Time to Read Blog

Why The Wrong Place is The Right Read

Posted Wednesday 29 August 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

I have loved Belgian cartoonist Brecht Evens' graphic novel 'The Wrong Place' for years. It's huge and has never fitted on any bookcase I've owned, and it is very special to me. I don't have any memory of how it came into my possession, only the many occasions in which I pressed it into friends' hands, saying Look at this!

Wrong PlacePages and pages of gorgeous, splashily delicate watercolours, it tells three interweaving stories about being young in the city, and about friendship, loneliness and chance encounters. Stories about parties and the night.

Last time I sat down with 'The Wrong Place' I whispered to myself I'm not Gary, I'm not Gary as I read about the shy boy (painted in grey) who throws the first story's failed party and kills dead every conversation he enters. But I have been, yeah, sometimes, bad days, and that's ok. And in real life surely nobody (except people you idealise very much and cannot even imagine bleary-eyed before breakfast in old pyjamas) can possibly be Robbie, the charismatic local hero, who lights up the room, who everyone brings photographs of to the barber.

"Last time I sat down with 'The Wrong Place' I whispered to myself I'm not Gary, I'm not Gary"

The illustrations float dreamily over the page, unconstrained by traditional panels – some huge, some tiny, filled with kaleidoscopic patterns and colours. 'The Wrong Place' works on a heightened level of fantasy. Glimpsed windows are full of wild scenes, the characters themselves are so strikingly drawn – and the disco (room after room and dance floor after dance floor, hidden balconies, and an endless parade of dancers who look like birds of paradise) is just too good,  promising the best night out you n/ever had.

To me it feels like a very tender book, with a lot to say about finding and celebrating wonder and mystery. Adventures are around the corner, and you must gather up the confidence to seek them out. Connect, even fleetingly. At least that's what I take from 'The Wrong Place' whenever I read it. And then I go out.

Biography

Lenni Sanders

Lenni Sanders is a writer and performer living in Manchester, on Twitter as @LenniSanders.

Lenni's writing has appeared in The Tangerine, The Emma Press Anthology of Love, Eyewear's The Best New British and Irish Poets 2018, Butcher's Dog and The Real Story, and has been described as “beguiling” by The Short Story.

Lenni also makes performances, workshops and drop-in activities for heritage organisations and museums with Curious Things.

On September 14th she will be reading as a support slot at Bobby Parker's Manchester launch of 'Working Class Voodoo' and here is the event page.

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.

A coming-of-age story set in a vanished world: Sally Ashton reviews "All the Pretty Horses"

Posted Monday 4 June 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

“Because the question for me was always whether that shape we see in our lives was there from the beginning or whether these random events are only called a pattern after the fact. Because otherwise we are nothing.”

All the pretty horsesA coming-of-age story set in a vanished world, with every new read All The Pretty Horses seduces me all over again. It rewards any reader who bears with the confusing initial thirty pages and eventually orientates themselves, riding alongside John Grady Cole and Lacey Rawlins as they set out on horseback, travelling from their hometown in Texas over the border into Mexico. McCarthy’s powers of description, long, achingly evocative sentences and effortlessly realistic dialogue draw you into an open landscape of possibility and adventure as you ride with them into the sunset. Or not quite – neither the illicit romance between John and Alejandra, his boss’s daughter, or the overall story, end particularly well.

"my own travels will never quench the nostalgia that the long-gone world of McCarthy’s Mexico inspires"

I love that this is a story about male loss of innocence, a love story told from sixteen-year-old John’s point of view. It is romanticism at its finest, and along with Jack Kerouac’s On The Road, one of my biggest literary inspirations to start travelling. Sadly, my own travels will never quench the nostalgia that the long-gone world of McCarthy’s Mexico inspires. As the book explores loss of the past, its imagery and landscapes are so vivid that the otherworldly setting almost becomes your own. Almost, but not quiet; dangled in front of you, or rather behind, never to exist again.

In its protagonist, this book also manages to achieve a perfect balance between relatability and exoticism. The admiration I felt for John as a teenager is now also accompanied by sympathy as I read the book as an adult, commiserating in his loss and heartache.

All The Pretty Horses is a beautiful book. Everybody should read it, if only to suspend reality for a moment of unashamed escapism.

..............................................................................................................................................

Sally Ashton

The reviewer, Sally Ashton, is an avid traveller, living and working abroad for more than ten years. This is something which has helped enormously in both the development of writing and language skills.

Her first novel, Controller, was published in 2014 and her translation of LS6 Mario Crespo’s Spanish novel about Leeds in 2016. Both are published by Liverpool based press Dead Ink Books.

LS6 CrespoSally translates into English from Spanish, French and German. She accepts general linguistic work and has comprehensive experience translating websites, general marketing copy and communication materials. She is experienced in International Development, Hospitality/Travel, Sports, Animal/Equine, Retail Creative and Academic.

In her spare time Sally likes to play sports, read and drink coffee.

"A Series of Unfortunate Events has been teaching me not to trust anybody since the year 2000"

Posted Monday 28 May 2018 by Writing Squad in Writing Squad Reviews

Series of unfortunate eventsFrancesca Pidgeon on how the truly bad people are not who you may at first think.

A Series of Unfortunate Events has been teaching me not to trust anybody since the year 2000. Those 13 books have been with me throughout my conscious life and each time I read them I find another reason to love the densely woven fabric of the timelessly grim universe. 

In the series, three newly orphaned children called Violet, Klaus and Sunny are relentlessly pursued by a murderous distant relative and failed actor called Count Olaf, who wants to gain control of the enormous fortune their parents left behind. A bumbling Banker called Mr Poe attempts to keep them safe but refuses to believe the children when Olaf inevitably appears in a new disguise each time they are relocated. 

"The series doesn’t shy away from bitter storylines. Most people that attempt to help the children end up devoured by leeches or meeting some equally disgusting death."

The series doesn’t shy away from bitter storylines. Most people that attempt to help the children end up devoured by leeches or meeting some equally disgusting death. The books are best described as neo-Victorian. The series embraces some adult concepts and it is never assumed that something is too complex or highbrow for children to understand.

Series endUnlike the majority of children’s fiction, Snicket does his best to debunk the fairytale dichotomies. As the series goes on, the characters (‘villains’ included) are revealed to be more multifaceted than they first appear and the lines between 'good' and ‘bad’, and ‘moral’ and ‘immoral’ become increasingly blurred. They teach you to question what the ‘right' thing to do is and, when you find ‘good’ characters doing ‘bad’ things, whether or not that makes them ‘bad' people. And more than any other children’s story I've read, it makes you wonder whether there even was a ‘right’ thing to do.

"more than any other children’s story I've read, it makes you wonder whether there even was a ‘right’ thing to do"

Sometimes ‘bad’ people die. Sometimes ‘good’ people die. No-one is safe from the bad luck that befalls almost every character in the series and although the children tend to escape any harm meant to befall them, there’s no truly happy endings for anyone bar the occasional rich fat cat, (as in life). 

A Series of Unfortunate Events teaches you that institutions are often completely useless at doing the things they are designed for, that hospitals might try to perform dangerous brain surgeries on completely healthy patients, that schools might make you endlessly measure mundane objects and force you to listen to terrible violin concerts given by the headmaster. That through no fault of your own the system might fail you and you might be forced to go on the run for crimes you didn’t commit. This series deals with circumstances that are both really absurd and absurdly realistic.

"The only real evil denounced is of never questioning authority"

The only real evil denounced is of never questioning authority. The only truly irredeemable people are the ones that are sucked into a lazy mob mentality and don’t choose to look any closer at an unconvincing disguise that a child could see through.

Series endEven finding out that Lemony Snicket was in fact a pseudonym that Daniel Handler used when writing was a seminal moment in my young life. What was real? Who could I trust? Not doctors or teachers or even writers of morbid children’s fiction books apparently. 

Though this skepticism has plagued me, in many ways I am grateful that I had these books to teach me not to blindly believe what others haven't bothered to challenge.

"I am grateful that I had these books to teach me not to blindly believe what others haven't bothered to challenge."

...

A little bit about the reviewer, Francesca Pidgeon:

Francesca PidgeonFrancesca is primarily a musician and makes her living playing covers sets in bars. However, her real creative interests are sprawling and incohesive, tending to end up a part of her main creative output – her band Kumiko (see Kumiko https://kumikoknew.bandcamp.com)  Francesca writes, records, orchestrates, produces and performs the music for this project, and also creates any artwork, videos or handmade CDs that they release.

Apparently this is not enough work for Francesca, so she also writes prose and irate non-fiction (though these rarely see the light of day), she composes for film, radio and TV and is co-writing a folk opera. She will soon be heading up the Manchester contingent of ‘Girls That Gig’ which is an organisation that focuses on supporting women in music.

Her other interests include learning French at a sickeningly slow pace and playing roller derby.

Francesca and the band played as part of A Little Bite Music at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester, 12.30 on the 4th May.

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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