Posts in Opinion

Protest: Stories of Resistance in the North West

Posted Wednesday 12 July 2017 by Becky Harrison in Opinion

From the Peasants’ Revolt, all the way through to the anti-Iraq War demo in 2003, people from all walks of life in Britain have been marching, picketing and occupying their way to social justice and, while recorded history favours the rich and powerful, it is often the overlooked grassroots movements that incited the dialogue for change.

Peasant's Revolt: It's all over for Wat Tyler

Protest: Stories of Resistance celebrates these marginal histories, bringing together authors and historians (or real witnesses in the case of the recent protests) to explore over 6 centuries of people power through factually-accurate fiction. Many of these protests have their origins in the North West, so as a publisher whose proud home is that very region, we’re delighted to be able to bring these stories to national and international audience.

Sandra Alland’s story, for example, excavates the little-known history of The National League of the Blind, the first union ever based on an identity, rather than a profession. Set in a blind persons’ asylum in Manchester in the early 20th Century - where people were overworked, underpaid, and often abused in the name of “charity” - the story leads up to the monumental National Blind March, which saw people join together in protest from Manchester, Liverpool, Oldham, and even as far as Dublin. A funny and sharp-tongued story, ‘Kick Start’ not only brings to light the unfair conditions for blind people at that time, but also examines the other ways that people were marginalized, as the women were not allowed to march with the men.

The significance of Manchester to the Women’s Suffrage Movement is no secret, but Michelle Green’s story goes behind closed – locked, actually – doors into a prison cell, where women were taken after being arrested for doing whatever means necessary to get the vote. Inspired by the likes of working class Suffragettes like Annie Kenney, ‘There Are Five Ways Out of This Room’ paints a picture of mistreatment, solitude, but inevitably, hope.

Canal StreetManchester’s Gay Village as a symbol of freedom of expression is used to literal effect in Juliet Jacques’ story ‘Never Going Around’, which follows a young student who moves to the city, and in doing so begins to not only embrace his identity, but fight for it as well. 2017 may well mark the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalization of being gay in the UK, but the infamous Section 28 act, which banned schools and local councils from the “promotion” of homosexuality is still in very recent memory, only being dropped in the early 2000s. This story shows the enduring spirit of the LGBT community in the North West, and reminds us how far we’ve come, and how far we also need to go.

The Big Issue described Protest as providing a ‘glimmer of hope and inspiration’ in today’s political climate, and we hope that the stories in the anthology further serve to inspire and unify the people of the North West. We’d recommend this to readers who like political or historical fiction, short stories, or non-fiction and memoir, as well as anyone with a taste for revolution.


Becky Harrison is the Engagement Manager of Comma Press, overseeing marketing and publicity campaigns, as well as managing the National Creative Writing Graduate Fair, the annual event for aspiring writers which will return to MMU in November.

Review of the year...

Posted Tuesday 10 January 2017 by Melanie Graaf in Events, Opinion

Bolton librarian Melanie Graaf looks back at some of the author events in 2016...

As we leave 2016 behind us and go onwards into 2017, we can reflect on some of the debut authors that have visited our town and have subsequently become bestsellers.

Debut writers from previous years have included Paula Hawkins with Girl on the Train, now an international success both as book and film. SJ Watson also came to Bolton Library to promote his first novel Before I Go to Sleep, which later became a bestselling book and film.

Last year we had a number of fabulous debut authors. In January, Gulwali Passarlay spoke about his book The Lightless sky: An Afghan refugee boy’s journey of escape to a new life. This was a very moving event, particularly as Gulwali had lived and gone to school in Bolton, and there were many familiar faces in the audience. A comment from an attendee -“A very important talk –inspirational, celebrating what is good about living in Bolton.”

For World Book Day in March we had a very special evening with Liverpool writer John Donoghue. John’s book The Death’s Head Chess Club was not only an amazing and poignant read; his presentation on researching for the book was thought provoking and this was reflected in the feedback we received –“Very enjoyable speaker –totally on edge of seat listening to talk –learned such a lot.”

In April we hosted a crime double bill with authors Renee Knight, promoting her novel Disclaimer and Fiona Barton talking about The Widow.  The event was much enjoyed by those who attended – “Fantastic event; thank you very much!” "Great to see such brilliant writers in Bolton.” Both writers went on to become bestsellers with film or TV rights being snapped up and both books have continued to fly off the library shelves.

Canadian writer Shari Lapena visited us in July, promoting her well written, dark psychological thriller The Couple Next Door. One of our customers who came to the event said “Very well organised. It was a good idea to have someone to ask the author questions, as well as letting the author do so. As a lifetime Bolton resident, I really appreciate this and other services provided by the library service".

In addition to our 2016 debut authors we can’t complete our end of year events round up without mentioning our crime royalty event with international bestselling author Michael Connelly in October. This superstar author is hugely popular with library users and we had a wonderful turn-out with fabulous reviews - “Fantastic. Can’t believe such a world renowned author came to Bolton.”

Look out for our next author events in 2017 – crime writer Joseph Knox - Sirens (January) romance writer Cathy Bramley - White Lies and Wishes (February) and medieval thriller writer Karen Maitland–The Plague Charmer ( March).

Learning from each other in Warrington

Posted Tuesday 7 June 2016 by Chris Everett in Events, Opinion

Group Playing Jacks

Learning from each other in Warrington – launching our intergenerational group.

As part of Mental Health Awareness Week we set up our first inter-generational group at Padgate Livewire Library. We were all a little nervous before. Would anybody come? How would they get on? What would they talk about?

Week 1: We needn’t have worried.They definitely sat in their own spaces at first, but as they chatted they naturally moved closer together in the room and became completely at ease. What would they talk about – we couldn’t stop them!! They covered everything from the pressures on young people to fit in and how loneliness can affect older people to the Eurovision Song Contest and the E.U. vote. They had so much in common despite their very different lifestyles. They agreed to learn from each other and meet up every 2 weeks. Highlights were when Kayleigh saw the non-smart phones the older people were using she couldn’t help herself ‘How can you survive without a phone.’! The young people went home first, and the first comment after they had gone was ‘Aren’t they lovely’! It couldn’t have gone any better.

Week 2: O.K. was last week a fluke? No it wasn’t – this week saw the young people learning how to knit and it was hilarious! Poor Charlotte couldn’t get the hang of it and had big holes in her garment. They all gave it a good go and had a great laugh along the way. These activities are also great for giving a platform for people of all ages to talk together. We are now so hopeful that this is going to be a really successful project which will impart learning and new skills to all and will break down barriers.

What’s next? The young people have talked about learning life skills like money management and leaning to waltz for the school prom. The older people would like to learn more about smart phones and how to set up Skype. The young people joked that he would love to set them off on Call of Duty – well you never know!!!!

Opinion: Just what does a librarian do?

Posted Tuesday 10 May 2016 by Suzanne Hudson in Opinion

It's no longer all 'shhhhhhhhh!' in todays libraries. Oldham's Suzanne Hudson gives an insight into a busy North West library service:

Forgive me for stereotyping, but when you inform people that you work in a library, you usually get one of the following responses:

“Oh wow! I’d love to sit reading all day!”

“How wonderful to work in peace and quiet”

“It must be nice to read stories to children and get paid for it”

Sometimes, I just smile sweetly as if in agreement.

At other times, I feel compelled to share just how much libraries have to offer and how varied my role can be. Walk into any library on any given day and you could find a group of parents and their babies enjoying live musicians singing lullabies; people finding the confidence and skills to get online; a storytelling workshop for people with dementia; a Business Breakfast; Lego Club; a Read Aloud reading group; an evening with a bestselling author; a live theatre show or a music gig, to name just a handful!

No, I do not sit reading quietly and stamping the occasional book in a library where you can hear a pin drop. I am putting together programmes of activity to inspire and encourage reading and library visits and any reading is done in my spare time!

I am proud to say that here in Oldham we are celebrating the first full year of live@thelibrary with our biggest and most ambitious season that includes Richard Burton’s nephew, Guy Masterson in Under Milk Wood, bestselling crime writer Peter Robinson, a month of new writing, and a feast of children’s theatre featuring Roald Dahl’s The Twits and two enchanting Hans Christian Andersen stories The Nightingale and The Ugly Duckling.

Since the programme began, we have welcomed 4545 live@thelibrary visitors and worked with over 450 artists. In a few weeks I will be gearing up for Bookmark 2016, our annual literature festival, spending the week with poet Simon Armitage, former Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis, Bake Off finalist Luis Troyano, and CBeebies favourite Andy Day. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it!

So, next time you comment on a librarian’s role, tread carefully. You may get the sharp end of their tongue or, if you’re lucky, just like a new book you’re about to delve into, who knows what new worlds they can take you to!

Suzanne Hudson is the Library Development Officer for Oldham Libraries.

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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