My column for the April edition of the Hawkesbury Parish News
“The reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.” – George R R Martin
While we may not be able to dictate the course of our own lives, we can control the other 999 simply by selecting the best books.
I tend to choose the kind with happy endings: light-hearted novels featuring characters I’d like to spend time with, in settings that I’d like to visit. But I also like a bit of variety, to avoid Groundhog Day syndrome. After all, what’s the point of living a thousand lives if all of them are pretty much the same?
So I often step outside my comfort zone. This year, between pleasant novels, I’ve enjoyed a history of anaesthesia, the biography of a famous author, an anthology of poems about the sea, and the collected letters of a British comedian. By the time I reached the end of each book, I saw the world in a slightly different way. We are all forever changed, at least a little, by every book we ever read. Even in the age of the internet, the humble book still has almost magical powers.
Surely that’s got to be worth celebrating? If you agree, come and help me do just that, in the company of around 20 authors, poets, and illustrators, on World Book Night, Thursday 23rd April, at the new free Hawkesbury Upton Literature Festival. (See separate page for details) But, in the meantime, I’m off to read a good book…
If you’re after a good book to read, you could do worse than choose one of mine! Quick Change is an upbeat read for spring, packed with 20 very short stories – 22 if you buy the paperback, with its two extra bonus stories! Now available from all the usual online stores, and can also be ordered from your neighbourhood high street bookshop.
Having just written my June column for the Tetbury Advertiser, I’ve just realised that I hadn’t yet posted up on my blog my column for last month. So here it is, for the record – and apologies to regular readers for any repetition, as I’ve covered some of the same ground in previous posts. More new stuff coming soon!
I welcome the arrival of May with a sigh of relief, as it heralds the completion of project that has preoccupied me since November: the launch of a new book, which I’ve co-authored with the writer and poet Dan Holloway. It’s called Opening Up To Indie Authors, and its purpose is to build better relationships between self-published authors and the traditional book trade.
Tetbury’s own book trade, in the shape of Yellow-Lighted Bookshop proprietor Hereward Corbett, gets an honorary mention in the book, whose launch has taken me far beyond Tetbury. At the start of the school holidays, we pointed our camper van east, as I’d been invited to speak at the Cambridge Literary Festival. The venue for my talk was the exotically-named Divinity Lightfoot room in St John’s College. I thought Divinity Lightfoot would make a great name for a Bond girl, so I was slightly disappointed to discover it’s actually just the name of a lecture room in the College’s School of Divinity.
Two days later, I was taking the stage at the London Book Fair, officially launching the book, along with Dan and our editor Orna Ross, founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors. (I’m Commissioning Editor of that organisation’s blog.) I admit it was a very small stage – more of a window-box, as one reporter put it – but it was exciting all the same. The huge scale of the Fair made me wonder afresh how any bookstore proprietor chooses which books to stock. I also admire Hereward Corbett’s knack for so often bringing to give talks in Tetbury authors who are on the cusp of becoming bestsellers or have just had their book chosen as BBC Radio 4’s Book of the Week.
Back to More Books
Then it was back home to collect a big box of books from the library. Just what our house needs, more books… Fortunately for the state of my overcrowded bookshelves, these books will soon be on their way out again, destined to be thrust into the hands of random strangers.
Well, not quite random strangers – but, as part of the World Book Night initiative, I’ll be giving them to adults who don’t normally read books, to encourage them to enjoy reading. It’s a bit like the World Book Day event for children, but for grown-ups. World Book Night kicked off in 2011, and, to my delight, I’ve been a designated book giver every year. Being able to give away free books, paid for by The Reading Agency, makes you feel like Father Christmas, and recipients are always grateful , especially when they realise there’s no catch. To volunteer for next year’s event, visit http://www.worldbooknight.org.
On the Run from Books
After that, I’ll be moving on to a much less bookish project: rounding up runners for the next HU5K Run. This takes place on Saturday 14th June on a mostly flat stretch of the Cotswold Way, starting and finishing at Hawkesbury Upton. If you’re interested in taking part, you’ll find full details on the website: www.hu5k.org. Funnily enough, I’ve got quite a few books about running …
A post about how I celebrated my fourth year as an official World Book Night book giver
Yesterday I was delighted to take part in World Book Night 2014 – the fourth year of this laudable event aimed at encouraging adults to read for pleasure.
In some ways it’s like the better-known, longer-established World Book Day, which is so effective at persuading children around the world to love books and reading. After spending three years working for the British children’s reading charity Read for Good, I know how leisure reading can change children’s lives for the better.
Despite the excellent work done by both Read for Good and World Book Day, many children still leave school without a love of books and reading, likely to go through the rest of their lives without the ability to escape into a story or expand their experience through the pages of a book.
What Is World Book Night?
World Book Night picks up where these children’s charities leave off. In the UK, World Book Night spreads the joy of reading to adults by enlisting book-loving volunteers to give away free books to those who do not normally read for pleasure. There are lots of reasons why adults don’t read books: no time, no interest, no encouragement, reading difficulties, and no money to spend on books. The organisers produce special editions of a set range of books each year, carefully chosen to include something to appeal to all ages and tastes.
The unexpected gift of a free book, pressed into their hand by an avid reader, can make a real difference to a reluctant adult reader. It often kickstarts a new reading habit, enabling them to reap the joys of reading for the rest of their lives.
I recognise my own good fortune in having been raised in a house full of books and eager readers, with easy access to an excellent public library and caring schools. When I first discovered World Book Night four years ago, while working for Readathon (part of Read for Good), I was pleased to have this ready-made opportunity to offer further chances to those who had not been so lucky.
My Chosen World Book Night Books
Each year, I’ve applied and been pleased to be approved as a designated book giver, choosing a different one each year to distribute:
2011 The chef Nigel Slater’s excellent autobiography Toast
2012 The wonderful coming-of-age story by Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle – one of my all-time favourite books
2013 Alexander McCall Smith’s first Mma Ramotswe story, The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency
2014 Nora Roberts’ romantic thriller, Black Hills
I’ve given out my allocation of books in various places – in the village school playground, at a breakfast event in the village hall, at the shopping precinct – and always been met with an enthusiastic, if sometimes puzzled, response. Once people realise there’s no catch, they’re delighted to receive a free book – and for the giver, it’s rewarding to feel like Father Christmas for a day.
Some of my author friends staged special events on the night at bookshops and libraries. We held one two years ago in our village hall, but those who attended were already eager book-lovers, which, although very welcome, were not really our intended recipients of the book. Therefore this year I took a different stance: when invited to pick a Wednesday on which to appear on our local BBC Radio Gloucestershire’s discussion panel, I volunteered for April 23rd – World Book Night.
Taking to the Airwaves
The “Mid-week Mix” slot on Chris Baxter’s excellent morning show invites a panel of guests in to talk informally about interesting items in the news. Along with Hugh Worsnip, former chief reporter of the Gloucester Citizen, and Jenny May, a local journalist, we covered a wide range of set topics, from the cost of new cancer drugs to the forthcoming European elections.
The meaning of St George’s Day – also 23rd April – was also on the agenda. “What does St George’s Day mean to you?” was the question to which I was able to answer with complete honesty “World Book Night”, and to explain a little about it. I also made sure to give copies of my World Book Night 2014 book to the presenter, the panellists and the producer.
“Ooh, I was wondering how to get hold of one of those!” said a delighted Chris Baxter.
Now, it may seem at odds with the principle of the event to give books to those who are already eager readers, but I told them they had to promise to pass it on to someone who didn’t usually read, once they had enjoyed it themselves. Thus this was the perfect opportunity to enlist five new ambassadors who will now go out and tell their friends about World Book Night, and I hope they’ll be encouraged to volunteer as book givers themselves next year.
As I left the studio after our broadcast was over, I stopped to offer a book to the receptionist.
“Ooh, lovely, a grown-up book!” she said. “I never get the chance to read adult books – with a small child at home, I’m forever reading The Gruffalo. And I know a lot of other mums in the same boat. I’ll pass it on to them when I’ve finished, they’ll be really pleased.”
When I tweeted a 140-character version of this experience later, there was a gratifying reply from the organisers which certainly made my World Book Night:
Debbie Young celebrates World Book Day, sharing the love of children’s books
Having spent the last four years gainfully employed at the British children’s reading charity Read for Good, it felt odd this year to be counting down the days to March (as I always do) without having to consider my World Book Day workload.
How to Make Reading Cool for Kids
For those not familiar with World Book Day, it’s a UNESCO-led global celebration of reading which children take part in all over the, er, world.
Perversely, the UK celebrates it on a different day to the rest of the world, as the official day, April 23rd, usually clashes with British school holidays.
Most primary schools and many secondary schools celebrate World Book Day by staging all kinds of book-related events to make reading seem cool. (Incidentally I’m reliably informed by my 10-year-old daughter that it’s not cool for me to use the word “cool”.) This is because research shows that children who learn to love reading for pleasure grow up happier and more fulfilled in every respect. (Visit the Read for Good site for more information on that score.)
Readathon Gets Kids Reading for Good
Read for Good helps schools run a Readathon Sponsored Read by providing a colourful box of tricks free of charge. This enables teachers to get an easy tick on their World Book Day action list while actively enthusing their pupils to enjoy reading. The children choose what they want to be sponsored to read – much more motivating than reading what’s on their curriculum – and friends and family sponsor them. Most of the sponsorship money goes to help seriously ill children, partly through Read for Good’s fabulous ReadWell programme. The school also earns a book voucher to buy new school library books to the value of 20% of the total raised. What’s not to love about Readathon?
But unlike World Book Day, Readathon isn’t a once-a-year opportunity. Schools can run a Readathon any time of year that suits them – and they do. Some even set it as a school holiday challenge.
Helping Poorly Children Escape into a Book
Around 3,000 school Readathons take place every year, benefiting seriously ill children. These children are helped partly through the charity’s ReadWell programme. ReadWell sends free books and storytellers to children in hospital all over the UK, making life better not only for the children but also their parents, carers and siblings. Getting lost in a good book is a great way to while away time in hospital and escape from pain, fear and anxiety surrounding hospital procedures.
Spreading the Word(s)
Even though I left Readathon last autumn to concentrate full-time on my writing, I’m still flying the flag for recreational reading, for both children and adults.
Tomorrow I’ll be going into the village school that my daughter attends to get involved with their World Book Day celebrations. Hawkesbury Primary School has invited members of the community to come in to tell the children about their favourite books from their own childhood.
Mine was Teddy Robinson’s Omnibus by Joan G Robinson, whose central characters were a little girl called Deborah and a teddy bear that looks remarkably like my own. (Hmm, I wondered why I liked that book best?) I still have both the bear and the book, which displays evidence of my early hands-on approach to reading – some enthusiastic colouring of the line drawings in wax crayon.
After the school book-sharing session, I’ll be setting up a second-hand book stall in the school hall enabling the children to buy books at pocket-money prices to foster their own love of reading. It’s wonderful to think that tomorrow some of them may also find treasures they’ll still remember when they’re grown ups.
My Love of Children’s Books
I must admit I still adore children’s books, which is one reason that I write a regular review feature in Today’s Child Magazine. For this issue, I’ve also written an article called “Make Reading Fun”, as featured on the cover. To read it, click on this link and flick to pages 12-13. (My book reviews are on pages 20-21).
But I’m also glad that there’s an equivalent for adults coming up soon: World Book Night, which even in the UK will be celebrated on the official day of April 23rd. World Book Night is a completely different event from World Book Day (yes, it is confusing!) More about that event nearer the time – or you can check out its website, www.worldbooknight.org.
Wondering how to celebrate World Book Day? Just share a good book with a child that you know. And to help other children throughout the UK, please consider making a donation to help ReadWell continue its good work, sharing the joy of books with children in hospital every day of the year. Donations may be made direct on ReadWell’s donations page here. No donation is too small.
But now, I’m off to find a comfy spot in which to read a good book…