Posts by Ian Anstice

Transcription of an author event: Kate Atkinson at Bolton Central Library

Posted Tuesday 18 September 2018 by Ian Anstice in Events, Opinion

Bolton CentralA sunny, warm but windy day in Bolton. Outside, people were sat watching an talking on the steps but the town hall. Just round the back is the beautiful old Central Library with the newly refurbished combined museum just about to be opened on the asaturday after.

Bolton Libraries must have been delighted to get someone of the stature of Kate Atkinson. She’s been doing big bookshops and big cities otherwise in her tour, and been all over local and national radio and podcasts and book reviews. It turned out that she'd spent all that morning doing local radio interviews.

I can see why she came to Bolton though. It's a beautiful library and the auditorium can fit 150. In addition, tickets to attend were free and, not just that, but a free coffee and biscuit at the beginning. And it was clear people were using that money to saved to buy books. Choosing a seat at the back of the big semi-circular auditorium, I got chatting to a local bookseller who was looking on somewhat remorsefully at Waterstones doing a roaring trade in selling hardbacks.

Over 100 came for the difficult lunchtime weekday slot, never the best, in the beautiful meeting room at Bolton Central Library. Others had booked but not turned up (always a challenge with free events) but so many booked it didn't matter. The audience was what one would expect:  audience 90% female and largely retired. I'd recommend attend a weekday author visit to anyone approaching 50; Its a great way to feel young again.

"I'd recommend attend a weekday author visit to anyone approaching 50; Its a great way to feel young again."

Mel Kate Atkinson BoltonAfter a short intro from librarian Mel Graaf, which raised a laugh, it was over to Alison Barrow from Transworld who interviewed Kate Atkinson on her new book "Transcription" about espionage in the phoney war period at World War Two. "Sounds good doesn't it?" Said Kate in a happy voice which set the tone for what came after.

The author read a selection from the book. It was a Good audience, smiling and laughing at asides, such as observing that the lead character "is a pathological liar".

Then the questions came. Did Kate want to write a war story? No.

"I didn't want to write a war story but because I wanted to write this story, I had to. They don't know there's six years ahead of attrition. People are paranoid at the time which fits in well as the book is about paranoia and suspicion. MI5 are concentrating on mopping up the fifth column of Fascists, whose membership ran a very large gamut from the working class to the aristocracy.

She then apologised (no need) saying she’d be doing  local radio all morning and so if she repeated herself to let her know.

Kate used the National Archives to research story. It turns out that MI5 make periodical releases to NA when they're no longer sensitive and, seventy years after the events, they've recently released who one of the key characters in the book - Jack King = actually was, including transcriptions of his conversations. He infiltrated  fascist circles and was known socially to them. It's amazing to think that a bank clerk working for secret agency infiltrating fascists. Someone who looks so normal but whose work led to a whole web of people being revealed.

"It's amazing to think that a bank clerk working for secret agency infiltrating fascists. Someone who looks so normal but whose work led to a whole web of people being revealed."

There was some fun for a minute as the microphones were swapped due to a few people not being able to hear and the comment that "Kate is a writer, not a sound technician".

So, how much was made up? The plot and the characters are fictional but the background facts are facts. “ I then forget what I've made up: I can't remember what is real and what is not, which is quite appropriate"

There’s a lot about identity and deception in the book. You never find out with some people who they are. It's a book about ambivalence but not enough that readers throw down the book in disgust.

“If I knew everything that was going to happen I’d be bored” say Kate. “One things come out of another, always. I'm the early days I though one had to plan novels but the second I start typing it changes completely. It's only then that I understand what I'm writing. I like to have structure, a clear skeleton then you put the flesh on. I can't write without a title. I need to know that, how it begins and how it ends. And almost without fail I do get where I want to go at the end of writing.”

"If I knew everything that was going to happen I’d be bored”

I don't have the fear of a blank page because if you have the title then you don't have a blank page. The title bears little relation to the actual story but my thoughts unconsciously congregate around the title. I want to write a book with that title and when I finish it, I realise why I called it that.

For example, the book “Started Early Took My Dog”. Well, that means, the protagonist had to have a dog and an unlikely liking for Emily Dickinson, where the quote comes from originally. Therefore the book almost starts to write itself. On the subject of canines “Every book has a dog in it but I don't actually have a dog, of which more later.” One audience got very excited about what dog Kate should get. “A dog would be very important to dog owners and so should appear more in stories.

Characters in Transcription are quite isolated. This is deliberate. In the war, people left family, especially young women. Not isolated ... But liberated. Starting anew. Most of them had a whale of a time socially. Start of a huge shift of attitude about women.

"She sometimes catches herself thinking “What Would Gloria Think Of That?”

Individual characters are a big thing with Kate. Is she had to pick a favourite, then it'd be Teddy from Life after Life. Or Gloria in A God In Ruins. Or all of the dogs, especially Lilly in this current book. She went on to say that some characters just stayed with her. She sometimes catches herself thinking “What Would Gloria Think Of That?”.

She used to be offended when everyone thought Museum was autobiographical. “No, I'm a writer. But now I think that all of it came from my head so it must all be me, one way or another. Especially if you live inside a head of the character, you can see the similarity. But I'm not putting across a message or as a sounding board for my own opinions. “

“I think I would make an excellent spy. But in reality I'm not very good at keeping secrets. If I had my time again, I'd do something secret, Mi5 or GCHQ ... And be in charge of things. “

"I think I would make an excellent spy. But in reality I'm not very good at keeping secrets"

When would you travel back in time was asked. To the war as it was a time of heightened living,  was the answer. But only with a guarantee that I would come back. Imagine going back to Shakespeare’s time? No, there'd be no tea or good lighting or laundry.

kate questionAfter 50 minutes, the audience were given the opportunity to ask questions. And of course one of the first was about how Kate writes. She writes mostly chronologically. She reads the beginning every day as that makes her remember why she’s writing that book.

Some book ideas last forever with no book actually happening. She’s  been planning a book on the Antarctic for years and years. Kate is (a very young looking) 66 and frets some of her ideas will never get around to being written. Maybe if she lives to 150 and then get it all done.

“If I gather enough thoughts then I write it. The next two books I'm planning are relatively recent ideas. One is an exhibition I saw, one is an idea that just came to e. I've been putting together a book of short stories forever. Writing the book you want to write is the gift you give yourself.”

"Characters are often described as breeds of dogs in Kate’s books. What dog are you was the cheeky questions:  “I'd like to be a dog I'm planning to get - a border collie"

Characters are often described as breeds of dogs in Kate’s books. What dog are you was the cheeky question?  “I'd like to be a dog I'm planning to get - a border collie. Because they're more intelligent than me, or my best bet in that direction.”

Did you always want to write? “No. I was a reader. I was an only child so started reading at three. Did a degree and doctorate at English, and then failed at it. I was bereft. I treated academic writing as a creative thing. Then I started writing creatively almost immediately. I got rid of all the biographical crud in shoot stories. First story I ever wrote won a women's magazine award, which gave me permission to do more. Studying gave me the time to read so much. A winding reading base is the basis of writing.”

kate Atkinson queueWhat are your favourite writers? She was most influenced by her reading when she was a child. Real classics like Lewis Carroll and Nesbit. There was not this vast library of children's books then like there are now.

And now for I think what may be news to many. Her next one will be a Jackson Brodie one. Not sure she should have said that by the look of her publicist.

And, then, all too soon, it was time for book signing. 35 books were sold at £20 per time. Not too shabby. Kate showed tremendous patience signing so many books, laughing and thanking everyone.

28 tales for 28 days

Posted Tuesday 4 September 2018 by Ian Anstice in Latest Libraries News

Refugee Tales and Comma Press are launching ’28 Tales for 28 Days’ (#28for28 ) on 11 September.

Rooted in the work of the Gatwick Detainees Welfare Group,  and supported by the University of Kent, Refugee Tales shares the tales of those who have been indefinitely detained in immigration detention. The UK is the only country in Europe that detains people indefinitely for administrative purposes without judicial oversight. To highlight the call for a 28 day time limit for immigration detention, Refugee Tales is releasing 28 tales online – one each day over 28 days on the website www.28for28.org.

Events for the book which have taken place across Manchester and the North West at various festivals and have always been well supported, and a number of the tales recorded for this project were recorded in Manchester with local actors such as Maxine Peake and Julie Hesmondhalgh.

Tales are collaborations between people who have experienced detention, or people who have worked with those detained, by writers such as Kamila Shamsie, Ali Smith, Neel Mukherjee, Jackie Kay, Marina Warner, Inua Ellams and Patrick Gale. They are read on film by actors such as Christopher Eccleston, Niamh Cusack, Zoe Wanamaker, Jeremy Irons and Maxine Peake making a call for an end to indefinite detention to a new audience. Crucially, at the end of 28 Tales for 28 Days, a tale will be read in Westminster taking the tales to parliamentarians who have the power to bring about legislative change and end the injustice of immigration detention.



Rooftop protests not recommended – Jenn Ashworth on the power of libraries

Posted Monday 9 July 2018 by Ian Anstice in Author blogs, Opinion

Jenn AshworthWe were very lucky to have Jenn Ashworth, author of several books including the most recent Fell, talking to the Time To Read group. She is a passionate advocator for libraries and a brilliant speaker so we all fell silent – not a normal thing in the meetings - when she started speaking. We were not disappointed.This is a summary from my notes that the author has checked.

"being she truanted in public libraries she gained a lot out of it"

Jenn started with her upbringing and a confession or two, for she had a “troubled and troubling” childhood and often truanted. However, being she truanted in public libraries she gained a lot out of it. “Libraries were a place to go for free and that were warm and safe” she said, saying they offered “a strange combination of safety and freedom”. The author found the time she spent skiving at the Harris Library in Preston as “a way to be part of the community”.

"The best things the librarians did for her was not telling her what to read"

The best things the librarians did for her was not telling her what to read. So she read everything, from  Jane Austen to Stephen King to a guide to how to get published simply because she did not know this was not the right thing to do. But the librarians did teach her one thing. Forgiveness. Jenn sometimes did not return books and repeatedly lost her library card but that did not prevent the library from allowing her to take out more, for which she is very grateful.

"She remembers forgetting she was in a library for a couple of hours due to that book. How had Melvin done that?"

Baby and Fly PieThere was a book, “The Baby and Fly Pie” by Melvin Burgess, which made as big an impression on Jenn than the forgiveness shown. Although it was a depressing dystopia, it allowed Jenn to be “lost in that world and not in mine” and that was what was so important for her at the time.  She remembers forgetting she was in a library for a couple of hours due to that book. How had Melvin done that? How had the book managed to transport her to a different world? Jenn had to find out. She stole the book from the library. 

"Authors can go to festivals to sell books but authors don’t go to libraries for that to the same extent. Talking to readers, in a way that libraries can facilitate, is why they write."

What libraries do is incredibly important and have life-changing effects. Authors are usually deeply and personally grateful to libraries and can be their biggest champions as a result. Libraries develop relationships with readers and the wider community in the way that other purveyors of books do not. The staff often have a unique personal relationship with readers and with reading groups. Authors can go to festivals to sell books but authors don’t go to libraries for that to the same extent. Talking to readers, in a way that libraries can facilitate, is why they write. A writer wants to make connections and want to write to explore what it is to be a human, messily in relationships with other humans, the landscape and the world - and to help the reader think about those things for themselves …  and libraries can be very helpful in that. The local connection libraries have are important. Jenn comes from the Northwest and knows that the region has a strong literary community that is under-represented in the publishing and prizes worlds.

Jenn at lecternThen there were some tips on how to get the best out of an author visit:

  • Be clear on what the author is doing, what they’re good at and what genre they write. For example, Jenn, like many others, finds the teenage age group challenging and would not appreciate discovering a group of teens being dragooned in to one of her talks.

  • Be clear to the author as to what you expect them to do and why you want them. If it’s for an end-of-year celebration for reading groups, who may not have read the author’s books, tell the author that and they will prepare very differently than if it is for a group of fans who have read every word of their writing.

  • If an event is pairing the author with another one, there needs to be a reason. Just availability or geographic closeness is not enough. The authors will read eachother’s  books and discuss them so there needs to be a thematic or other connection.

  • Make sure the branch library staff know who is coming and not to be afraid of them. Authors very rarely bite.

  • Authors need to make an entrance at the start of the talk to make the opening crisp Fell ashworthand obvious. For this reason, have them in a separate room (be it staffroom or broom cupboard) beforehand.

    "Authors know what libraries are like. They have not come for the building but for the audience."

  • Give authors advice on travel and parking. Think about how easy it is getting to the venue will be and offer to pick up from the station if necessary.

  • Get in touch with the author’s publicist as soon as you can. An author will give an image or two but the publicist can help with graphics, how to do publicity and social media.

  • Above all, get whoever is introducing the author to have read the book. The library staff have the personal connection with the audience and if they don’t have a connection with the book, the audience will see that and take their cue from them.

  • If an introduction is delegated to front line staff, make sure they want to do it and know what to do. A terrified introduction does not a successful event make.

Rooftop protestAuthors do not expect libraries to be swish. There’s no need to apologise for not being so or if the building is a bit small or grubby. Authors know what libraries are like. They have not come for the building but for the audience. They know that a library is not a place where people simply come to get culture but to make culture.

"a library is not a place where people simply come to get culture but to make culture."

Jenn then finished with a story. When she worked in a prison library, she talked about a book she had published. Her audience talked about her book and then offered to do a rooftop protest and show the book to the television crews filming it from helicopters. You don’t tend to get such offers from festival audiences. Those who attend library events tend to be more helpful. Although, of course, rooftop protests are not recommended.

Trafford WordFest

Posted Tuesday 15 May 2018 by Ian Anstice in Latest Libraries News

Wordfest 2018 runs during June. Events are being held in Trafford Libraries throughout this period. All are welcome to come to the events but booking is recommended.

Bird Boogie in the Library

Old Trafford Library, Thursday 7 June, 11am-2pm

Celebrate National Bookstart Week with a boogie at our silent disco in the library! When you fancy a sit down, there will be bird-themed crafts and colouring to keep the entertainment going. We'll also be giving away free copies of this year's National Bookstart Week book, A Busy Day for Birds to under 5s. Suitable for early walkers (dancers) upwards!

This is a free Wordfest and Chatterbooks event. No need to book, just turn up.. For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

Vaseem KhanAn evening with Vaseem Khan

Stretford Library, Wednesday 6 June, 7.30pm

Join us for an evening with Vaseem Khan, author of the bestselling The Inheritance of Inspector Chopra, as he talks about the latest in the Baby Ganesh series, Murder at the Grand Raj Palace.

This is a free Wordfest event. Book online at Eventbrite. For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

The Pankhursts and the Suffragettes

A talk by Janet Pickering from The Pankhurst Centre

Altrincham Library, Thursday 7 June, 7.30pm

This year we are celebrating the centenary of the act of parliament which gave some women the right to vote. The Pankhurst family from Manchester were leading suffragettes and founder members of the militant Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

This is a free Wordfest event. Book online at Eventbrite . For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

Oliver TearleBritain by the Book with Oliver Tearle

Hale Library, Tuesday 12 June, 2pm

Why was Agatha Christie investigated by MI5 during the Second World War? Why was Thomas Hardy buried twice? A multitude of curious questions are answered by Dr Oliver Tearle, author of Britain by the Book, a fascinating literary travelogue taking in writers' unusual haunts and the surprising places that inspired some of our favourite fictional locations.

This is a free Wordfest event. Book online at Eventbrite. For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

Children's Author Jane Kerr

Urmston Library, Thursday 14 June, 4pm

Come and meet children's author Jane Kerr, author of The Elephant Thief, and discover more abut the amazing real life Edinburgh to Manchester adventure of Maharajah the elephant.

This is a free Wordfest and Chatterbooks event and is aimed at children aged 7+. No need to book, just turn up.. For more information please contact urmston.library@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

Happy BrainThe Happy Brain with Dean Burnett

Sale Library, Friday 15 June, 7.30pm

After a hugely successful visit to Wordfest in 2016 with the acclaimed The Idiot Brain, neuroscientist, writer and stand-up comedian Dean Burnett returns to talk about his latest book, The Happy Brain.

This is a free Wordfest event. Book online at Eventbrite. For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

Ashley DeyerCrime Scene: Call Forensics with Ashley Dyer

Altrincham Library, Wednesday 20 June, 7.30pm

How do the forensic experts deal with a crime scene and how do crime writers make sure they get the facts right? Examine the evidence at our 'crime scene' and chat with the writer and forensic expert who together form Ashley Dyer.

This is a free Wordfest event. Book online at Eventbrite. For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

Sahera PatelMeet author Sahera Patel

Old Trafford Library at Limelight, Friday 22 June, 7.30pm

Sahera Patel is a British Muslim, teacher and public speaker. She has a passion for her faith and it is with this passion that she wrote her first book, the inspirational I'm not a Celebrity, I am a Muslim. In her latest book, Unveiling Arabia, Sahera writes about her experience of living and working in Saudi in a refreshingly vivid way.

This is a free Wordfest event. Book online at Eventbrite. For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

Lucy Diamond An evening with Lucy Diamond

Urmston Library, Tuesday 26 June, 7.30pm

Meet bestselling author Lucy Diamond as she visits Wordfest for the first time to talk about her new novel, On a Beautiful Day.

This is a free Wordfest event. Book online at Eventbrite. For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

Sonic Youth Slept on My Floor with Dave Haslam

Urmston Library, Wednesday 27 June, 7.30pm

Dave HaslamWe are delighted to welcome back former Hacienda resident DJ Dave Haslam as he talks to Abigail Ward from Manchester Digital Archive about his new book Sonic Youth Slept on My Floor, a masterful insider account of the rise of Manchester and the birth of the rave era.

This is a free Wordfest event. Book online at Eventbrite. For more information please contact libraries@trafford.gov.uk or phone 0161 912 3189.

North West Libraries

Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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