NW Library will be entered into the prize draw.   The picture shows one of last year's lucky prize winners

Each library authority will pick one lucky winner from a proverbial "hat" to receive a £50 shopping voucher, just in time to treat yourself for Christmas. There will also be one prize winner from any on-line entrants.

Good luck

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

Coming home

Oh my goodness, where does time go? Seems no time at all since I last wrote here…

Since June I have had a fabulous week in NW Scotland, spent a lot of time planning and co-ordinating Try Reading events and preparing to move office next week.

If you haven’t done so already, please take a look at our Try Reading website which promotes books, new writing  as well as events in libraries. We are really on the countdown to the Rugby League World Cup 2013 now. If you attend Rugby League matches already, why not submit a match report and share your love of the game with others.

I am returning to Manchester City Centre next week, after 3 years in an outpost. Not regrettably to Central Library, which is still a work in progress, but to the Town Hall next door. I hope it will be really good to be back at the heart of things- the City and the Department I work for.

Last week I also attended a training course on Blogging. Have been making it up myself, till now. The course run by DigiEnable really made me reflect on how a Blog can be made more interesting and I hope to inject some of my newly learned skills from now on.

Thursday, 6 June 2013

Reading Rewards

Reading is intrinsically rewarding. It can entertain us, provide a refreshing escape from reality, teach us things we didn't know already or make us feel better.

With the help of NW libraries it can now also reward us in more tangible ways. For the second year running, the NW Libraries’  partnership Time To Read, is running the Reading Rewards adult reading challenge. People who read 8 titles from different categories will be entered into a prize draw with a chance to win a £50 shopping voucher.

Children have been challenged to read for several years through the Reading Agency’s Summer Reading Challenge. This has been enormously successful in promoting the joy of reading to young people.  We want adults to have the same opportunity: to read alongside their children if appropriate, or just to take part themselves.

We had some great comments from people who took part in our pilot Reading Rewards challenge last year, including The joy of reading for pleasure, making time to discover new authors and interests, is like being a teenager again!And
I have just completed the Adult Reading challenge! I feel elated.  It has done me so much good as it has encouraged me to read books outside my comfort zone.
To take part in Reading Rewards ,  pick up an entry form in any NW public library or enter on-line here.  Following the closing date of October 31st, each local authority (NW only) will select one winner from a proverbial “hat”. One winner will also be selected from the on-line entries (NB winners must ne NW Library users)

Friday, 12 April 2013

So the big project for this year has launched this week. Try Reading links 30 library authorities across the north of England in a project that promotes reading, writing and drama alongside the Rugby League World Cup 2013.
Over 150 events, including author talks, writing workshops and drama events will take place across the North West, Yorkshire and Humber regions between April and November 2013. Libraries will be working with local clubs and supporters’ groups as well as schools and other interested organisations.
We are extremely  grateful to Arts Council England who are supporting us with lottery funds through Grants For the Arts. We are also grateful to our new partners at The Rugby League World Cup 2013 who have seen the opportunity to reach new audiences via public libraries and clearly understand how a love of sport and love of reading and writing can go hand in hand. The Reading Agency has also linked its 2013 Six Book Challenge to the RLWC 2013 and the Try Reading project.
This is the biggest project NW Time To Read authorities will have engaged in and we are looking forward to a very different sort of sporting  year. For all the Try Reading information and news visit the new website

Friday, 8 March 2013

Poet Laureate visits Colne Library

 Yesterday was World Book Day. This is largely used as an opportunity to promote children's reading by publishers, booksellers and library staff,  to encourage and inspire children to read. Yet it also stands as a useful hook to hang other reading and literary activities on.

Lancashire Libraries had 2 reasons for inviting Carol Ann Duffy to appear in one of their libraries. Last year saw the 400th anniversary of the Pendle Witch trials. The story of these poor women in a remote corner of Northern England has long captured the imagination of writers and artists. A local Arts organisation Green Close commissioned Carol Ann to write a poem about the witches which could appear along a footpath in the area of Pendle Hill.  Carol Ann wrote a long poem which appears on 30 waymarkers along the path and gave it a first public reading last night, accompanied by "her" regular  musician John Sampson.

I have previously written here about the Poetry Places promotion of poetry that we ran in NW libraries in  the autumn of 2012 and which  included Carol Ann's poem Bees . Our Poetry Places poems all needed to be placed in, or be inspired by, the North West region and it was essential that one of our poems should represent  our industrial heritage.  Bees are a well known symbol of industry and hard work  and appear in the coats of arms of several towns and cities, including  Manchester and Blackburn. How perfect then, that we could represent our important northern heritage  symbolically through a poem about bees written by the Poet Laureate who just happens to live in our region. The poem can be seen and read here.

An essential element of our project was that the poets represented should give readings in libraries, so we were delighted when Carol Ann said she could be available to appear on World Book Day, to read from a range of her work including the 2 poems from the 2 parallel  projects. Colne Library was packed out with an audience which seemed excited to be welcoming the poet laureate into their community and delighted in both Carol Ann's readings and the musical interludes from musician John Sampson. I hope that for many of them it will have been a World Book Day to remember and which inspired them to hear and read more poetry.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Reading history again

Can you believe the goodreads website shows 442 popular books about Richard III ? I had a thought that I ought to list a few,  given that he is currently in our thoughts, but it seems there really are too many for me to mention.  
A quick scan of the first couple of pages of the list shows how fascinated historical writers have been with his character and especially  the as yet unsolved  mystery of whether or not he did despatch the young princes in the tower. I'm not sure the recent discovery of his bones will shed any more light on this mystery, but they certainly reveal that he met a violent end himself.
Any library staff with an eye on the news should be pulling as many of these books from their shelves as possible and displaying them for people to see easily. Our Pages Ago project of 2 years ago which promoted historical reading of all sorts, showed clearly that people loved the opportunity to discover history interpreted through the eyes of all sorts of writers.

Thursday, 10 January 2013

New Year- new intentions

Have just noticed with horror how long it is since I last posted anything here. Promise to try harder this year.

A couple of things took up my attention at the end of 2012. One was a very positive outcome from the Dickens' reading group which had been meeting throughout the year. Inevitably a few people had fallen by the wayside, but at least 6 of the group are determined to keep meeting and reading Dickens through 2013. I will help them find a venue and plan the reading and while I might not read another 6 titles by Dickens this year, I shall certainly do my best to read at least one.

 Another project I was winding up was our Poetry Places project. This promoted the work of 12 North West- based  poets. Details can be found at

 As well as producing attractive print and purchasing collections of poetry books for libraries,at least 350 people  attended a poetry event in a library as a result of this project. Some of the major successes were:
•    Kei Miller in Warrington. 35 people attended an event on a Friday evening and was extremely enthusiastically received - this is just one example from the numerous glowing comments received.
Listening to a music-like performance of a truly talented and mesmerising skilled poet – inspirational!

•    Eleanor Rees pictured, delivered 2 events, in Halton and Congleton, and used these opportunities to create new poems especially for the libraries. She said
Thank you for letting me run with this. It will feature in my PhD thesis and I've been reflecting a lot of how to write for specific contexts and small groups! I also had some very enjoyable days out and was very supported by Janette at Runcorn and Mike and Dan at Congleton who took me out to lunch and picked me up for the station etc! It's been a very positive experience and I hope to develop the work further in the future

•    Lancashire Libraries invited Kevin McCann. They scheduled two poetry writing workshops with him for Lancashire Day (27th November) ... Kevin gave excellent workshops, I was very impressed by his infectious passion for poetry and by the depth of knowledge he had and related about different poets and the techniques they used.  They were highly engaging sessions...

Its really great to have ended the year on a positive note, knowing that library work has made a difference to some readers and writers. 2013 will be a very different year I know but come back soon to find out about some plans we have for reaching new reading audiences.