Posts by Jane Mathieson

Journeys on Trains

Posted Friday 10 July 2015 by Jane Mathieson in Opinion

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins  has just broken a record by being in top spot in Nielsen BookScan’s hardback fiction charts for the 20th week in a row, the longest stretch since the book sales monitor’s records began. I haven’t read it yet and understand that this isn’t really a book about being on a train but the action does occur as a result of train journeys.

This morning I became mildly involved in an altercation on my train journey to work. Trains I get at that time of day are always over-crowded, hot and uncomfortable but as for many of us, its only a 10 or so minute journey we usually put up with it quietly, occasionally sharing a wry comment.

Fridays are always a bit quieter. Many people clearly take Fridays off or work at home and there is a chance of occasionally getting a seat. This morning there were a number of “apparent “ seats available, on the ends of bench seats made for 3 and already occupied by 2 people. I sat on the end of one uneventfully. The seat in front was already occupied by a woman and a large man, when another woman attempted to sit on the end. Man didn’t budge. Woman very politely asked the man to move up slightly. He grudgingly shifted a little then started to complain about his legs and his bag on his feet. Then he became louder, shouting and accusing the woman of being aggressive(!) . I offered her my support saying I thought she was in the right. Every other bench was occupied by 3 people. There clearly was room for her if he just shifted a bit. Regretfully, as he continued to mutter & complain she got up and moved. I wish she hadn’t but I understood why she did.

This put me in a reflective mood- about the close proximity to unpredictable people we are forced into on trains and also about how angry and close to an “edge” many people seem to be. What books are out there that reflect these issues?

There are many thrillers and crime books set on trains- the randomness of passengers often being a cover for a planned assault. Without mentioning the obvious one by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express, there is also Strangers on a Train, b7w drawing of 2 men in profileby Patricia Highsmith. Cuckold Guy gets talking to loopy Bruno and is offered a deal: I'll kill your wife, if you murder my dad; with no connection between us, the police will never track us down.


Stamboul Train, by Graham Greene On a train from Ostend to Istanbul, assorted characters – an exiled politician, a beautiful woman, a journalist, a fleeing criminal – are thrown together with amorous and violent consequences. There are plot complications in Vienna and desperate dangers at a stop in Serbia, where the protagonist, the businessman Myatt, finds himself plunged into murderous political rivalries.

I remember that one of the best books I have ever read- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry features a classic long, crowded journey on an Indian train.

What else is there? I’m sure I have read lots of books that feature train journeys and would love to be reminded of them.

The Society of Authors meet in Chester

Posted Friday 3 July 2015 by Jane Mathieson in Events

Yesterday something new happened to me. I was introduced by a Town Crier!

Thankfully not in the open air or in his full regalia ( a bit OTT in my opinion), but in a lovely Committee Room in Chester Town Hall. Luckily he didn’t have to shout too loudly

. I had been invited to make some opening remarks to a networking social for the northern Society of Authors. They’d all been having an interesting day which started with a boat trip on the river. Before they heard me , they had held a discussion which I was told touched on some pertinent issues- such as should they be paid for library events and what knowledge did they have of festivals in the region.

I gave them a very quick overview of the sorts of ways we like to work with writers- inviting them in to libraries, singly, in pairs or in groups to talk about their own work; to contribute to festivals and special events we might be holding; to visit our reading groups : to work with us to co-create special one-off activities. I was able to name-check some of our high spots of local and social media activity. I also gave them a few action points to help them keep in touch with us I think they listened and some even made notes. resized image road between railway & building

In the networking social that followed I was able to catch up with some writers who have worked with us over a number of years- Margaret Murphy was there in her A.D.Garrett guise: Hilary Green told me about the range of books she is now writing; I had a lovely discussion about dolls’ houses with Carol Fenlon.

I also made a point of trying to meet some new (to me) writers. I sought out Martine Bailey (pictured)portrait photo green background who is someone I’m sure we would all love to host- a writer and a cookery expert who is giving some talks in Cheshire West imminently. She introduced me to Alison Leyland a new name to me, who was particularly interesting on books with a Croatian link. I also spoke to a few whose name badges had fallen off or who I didn’t register efficiently so apologies to them for not naming them individually here.

Some other library staff were there too and I saw them busily talking to writers and making links, so hope it was useful to them.

One topic of discussion which I was party to, was asking why some of the better known writers from the North were missing the event. Some of the less well-established writers present felt that they would love to benefit from the experience of writers who have been successful. Anna Ganley of the Society of Authors said she would be asking some of them what might tempt them to attend in future.

Overall it seemed a successful gathering. The venue was very atmospheric. Everyone I spoke to was warm and friendly and seemed to be enjoying themselves. I hope they left inspired- not only to keep writing but also to find out some more about the library services in our region.

Impac Award 2015

Posted Friday 19 June 2015 by Jane Mathieson in Competitions & Prizes

The English novelist Jim Crace has won the €100,000 Impac Dublin literary award, leaving him free, he says, to retire and consider writing “as a hobby”.

The Guardian reports that the writer took the prize, one of the world’s richest for a single work of fiction, with Harvest, the story of the last days of an English village where an age-old way of life is ending, and where three mysterious strangers trigger a series of cataclysmic events.

Harvest was shortlisted for the Man Booker prize two years ago, but was beaten to that award by New Zealand author Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries. This time round, Crace’s novel beat works by writers including Richard Flanagan, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Colum McCann.

I always like to keep an eye on the Impac prize as titles are nominatedby librarians worldwide

 Librarians representing “cities” nominate titles within certain criteria and date parameters. The prize as a whole was started and is administered under the auspices of Dublin City Libraries

Another reason to like it is that the date parameters are quite lengthy, so that allows an opportunity for a title that was actually published a couple of years ago, to still be eligible. This seems to me to mean that a book which has genuinely been read and appreciated by many readers can come through, Librarians,  in my limited experience of nominating for Impac, tend to select titles that have been popular and in demand by their library users, rather than a newer, less “tested” title which happens to be currently “in favour”.

The Impac is also one of the few prizes which acknowledges the worldwide nature of publishing and the reach of many titles. Harvest was nominated by Universitätsbibliothek Bern, Switzerland; and by LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library, Tallahassee, USA. It must be both rewarding and strange for the nominated authors to see that their books have made an impression in far-flung corners of the world. Because countries can nominate titles that have been translated into English, as well as those written in English, there is a great range and diversity of title put forward. The Impac website is a great place to look for titles that might not otherwise come across your radar.

The Desmond Elliott Prize

Posted Tuesday 16 June 2015 by Jane Mathieson in Competitions & Prizes

Sometimes I feel as if I can’t keep up with all the book prizes

and their longlists and shortlists, even though I know that they are an ideal opportunity for libraries to promote some great contemporary titles to their users.

I have become very excited by this one though, as for once I feel I know something about the 3 shortlisted titles. That’s another selling point for this prize too- only 3 titles on the shortlist. Means its possible to read them all and form an opinion on which one deserves to win

This is how the website describes the prize: Photo of display stand

Every year, a panel of three judges is asked to look for a novel which has a compelling narrative, arresting characters and which is both vividly written and confidently realised. Books from all fiction genres are considered. Worth £10,000 to the winner, the Prize is intended to support new writers and to celebrate their fiction. It was created in memory of the charismatic publisher and literary agent Desmond Elliott, who died in August 2003. He stipulated that his estate should be invested in a charitable trust that would fund a literary award “to enrich the careers of new writers”.

The 3 shortlisted titles this year are:

Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller and A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray. Reading Agency staff have already read and reviewed these for us

If I had a vote I’d be really torn. I’m currently loving Our Endless Numbered Days which is fantastically well written and engaging. I did enjoy Elizabeth is Missing when I read it a while ago as I recognised so much in it. I haven’t read Issy Bradley yet, but Carys Bray lives in this region so I consider her “one of ours” and I would love to see her win. I’ll read her book next and make my mind up on which I think is “most vividly realised and confidently written”, but I guess I’ll be pleased whoever wins this one.

Barrow Library (Cumbria) continues its tradition of creating imaginative book displays and have put a lot of effort into this one (pictured).

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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