Posts in Author blogs

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.

Conditions change, but human nature does not: Hilary Green on Troy and Mycenae

Posted Wednesday 9 May 2018 by Hilary Green in Author blogs

Troy: the revenge of the gods on the victorious Greeks?

Everyone knows the story of the Trojan War, don't they? Achilles the great warrior, cunning Odysseus, the Trojan horse. That last, at least, has become common parlance. In recent years fewer and fewer people seemed to have heard it, but now things are changing. I have no doubt that some of us have been watching Troy: the Fall of a City, on BBC TV. More, I suspect, were watching the first episode of Civilizations. Imagine my delight when the focus moved to the excavations of Pylos, city of King Nestor. Why? Because this is the setting for my novel The Last Hero and the discoveries of archaeologists like Sharon Stone, who appeared in that episode, underpin my narrative

"Within two or three generations after the victory over Troy, cities like Mycenae and Pylos had been so completely destroyed that for hundreds of  years everyone believed that they had never been anything more than a myth."

Last Hero GreenWithin two or three generations after the victory over Troy, cities like Mycenae and Pylos had been so completely destroyed that for hundreds of  years everyone believed that they had never been anything more than a myth. It was not until Schliemann uncovered the remains of Troy and then of Mycenae at the end of the nineteenth century that people understood that these stories were founded in fact. How was that possible? That was the question I set out to answer.

When I began to research the story that became The Last Hero, I found a wealth of information to work on. Some of it came from ancient legends which had been passed down over the centuries, like the story of the Trojan War, immortalized by Homer, or the murder of Agamemnon by his wife and her lover Aegisthus and the revenge of his son Orestes, as retold in the plays of Aeschylus and Sophocles. To the Greeks of the classical era, these stories were history, not myth, and subsequent excavations by archaeologists have proved that they do have a basis in fact.

"To the Greeks of the classical era, these stories were history, not myth, and subsequent excavations by archaeologists have proved that they do have a basis in fact."

Lion Gates MycenaePursuing the archaeological evidence I found that it reveals a fascinating story. There is no doubt that the city of Mycenae existed. Once only the Lion Gate was visible but now the ruins are there for all to see. Grave goods have shown that it was indeed a rich and cultivated society, where the royal dead were buried with masks of beaten gold over their faces. What interested me particularly was the evidence that over a period of years, after the victory over Troy, the city suffered partial destruction and re-building. Some time around 1200 BCE. a house belonging to an oil merchant outside the walls was burnt down and about the same time parts of the city and the palace were destroyed and rebuilt, with some of the walls being strengthened and a secret passageway constructed to a spring which fed a cistern. Was this evidence that the city had been attacked and expected the attackers to return?

Even more evidence came from excavations by Professor Carl Blegen of the University of Cincinnati at the site of Pylos, on the west coast of the Peloponnese. Here, legend had it, was the palace of King Nestor, who plays a large role in the Iliad; and excavations proved that it was so. A magnificent palace once stood on the hilltop of Epano Englianos, 17km north of the modern town of Pylos. It had columned courtyards and a throne room whose walls were decorated with beautiful frescoes. There were storerooms full of fine pottery and olive oil jars labelled to show their different flavours. Linear BMost interesting of all were the many clay tablets inscribed with writing in two different scripts, which had only been found before in the ruins of Knossos, the city of the Minoans on the island of Crete. Neither script had been translated and they were given the names Linear A and Linear B. Eventually, in 1952, Michael Ventris and John Chadwick succeeded in deciphering Linear B and discovered that it represented an early form of Greek.

"We even have the names of the men in charge. ‘To the headquarters of Klymenos near Metapa, the Count Alectryon with 100 men’ etc etc."

This sparked a great controversy. Did this mean that the MInoans, hitherto believed to have been a different race altogether, were also Greek? Or had the Mycenaeans conquered and colonized Knossos? Arguments raged among scholars, but what interested me was the information the tablets revealed. Most were simply records kept by the palace administration of taxes received and supplies dispensed but in the highest, and therefore most recent deposits, the tone changes. These tablets record orders that suggest Pylos was preparing for an attack. Chariot MycenaeThe number of available chariots is to be recorded, and chariots repaired where necessary. Ships are to assemble  and watchers are to be sent to various points along the coast. We even have the names of the men in charge. ‘To the headquarters of Klymenos near Metapa, the Count Alectryon with 100 men’ etc etc. Most significantly, bronze vessels are to be requisitioned from the temples to be melted down for weapons.These tablets were found it a layer of ash, left from the fire that razed the palace to the ground. The preparations were unavailing.

"The characters who people the story are not myths. They are not descended from gods or nymphs, though they believe their ancestors were divine. They are human beings with all the strengths and faults of all humans"

Spartan warriorWho were the attackers? Tradition suggests a tribe called the Dorians, who believed themselves to be the descendants of Heracles. This, I decided, would be the basis for my novel. The characters who people the story are not myths. They are not descended from gods or nymphs, though they believe their ancestors were divine. They are human beings with all the strengths and faults of all humans. They loved and suffered and hoped and feared as we all do. Their existence is attested by the records. Alkmaion was the son of King Sillos and the grandson of Thrasymedes, who fought at Troy. His cousin and rival, Antilochos, would have been the heir instead of him, if his grandfather had not died in that war. The royal family of Mycenae are all recorded as the descendants of Orestes. Even Alkmaion’s lover, Alectryon, was a real person, as I have shown above, though their relationship is a product of my own imagination.

"In short, The Last Hero has as much historical validity as novels about Roman Emperors or Queen Boudicaa or Viking invaders."

In short, The Last Hero has as much historical validity as novels about Roman Emperors or Queen Boudicaa or Viking invaders. We may not have as much documentary evidence for it as we do for the Wars of the Roses, but the Myceneans were as real as Edward lV or Richard lll and they loved and fought with the same intensity as the men and women who lived through both World Wars. Conditions change, but human nature does not.

Hilary Green trained as an actress but has spent most of her working life teaching drama and theatre studies, most recently at Birkenhad Sixth Form College. Having achieved an MA in Creative Writing at Liverpool John Moores University, she is now concentrating on being a full-time writer. She published three novels, all thrillers, in the 1980s but is now concentrating on historical novels. She won the Historical Novel Society's Kythira Prize for a short story in 1998.

Books and libraries sing to me

Posted Wednesday 25 April 2018 by Guest blog writer in Author blogs, Opinion

"That Poetry Bloke" Craig Bradley got in touch and so we naturally asked him to write something about reading and libraries. Here's what he said...

I have always been a reader. I can't remember learning how to read. Those little lines, loops and squiggles, that we call words, just made sense to me. Deep inside. They just clicked. I was very lucky.Numbers didn't though. Far from it. Despite my mum paying for extra maths lessons, I was well into my teens before timetables and long division sang to me. Even now their song is a bit out of tune. But books, they sang to me from the start. And they are still singing.

"books, they sang to me from the start. And they are still singing."

Craig BradleySo you can imagine what i thought of my local library. It was on the council estate where we lived. From the outside it was a gloomy drab, ugly, concrete building at the end of a row of run-down shops.  But when my Nan took my sisters and me inside, it was like walking into another world. A crazy, beautiful, slightly bonkers, endlessly fascinating world of ideas, imagination, language and stories.

They were books everywhere. We had a few at home- granddads encyclopedias and such - but nothing like this. This was on another scale. They were rows and rows and shelves and shelves of the things. Therer were so many books that they were piled up on the windowsills and tables.To me, it was like every book in the world was in this room. And the best thing was i could take one home. In fact, the lady who gave me my little pink "Childrens Borrower" library ticket said I could take up to seven books home. Now! Today! Seven actual books! I could read one a day for the next week. 

"That little grubby concrete building was a real, living and breathing Aladdin's cave"

Craig Bradley BrusselsAnd that's what i did. I read and read. I wasn't fussy - made up stories, true stories, old stories, new stories- you name it, i'd read it. Libraries opened up a whole new world to me. It was magic. No other word for it. That little grubby concrete building was a real, living and breathing Aladdin's cave, (Aladdin being one of the very stories i read by the way). By giving me access to loads of books, it gave me access to loads more people and the stories that they told, about their lives and the world that they lived in. I couldn't tell the time or do my timetables but I could read stories and, in doing so, became aware of another world beyond the council estate I lived in. I also read about other people who couldn't tell the time and felt like i wasn't on my own. Libraries did that and i thank them for it.

And you know what, they still do.

Craig Bradley is freelance writer, poet ad performer and has spread his love of reading through class and library visits. His website is here.

"There’s so much going on beneath the skin": author Caroline England on her inspiration

Posted Monday 9 April 2018 by Caroline England in Author blogs

Caroline England writes about her writing influences and inspiration.

"Writers are often asked what has inspired their writing. For me it’s both fiction and real life.

Switch BitchI discovered Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch and his other short story collections as a teenager. I loved the intriguing spiteful tales with their dark twists and surprises. Crime fiction has always been my first choice of holiday reading, from Agatha Christie as a child through to Ruth Rendell, Minette Walters, Val McDermid, Ian Rankin and more recently Mark Billingham and Jo Nesbo. I adored Mary Wesley’s surprisingly risqué stories and I’m a big fan of Maggie O’Farrell and Kate Atkinson’s contemporary books.

England beneath skinThough my novels Beneath the Skin (published by Avon HarperCollins last October) and My Husband’s Lies (out on 17th May 2018) are at the ‘domestic noir’ end of the crime fiction umbrella, I think my writing has been influenced by the blend of the above two genres, so I write about contemporary lives but with intrigue and complications, love and betrayal, friendship and secrets. I certainly love to explore what goes on behind closed doors!

I studied Law at university and worked as a solicitor in Manchester, initially specialising in divorce and matrimonial cases, later moving on to professional indemnity work, where I represented lawyers, accountants, surveyors and other professionals accused of negligence.

These areas of my career have very much influenced my writing. I met people at their lowest ebb, emotionally stressed and exposed, having to bare their souls and admit to their darkest deeds, sometimes keeping secrets and telling lies (like the characters I write about!) It was a little like a being a therapist, I was seeing people naked, effectively; raw, human emotion. 

Husband's liesAs a trainee, I was involved in representing clients charged with crime. I accompanied my boss as a Duty Solicitor, sat in on police interviews, visited prisoners in Strangeways and spent many hours frequenting the local magistrates courts. Some of the ‘criminals’ were bad people, but others were often young people who had lost their way.

People going through divorce are at their nadir too. Sometimes they have to admit to horrible truths about their own behaviour or make allegations against someone they once loved, or face the heartbreak of adultery and betrayal.

Although an allegation of a professional mistake might seem lighter in comparison, it isn’t necessarily so. It’s often a frightening slur to one’s name, a dreadful dent in a persons professional pride and reputation. The allegation could arise in many and varied ways, sometimes relating to the misappropriation of money.

When I left the law, I became a volunteer mediator for the City Council, which again was fascinating. This time I heard not one, but two or more points of view, two or more versions of truth, which is very much what story telling is about. 

I’m captivated by people and the human condition; how we’re all different but the same, how we’re all flawed and frail but put on a brave face, when there’s so much going on beneath the skin. If you read my books, you’ll find such characters on the page!

"I’m captivated by people and the human condition; how we’re all different but the same, how we’re all flawed and frail but put on a brave face, when there’s so much going on beneath the skin."

I came to the writing game a little later in life, but when I thought about it, I realised I’d always been ‘writing’ in a way - as a child I had made up stories before sleep, then as a lawyer there had been pleas of mitigation and statements, divorce petitions and pleadings, detailed reports to insurers (that felt longer than a novel!)

Turns out my creative writing skills were developed at work without me knowing it!"

www.carolineenglandauthor.co.uk

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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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