I’ve been heartened by kind welcomes at all my Read Regional events, but the reading at Norton Library was a highlight. By poetry standards the audience was large – not far off 20 – so I’m very grateful to Claire Pratt and Cath Maddison, who’d obviously worked hard encouraging people to come along. The poetry reading group which meets monthly at the library also undoubtedly helped to boost numbers.
This time I was reading solo, yet I felt far from unsupported because Anna Woodford had prepared the ground beautifully beforehand with her Reading Poetry workshop. Travelling together to an event is a pleasure, not least because it calms the nerves! Thank you, Anna.
A dream audience! There was nodding, smiling and laughing, and Anna thought she saw one person wiping away a tear. One woman commented afterwards that I’d read emotively, and I had – more so than usual, I suspect, in response to these particular listeners. The Q&A session was animated, with the more searching questions that I relish, for example, ‘To what extent has living in the North changed the way you write?’ People said they’d benefited from hearing the little introductions to each poem and the voice intonation of a writer reading her own work.
Many thanks to all those who attended my Norton reading. You were so receptive and generous; it was a joy to meet you and share my poems with you.
Turn the Page at Doncaster Literary Festival was my final Read Regional event today and marks the end of a wonderful year travelling around the north of England. The whole point of the Read Regional campaign was to promote and connect local readers to books by local authors.
During my journey across libraries and book festivals in the north, it came as no surprise that people enjoy reading books by local writers because they have told me so – both face to face and in letters I’ve received on my website.
My Kate Daniels series is set in and around Newcastle and Northumberland. I’ve always thought that setting is as important as any character in a book and it seems that readers agree with me. They love it when they recognise the streets and buildings familiar to them. So, while I’m on the subject of northern setting let me introduce you to my fellow Read Regional author, Russ Litten.
During Read Regional I was frequently paired with Russ, a wonderful author whose first book Scream If You Want To Go Faster is set in Hull. I’ve heard him read from it on numerous occasions and, if you like northern settings, you should go out and buy it. His second book Swear Down is a crime novel set in the south – we are now in competition! – but I won’t hold that against him.
I’d not met Russ before this campaign but it has been my absolute pleasure to work with him. I’m sure he would agree that it’s been a blast discussing our different routes to publication, our books and writing in general. We’ve touched on poetry, short stories and screenwriting that have all played a part in our early writing careers. We’ve been asked many questions about how we write, plan, plot – where we get our inspiration from.
We’ve talked to many aspiring writers trying to find their own voice, seeking help about agents and the publishing industry . . . and we hope that, in some small way, we’ve given them good advice. There is life after rejection for those who keep the faith and are brave enough to share their work to others.
I’d just like to end by acknowledging New Writing North who organise the Read Regional campaign and support local writers. Thank you for giving me this wonderful opportunity to connect with local people and spread the word about my books. I’ve met many lovely people along the way, librarians and library assistants, writers, readers and Russ.
If anyone would like to contact me, they can do so on my website at: marihannah.com or on Twitter @mariwriter.
I was really looking forward to World Book Night this year, celebrating mine at a special Read Regional event in the lecture theatre at South Shields Central Library. Earlier in the day, Anne Coates (writer/Twitter friend) asked me to give her a quote for her blog on what I thought about this mass giveaway event. This is what I told her…
Anything that spreads the love of reading and puts books in the hands of those who don’t have access to them has to be a positive thing. Reading is good for you on so many levels. Books educate, take people to places they’ve never been – be that Manchester or the moon. They entertain, engaging the reader in a world outside of their experience, raising a series of questions as they progress to the conclusion…
As a crime writer, this is the single most important consideration for me when I’m plotting a new novel. I deliberately set up situations that aren’t paid off until the very end. Reading decreases isolation too, especially if the title is part of a series where the characters feel like old friends. It’s just nice to lose yourself in a book.
Reading is on the rise in this country but there is still a lot of work to do. Some homes don’t possess a single book and these are the very people World Book Night aimed to reach. With councils closing libraries – a shortsighted step in my view – events like these are going to be even more important in years to come.
Some commentators have put forward an alternative view, inviting those who can afford it to buy a book (any book) from their local bookseller and give it away in the spirit of World Book Night. I think that is also a really good idea. Whether you choose a WBN title or something else, the important thing is reaching out to others, spreading the joy of books.
For me, World Book Night 2013 was a great success. I flew solo in South Shields. Sadly, Russ Litten was forced to pull out at the last minute due to a family emergency. I was also very sad to hear that a group of partially sighted library members had missed out as their guide was unwell. I hope to return one day to meet them all.
World Book Night flew by: I spoke about my journey, my writing regime, where I get my ideas from. Then I read for almost twenty minutes! No, I don’t usually do that. I kept stopping and was urged to keep going – such was the enthusiasm in the room – and this from a writer who just a year ago was too nervous to read at the launch of her debut at Hexham Book Festival.
I’d like to thank Pauline Martin (Reader Development Librarian at South Shields) and her wonderful staff and volunteers for inviting me along and giving me such a warm welcome. Thanks too to the many enthusiastic readers and writers who made the evening all the more special, chatting to me in the interval and engaging in a lively Q & A. I had a brilliant time.
‘So, do you like writing?’ he says. I don’t have to think about this.
‘No. No I don’t.’
I like the feeling of having written. I quite like editing. The slash and burn of it. The cut and chop and happy vandalism of all that. Restoring white space to the page. I do like that. I even like the feeling of being up at 5.30am when the rest of the world is still dreaming, still pretending that the day isn’t going to happen.
But no, the actual labour of trying to wrestle wisps of thought in to hard shapes that make sense. The typing, the pacing, staring at the page while your head bleeds and your shoulders go tense with the pressure of it all. No, I don’t enjoy that. That just feels like a weird compulsion. An extension of restless legs syndrome, something that keeps me awake and annoys my life partner. Restless brain syndrome maybe.
And there’s also the knowledge that there might not be that much time to write too many more books. After all my father died suddenly at 62, my paternal grandfather died suddenly at 52, his father died at 48, and he outlived his father… My maternal grandfather died at 39. And I’m 48, so I’m deep into the danger zone…
No, writing is something I can’t really prevent any more. It’s an urge I used to be able to ignore, but the virus – if that’s what it is – is now full blown and so I’m compelled to sit down every morning or I find I’m all unbalanced for the rest of the day.
But I tell you what I do like – meeting readers. And if writing is painful it does have the compensation that I quite often end up in libraries talking to thoughtful, intelligent, honest and forthright people who love books. Even if – as sometimes happens – they don’t love mine.
I’m on this splendid Read Regional scheme where writers based in the North are matched up with libraries who unleash their writing groups upon us. Sometimes we face these groups on our own, and at other times we have the solidarity of a fellow worker in words to get our backs. And it’s always fun, always enlightening.
So far I’ve been to Hull Central Library (the Saturday before Christmas with Alison Gangel – five people there. One of them my father-in-law). I’ve been to Shipley library in February (50 people). I’ve been to Riverside library, Rotherham in a blizzard (25 – very hardy – people). I’ve been to Consett Library where my car blew up on the A1 (M). I was like a Messerschmidt pilot in the film Battle of Britain. Panicking and swearing and wreathed in the most acrid of smoke. I still made the gig though (my father-in-law again, driving from Hull to Wetherby services and whisking me up to County Durham where I stumbled in, blackened of face and 20 minutes late to the great hilarity of the assembled book club).
It was in Consett that an audience member said, ‘My only worry about your book was that you are a middle-aged man writing in the voice of a teenager… But having met you it now makes total sense.’ Cheeky, or what.
I’ve also been to York Explore Library, where Fiona Shaw and I had a lovely chat with six readers and two librarians. Felt like the most civilised thing that I’ve ever done. It was in York where I was asked if I actually enjoyed writing. I should say that when I gave my answer, the bloke that asked it came back with ‘I don’t believe you.’
At King Cross library in Halifax (15 people) I tested out the plots of my next two novels and they seemed to go down okay. Which is a relief.
I have one last library gig – at the fabulously named Sherburn-in-Elmet in North Yorks – and come snow, come rain, come hail, come tiny audiences, come exploding cars, I will be there. Smart people who have read your book and who generally like it and sometimes point out things that you haven’t noticed yourself – that’s worth all the pacing and the groaning and the fighting with phantom thoughts who won’t stay still properly. Worth all the slow drip-drip of brain blood onto paper.
And I learn so much too. Because my favourite part of these events is when the audience start to tell you their own stories. Which are always fascinating. And which some reader’s group members at least will see in print if they carry on reading books of mine. Be very careful what you tell a writer. But don’t be careful what you ask. Ask anything you like. I’ll answer honestly.
One thing I’ve learned as part of Read Regional is that the Google Maps directions I get from my laptop will always contain a small but devastating error, which will divert me for at least half an hour and which I’ll only be able to resolve by parking somewhere that annoys other people and begging my iPhone for help. Tonight, I end up taking a terrifying fog-bound journey across what is probably a moor, but based on what I can see, could contain pretty much anything from a gigantic housing estate to a clan of swamp-dragons laughing at my terrible driving. (For the record, the other drivers are not laughing. In fact I think they’re about half a minute away from running me off the road as a service to humanity. To everyone else who had to share road-space with me that night; I was horribly lost and I didn’t know the road, and I’m very, very sorry.)
When I finally find the library, I’m more than a little bit petrified. Fortunately, the library is full of lovely people who offer me drinks and posh crisps and indecently good biscuits, and listen sympathetically to my dramatic opening narrative of How I Was Nearly Eaten By A Swamp Dragon And Almost Didn’t Get Here At All. It’s International Women’s Day – also my birthday – and I’m part of a double bill to celebrate. The other speaker is an actor called Susanna Meese, who’ll be performing fairy-tales based on the four ages of womanhood (Child, Maiden, Mother and Crone) under the heading, Revealing Women. She has the most fantastic props with her – an axe, a chopping-block, a harp, a pair of gorgeous red stilettos, which I examine in silent awe as we wait for the audience to arrive.
I’m on first, and I start off by reading an extract from someone else’s work; The Juniper Tree, from Grimm’s Fairy Tales. I like to begin with this because it is, hands down, the most awful, disturbing story I’ve ever read. It’s a fantastic antidote to our usual interpretation of “fairy-tale”, i.e. big frock, pretty girl, identikit husband and a story that stops just as it’s getting interesting. There are no big frocks or identikit husbands in The Juniper Tree. It provokes a few gasps and some uneasy laughter.
After that, I read from my collection. I usually choose a couple of extracts from Raphael’s story, because he’s tough and funny and loveable. Also, he is, in his own words, “a dwarf who strips for a living”, which always gets a smile. For International Women’s Day, I choose Ruth – a Hollywood private detective who falls for an iconic screen siren.
I read for a few pages, then stop, because I don’t want to bore them. I ask them if they have any thoughts they’d like to share about fairy-tales. One of the women in the audience says she really wants to hear the rest of story. Everyone else nods. Their hopeful, expectant look is one of the best compliments I’ve ever been paid. At the end, I realise it’s the first time I’ve ever read one of my short stories out loud all the way through.
After the break, Susanna takes the stage and performs three fairy-tales for us. As it happens, she’s chosen a variation of The Juniper Tree too, and we follow the story all the way from murder to cannibalism to righteous retribution. She also performs a Bluebeard story, and a lovely fable about an old lady who finds a pot of gold on the way home, which eventually turns into a cow and runs away. Along the way, she also reveals that she was one of the Fourth Plinth performers in Trafalgar Square. Specifically, she was the lady who sat naked in a deck-chair, reading a book. She has a beautiful photograph of the occasion.
The whole event is a lovely celebration; of reading, of fairy-tales, of telling stories, of womanhood. By the time we get to the end, I’m more than ready to face the fog and the Google directions and the swamp-dragons. I am woman! I can achieve anything! I have no need of your feeble directions! I laugh in the face of your swamp-dragons! Hear me roar!
Filled with confidence, I get back into my car and charge joyfully off into the night, and discover the fog has lifted and the M62 is clearly signposted, and I’m going to get home in one piece after all.
Congratulations to Annabel Pitcher, whose second novel, Ketchup Clouds, the story of a teenage girl who reveals a terrible secret through a series of letters written to a murderer on death row, has won the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize. Voted for by booksellers across the UK, the book prize aims to reward new and emerging talent in children’s writing.
Waterstones’s Melissa Cox called Ketchup Clouds, “an unsettling yet fantastically fresh and brave take on the teen confessional… Pitcher is a genuine literary star.”
Annabel’s first novel, My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, is a Read Regional selection and was shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Prize last year.
Read the full story at www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-21881191
How was your World Book Day? Check out Wakefield librarian Alison’s account of the big day, which included a Read Regional event with Annabel Pitcher and Michael Stewart, at the Wakefield Libraries Blog at http://wakefieldlibraries.wordpress.com/2013/03/08/world-book-day-a-librarians-diary/.
Despite having lived in Berwick for thirteen years now, this was my first visit to Sunderland. I was impressed by the City Library and Arts centre, a modern building housing an art gallery, a Local Studies centre and an information service as well as the library. The warmth of all the people I met there was all the more appreciated against the backdrop of an unpromisingly grey and cold day.
I was reading with Seni Seneviratne, and we were given an appreciative welcome and introduction by Margaret Simpson, the librarian. Our audience, a fairly intimate gathering, was very responsive. Most had just attended a poetry reading workshop with Anna Woodford, at which they’d discussed one poem by each of the Read Regional poets. By the time Seni and I read, there was a tangible sense of a door having been opened onto the often unfamiliar ‘room’ of the poem. You might say that our listeners had been warmed up! When I was chatting with Anna afterwards it struck us that this is a particularly fruitful blend for a poetry afternoon.
The two-hander is my favourite format of reading, as there’s always a slight suspense. The interplay between two voices and styles can surprise the readers as well as the listeners, and invariably there are shared preoccupations; we’ve both written poems about war and about Dunstanburgh Castle, for example, and I loved it when Seni read some poems ‘in reply’ to mine.
The Q & A session at the end was lively and we explored some interesting questions, including ‘Does it matter if the reader or listener interprets the poem differently from what the poet had intended?’ The consensus was that it doesn’t!
I always rejoice in the sensitive and attentive listening by an audience, because it’s a form of generosity on their part, so thank you to all those who came along, and to Margaret. I’m also extremely grateful to the Read Regional campaign for allowing me to bring my poems to new audiences and new places.
Consett really laid on the weather for another cracking Read Regional event yesterday afternoon. It was a beautiful day, the best this year by far, not necessarily a good thing for an indoor library event.
As I took a leisurely drive up the A68, I wondered how many would turn up when they could be sitting outside enjoying wonderful sunshine. I arrived to find just one reader waiting. I shouldn’t have worried; within minutes, the room was full, just a few empty seats in the front row.
It’s rare to get a nice comfy chair to sit in, let alone a sofa, tea, orange juice, a bottle of water and a plate of ‘author only’ biscuits. Yum. They even provided some competition: a toddler from the junior library group next door who ran into the room being chased by his mum. So cute!
Consett library users love their library and their books. They were an engaging crowd who’d read both my debut The Murder Wall and Stephen May’s: Life! Death! Prizes! It’s great when readers connect with a book – in this case two – really ‘get’ the characters and have loads of questions already prepared, as was the case yesterday. Consequently, there was a lively Q & A afterwards, much laughter and warmth going both ways.
I’ve noticed as I’ve travelled the north flying the Read Regional flag that no two audiences are the same. One I recall was exclusively made up of aspiring writers keen to hear of my journey to publication and ask for advice, others were book group members with no interest in writing themselves, some a mixture of the two. The one thing they all had in common was a love of words.
To me this is what Read Regional is all about. So, thank you Consett Library staff and marvellous book group members. You were terrific company and I hope one day to return.