Posts in Events

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.

A Vintage evening: book previewing in Manchester

Posted Wednesday 28 March 2018 by Ian Anstice in Events, Opinion

Vintage inviteOne of the serious perks of being the co-ordinator of Time To Read (well, apart from working from home with my dog, Gusto, sleeping on my lap while I’m typing) is being invited to book launches and there was a particularly good one put on by Vintage this week which I want to tell you about.

The Vintage 2018 preview event took place in the wonderful Waterstones at Deansgate in Manchester on a mild Monday evening.  It turns out that the bookshop has a secret events room behind double doors by the Costa on the top floor.

So what happens? Well, you walk in and there’s free drinks (wine and juice) as well as free nibbles (the best Marks and Spencers can offer) and six authors waiting around for the event to start. This is a great time to speak to them, as they’ve not formally been introduced yet and people are a bit stand-offish. I chickened out of talking to Irvine Welsh and instead spoke to the very friendly Abir Mukherjee, who’s an old hand at such things and politely underestimated my age, and Damian Le Bas and his wife, who were fascinating.

Then the event properly started and we all took our seats to listen to the speakers and to people form the publishers. The first speaker described who was there, including not only a sprinkling of us librarians, but also staff from Waterstones, independent bookshops and book bloggers. The publishers then summarised their favourite forthcoming books from other authors, including two which caught my eye – Star of the North by DB John, due out in May, about child abductions carried out by North Korea and the new one by Yuval Noah Harari, “21 Lessons for the 21st Century”.  If you’ve not read any Harari, well, start now … but don’t miss this one. The man is a genius.

Irvine WelshOK, now on to the speakers. Irvine Welsh, the megastar in the room, was first on and literally set his stopwatch at the start to make sure he did not speak too long. He was there to speak about his “third real Trainspotters” book Dead Men’s Trousers.  This is a “twisted redemption” for his characters.

Then we had Damian Le Bas whose Stopping Places is about his journey to places in the UK which Damian Le Bashad links to Travellers. I checked with him and he’s also fine with the terms Gypsies and Romany, although the fact I had to do this showed how touchy the subject still is, even in 2018. And, yes, some people do use the socially unacceptable term “pikey” but I bet none of them knew that they do so because it comes from the old word “turnpike”, which is a road-toll. He’s full of fascinating information like that and has a real flair for description, as his reading of his trip to Appleby Fair in Cumbria demonstrated. Did you know that you can so carefully control a coin toss that heads can come up nine times out of ten?

Diana EvansDiana Evans came nest with Ordinary People, a novel about black British middle class people from the day Obama was elected to the death of Michael Jackson in the same year. Themes like parenthood and middle age are touched on as is, of course, race, which she made clear was “not just a black person’s problem. Again there’s some good turns of phrase like the description of "Obama walking out victorious on to the bulletproof stage".  I love fact as well that the book has a playlist.

Andrew MacMillanPoetry is a notoriously hard sell but Andrew McMillan, now based in Manchester, gives it his best shot. Like his previous book, Physical is very graphic and eyewateringly personal, with lightning-quick turns of phrase that shock almost as much as the meteorological phenomenon itself. It’s about a homosexual adolescence but is basically also about awkwardness and the pains of growing up generally.

Christie WatsonThe next speaker grabbed the attention of everyone from the start. The story of a child dying in your arms from burns and the smell of her hair as it is washed is going  to stay with me for a long time. Such is the work of Christie Watson, whose book “The Language of Kindness: A Nurse's Story is, for my money, going to be – or damn well should be – the bestselling book here.  She’s a nurse in the NHS and talks about kindness as well as life and death. She is an absolutely riveting speaker and can move  from gruesome morbidity to humour in a minute. I think the time has come for this as it’s not misery fiction – it’s kindness non-fiction – and from a nurse, not a doctor or a midwife. I did video snaps of the other authors but I forgot to do it with Christie, she was that good.  There was a 14-way auction for the rights to this book and I can see why.

Abir MukherjeeAh, but then we had the infinitely likeable Abir Mukherjee –whose “Smoke and Ashes” is the third in a detective series based in 1920s India. It’s a good backdrop for thrillers and he does it well, with the latest being about the shameful medical tests done on Indian troops at the time, mixed in with preparations for the arrival of Prince Edward (the future Edward VIII) in Calcutta. I’ve not come across his work before but I’m going to jolly well read some now.

Abir then proved very popular in the next stage of the evening, which was a social get-together with the authors, although poor Irvine Welsh – who I suspect was too famous to be socially talked to – had to stand around for a bit while people just came up to him to autograph his new book. Oooh, did I mention there were piles of free copies of the books to just pick up? That’s rather good isn’t it? Or it would have been if I had not been so intent on speaking to people I forgot to get them until it was too late. Such are the problems of such a good evening. Here’s looking forward to the next one.

Bookmark this: Oldham Bookmark Festival returns in May

Posted Monday 19 March 2018 by Ian Anstice in Events

Oldham BookMark Festival 2018The ever-popular Bookmark Festival returns for a long weekend of fantastic fun-filled, book-related events and activities.

Expect returning popular guests, new literary voices and familiar favourites. There’s certainly something for everyone, celebrating reading in all its finest forms. See the full programme here. Book tickets here.

Events for adults include: 

bookmark crimeThe Life of Crime: Crime writers’ workshop with Jane McNulty

Do you want to write the perfect murder story? Looking for that perfect twist? Join Salford writer and playwright Jane McNulty in our Life of Crime mystery workshop. Learn how to create and handcraft your own crime stories, avoiding the regular tropes and clichés.

Mandasue Heller and David Mark

Two writers of thrilling and nail bitingly tense stories return to Oldham to discuss how and why they love writing about crime and punishment. Both bestselling authors know the dark streets of Manchester and Hull, the settings for their page turning crime thrillers. Manchester’s Mandasue Heller (author of the top ten bestsellers Run and Afraid) will be discussing her latest novel, Save Me and journalist and crime reporter David Mark will be discussing his latest book Scorched Earth.


BookishFive mini comedy shows each inspired by a different book and you get to choose which ones you see! Performed by Laura Mugridge and Tom Adams with live original music, a quiz and the stories of what happened when they tried to research the books. There will be a live vote on the night, and two shows (books) will be performed. Suitable for 10+. The five books are:The London A-Z, Ginger - My Story (the autobiography of Ginger Rogers), The Remains Of The Day, The Dairy Book.

Afternoon Tea with Milly Johnson

Sunday Times Top Five bestselling author Milly Johnson hosts an afternoon in a beautiful park and a feast of finger sandwiches, delicious cakes and scones. Born and bred in Barnsley, Milly is also an after-dinner speaker, poet, cruise correspondent, columnist, scriptwriter and a joke-writer for the greetings card industry. She writes about love and life in present day Yorkshire and makes no apologies for the happy endings.

Katie ThistletonKatie Thistleton

Join CBBC’s TV and radio presenter Katie Thistleton as she talks about mental health and her new book Dear Katie: Real Problems, Real Advice. Katie will share anecdotes from her own experiences, as well as advice found in her book on some of the most common problems and worries associated with growing up. With a bright, positive attitude, Katie will leave you feeling happier and more confident, safe in the knowledge that whoever you are, you are unique.

An Austentatious Murder Austentatious

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

Acknowledging Jane Austen as one of mankind’s most gifted writers on the subject of love and the human condition, tech developers have created the ‘Austen Algorithm’ - the key to finding the perfect partner! The new app Dating Mr Darcy is due to be launched at an Austen themed gala celebration. But moments before the app goes live, its creator is found dead - Someone has quite literally broken her heart!

An Afternoon with Simon Mayo

Oldham BookMark Festival 2018Join Simon Mayo for an afternoon of relaxed conversation around his debut adult novel, Mad Blood Stirring. Inspired by real events and real characters, the novel tells the story of the American sailors held captive in Dartmoor Prison during the Second War of American Independence.

The award-winning and popular BBC Radio 2 presenter, Book Club leader and author will be interviewed by ITV’s Caroline Whitmore. Caroline has worked for ITV for almost twenty years and is now the entertainment correspondent for Granada Reports. She meets a whole host of celebrities on a daily basis from Kylie Minogue to George Clooney and classes Take That and Peter Kay as friends.


Making the sandwich: putting on successful author events

Posted Wednesday 13 December 2017 by Ian Anstice in Events, Training

Public libraries are superb places to host author events. There’s thousands of them, for a start, with a wide geographical spread. They often have large amounts of floor space when compared to book shops. But, in this age of increasing competition for people’s time and limited staff resources, how does a public library ensure that writer visits can be as successful as possible? That’s the question Time To Read posed. The answers that came back all pointed to the conclusion that simply offering an author, except if they’re really famous, is not enough.

Making the SandwichIn fact, what came through loud and clear is that the library needs to think of how to package the event. Perhaps the best way to explain this is by analogy. Think of it like trying to sell a sandwich, where the author is the main filling and the library is the bread. Well, that may not be enough to get people to buy the sandwich, especially as there are many other fantastic lunch options out there. So it may be better to add in some refreshments as extra fillings  and  -  to improve the packaging, as it were -  theme the event. Oh, and make sure you don’t serve it at the wrong time of day. Perhaps add some music in there as background too. And, voila, you get a really nice sandwich . Or author event.

This guide is intended to share the best practice out there and to share the hard-won experience of experts so you don’t have to learn on the fly. But it’s not intended as prescriptive. To take the food analogy still further, choose what you want from the buffet of ideas and perhaps come back later to try something more adventurous. Oh, and let us know your ideas too so we can improve for next time.

Download the "Making the sandwich" guide here.

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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