Category Archives: Literacy

LISTEN TO – The Reith Lectures – Hilary Mantel

Just sat in the car for ten minutes to the last moments of the forth of Hilary Mantel’s Reith Lectures on BBC Radio 4 – I didn’t want to lose a word, while relocating! Don’t know how I’ve missed the previous three – clearly I’m very successfully sleep walking through life right now – but really looking forward to a catch up!

Mandatory Credit: Photo by SUTTON-HIBBERT/REX (424360ae)

Now, I don’t always ‘get’ Hilary Mantel, but after a rough start with Wolf Hall (see HERE and HERE) but had a much happier time with its follow up ‘Bring up the Bodies’. However, she is always an unusual and spirited speaker and I very much enjoyed listening to how she viewed her world as an author (and NOT a historian!).

For your convenience, links to the 4 parts that have currently aired are below.

From the BBC website:

Over this series of five lectures, Dame Hilary discusses the role that history plays in our culture. How can we understand the past, she asks, and how can we convey its nature today? Above all, she believes, we must all try to respect the past amid all its strangeness and complexity.

This series is chaired by Sue Lawley. The producer is Jim Frank.

Part 1 – The Day Is for the Living

Art can bring the dead back to life, argues the best-selling novelist Hilary Mantel, starting with the story of her own great-grandmother. “We sense the dead have a vital force still,” she says. “They have something to tell us, something we need to understand. Using fiction and drama, we try to gain that understanding.” She describes how and why she began to write fiction about the past, and how her view of her trade has evolved. We cannot hear or see the past, she says, but “we can listen and look”.

Click here to have a listen on the BBC website 

Part 2 – The Iron Maiden

How do we construct our pictures of the past, including both truth and myth, asks best-selling author Hilary Mantel. Where do we get our evidence? She warns of two familiar errors: either romanticising thepast, or seeing it as a gory horror-show. It is tempting, but often condescending, to seek modern parallels for historical events. “Are we looking into the past, or looking into a mirror?” she asks. “Dead strangers…did not live and die so we could draw lessons from them.” Above all, she says, we must all try to respect the past amid all its strangeness and complexity.

Click here to have a listen on the BBC website 

Part 3 – Silence Grips the Town

The story of how an obsessive relationship with history killed the young Polish writer Stanislawa Przybyszewska, told by best-selling author, Hilary Mantel. The brilliant Przybyszewska wrote gargantuan plays and novels about the French Revolution, in particular about the revolutionary leader Robespierre. She lived in self-willed poverty and isolation and died unknown in 1934. But her work, so painfully achieved, did survive her. Was her sacrifice worthwhile? “She embodied the past until her body ceased to be,” Dame Hilary says. “Multiple causes of death were recorded, but actually she died of Robespierre.”

Click here to have a listen on the BBC website 

Part 4 – Can These Bones Live?

Hilary Mantel analyses how historical fiction can make the past come to life. She says her task is to take history out of the archive and relocate it in a body. “It’s the novelist’s job: to put the reader in the moment, even if the moment is 500 years ago.” She takes apart the practical job of “resurrection”, and the process that gets historical fiction on to the page. “The historian will always wonder why you left certain things out, while the literary critic will wonder why you left them in,” she says. How then does she try and get the balance right?

Click here to have a listen on the BBC website 

Part 5 – Adaptation

Hilary Mantel on how fiction changes when adapted for stage or screen. Each medium, she says, draws a different potential from the original. She argues that fiction, if written well, doesn’t betray history, butenhances it. When fiction is turned into theatre, or into a film or TV, the same applies – as long as we understand that adaptation is not a secondary process or a set of grudging compromises, but an act of creation in itself. And this matters. “Without art, what have you to inform you about the past?” she asks. “What lies beyond is the unedited flicker of closed-circuit TV.”

This episode hasn’t yet aired.

Check out the trailer for the excellent BBC series Wolf Hall – based on the first of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy.


Happy World Book Day 2015!

wbdHere at Leeds Book Club, we find that every day is World Book Day… but isn’t it lovely to have a special day set aside just to remind us all about the wonderful marvellous magical and fantastic world of books!


From the WBD website


World Book Day is a celebration! It’s a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. In fact, it’s the biggest celebration of its kind, designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, and marked in over 100 countries all over the world.

This is the 18th year there’s been a World Book Day, and on 5th March 2015 children of all ages will come together to appreciate reading. Very loudly and very happily. The main aim of World Book Day in the UK and Ireland is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own. That’s why we will be sending schools (including those nurseries and secondary schools that have specially registered to participate), packs of Book Tokens and age-ranged World Book Day Resource Packs (age-ranged into Nursery/Pre-School, Primary and Secondary) full of ideas and activities, display material and more information about how to get involved in World Book Day.

WBD2015From our twitter feed we can see that tons of people are dressing up as their favourite literary characters (or ones that make for less stressful costumes!); playing book based quizzes and games; discussing their favourite books and books that have changed lives as well as holding Book Shows and generally celebrating the stories and tales told in – you guessed it – BOOKS!

Are you celebrating books and reading? Let us know what you get up to via twitter, our facebook page or by leaving a comment below!



As for me, I have some brand new book shelves that need to be organising just so – I will try and get a few of them filled and looking good!

Also, I will be starting Canada by Richard Ford for our #LBCWSwan White Swan based book club to be held on Sunday.

Perhaps I will even post a blog on something literary!


EVENT – Leeds Libraries Quiz Takeover

Leeds Libraries Quiz Takeover
 leeds library

Venue: White Swan Leeds, Swan Street, Leeds

Date:  Thursday 19th of February 2015
Time:  7:00pm

Leeds Libraries will be taking over the White Swan on Thursday the 19th of February!

Pop in from 7pm to enjoy a night of literary wonder in a delightful location, including a quiz that I can only imagine will be very book-orientated!


For more details, send a tweet to @LeedsLibraries

library for leeds

EVENT – Bristol Literature Festival!

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival returns for 2015

Some of the literary scene’s brightest stars are arriving in Bristol to join a unique festival that celebrates women’s writing.

final logo TEXTAfter its dazzling success in 2013, the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival is delighted to announce it is returning to Watershed on the 14th and 15th March 2015.

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival aims to celebrate the work of women writers working today and throughout history. It brings together the diverse and exciting talent of women writers, academics and activists to showcase our fantastic literary heritage.

The fascinating and varied programme features award-winning novelist and short story writer, Michele Roberts, winner of Faber Young Poet of the Year Helen Mort, writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo, activists and writers Beatrix Campbell and Nimko Ali, and leading academic Professor Helen Hackett.

These women are, without doubt, some of the most influential and vibrant writers working today.

The festival takes place across the weekend of 16th and 17th March at famous Bristol arts venue, Watershed. Organised by feminist writer Siân Norris, the event aims to celebrate the work of women writers in a literary scene that is all too often dominated by male voices.

A stage full of brilliant, brainy, articulate and witty women discussing literature, women, history, activism and the future. An audience full of literature-lovers and woman-likers of all ages, races and walks of life. If anything restores a woman’s faith that we are not just roaring but writing and reading, it’s the Bristol Women’s Literature Festival.’


The Programme

Paris was a Woman film screening

The festival opens on Saturday 14th March with a screening of the award-winning documentary film Paris was a Woman. Greta Schiller’s 1996 film explores the lives of the extraordinary women who made their home on Paris’ Left Bank in the 1920s, including Gertrude Stein, Djuna Barnes, Colette and Sylvia Beach. The film will be followed by a brief audience discussion, chaired by Siân Norris.

Women, Feminism and Journalism

In the afternoon, writers and activists, Beatrix Campbell and Caroline Criado-Perez, activist Nimko Ali, and Helen Lewis, the deputy editor of the New Statesman, will be talking about their work and the relationship between feminism and journalism.

Poetry, Prose and Palestine

On Saturday evening award-winning film director and poet Annemarie Jacir and novelist Selma Dabbagh will read and discuss their own work, and the poems of other well-known Palestinian writers. This event is organised in collaboration with the Bristol Palestinian Film Festival, as part of Conversations about Cinema: Impact of Conflict.

Women Writing in Shakespeare’s Time

Sunday opens with a talk from Professor Helen Hackett on the women of Shakespeare’s time. Professor Hackett will introduce us to the women writers of the Renaissance who have been written out of history, and the process of bringing them back into the canon where they belong.

Women Writing Today

The final event of the festival brings together some of the most exciting and innovative women working in the UK today. Novelist and short story writer Michele Roberts, first time novelist Amy C Mason, poet Helen Mort, playwright and memoirist Samantha Ellis, and writer and filmmaker Xiaolu Guo will join Sarah LeFanu to discuss their work.

Why do we need a women’s literature festival?

Although women have always written and always read, the UK literature scene continues to be very male dominated. A 2012 survey by For Books’ Sake revealed that at Manchester Literature festival, only 20 out of 74 speakers were women, whilst at the Latitude Literary Area, women made up 15 of 53 performers. Meanwhile, the VIDA Count shows the gross gender disparity in major literary publications and book reviews.

The Bristol Women’s Literature Festival aims to:

  • To celebrate the diversity and creativity of women writers
  • To counter the male dominance of literature and cultural festival line-ups
  • To promote women’s writing and history

Founder and director Siân Norris explains:

I decided it wasn’t enough to be frustrated at the continued marginalisation of women writers in our cultural scene. I needed to do something about it. The success of the 2013 festival was phenomenal. Everyone wants to be part of this event. It is a real and vital opportunity to talk about women’s writing and women’s role in shaping and influencing our culture – both historically and in the present. I am so proud to be part of it and delighted that Watershed will be hosting it again this year.’

The festival is supported by Watershed, Foyles, The Bristol Palestinian Film Festival and The Bristol Festival of Ideas.

In Praise of – Children Reading

A Lament

There have been many times that I have been embarrassed to be caught with a book. Like when I’ve wandered away at a party and became absorbed in something that I found. Or when I’d navigate school hallways eyes firmly stuck on the page, heedless of people jumping out of my way. As a teenager, I went through a phase of only speaking to people in the accent of my favourite character of the moment. That was pretty daft in retrospect. I (probably should) find it humiliating. 

However, I have never been embarrassed by the act of reading itself or of being perceived as a bookie or reader. I consider it a gift that I can immerse myself in a story and lose myself in another world or perspective. Books have always been a social experience for me. After all, stories are designed to be shared with other people.
According to a report in the Telegraph today – article HERE – written by  , the Digital Culture Editor – children are embarrassed to be caught reading. 
In a survey of 21000 children the following statistics were derived:
  • 17% of youngsters would be embarrassed if their friends saw them reading.
  • Three in ten youngsters read daily in their own time, compared with four in ten in 2005.
  • 54% of those questioned said they preferred watching TV to reading.
  • Of those who did read outside class, 47.8% said they read fiction, down from 51.5% in 2005.

It’s not all horrible news and the article does point out that sales of children’s books have actually increased slightly this year on last and that there are a number of book fairs and festivals offering forums for young people to engage with others who also love reading which are being enthusiastically embraced.  

The Telegraph article goes into the pressures on the primary distributors towards children’s literacy – at home, schools and libraries. Suffice to say that I agree that we should seek to encourage children to learn to love learning and reading as early as possible and believe that we should be adding to – not cutting from – these resources. 

However I do think believe that it’s tragic that such a high proportion of young people don’t want to be perceived as readers. With the re-emergence of observably intelligent characters on television – such as Sherlock Holmes; constant adaptations of complicated and involved children’s books into films and an increasingly mainstream Geek (here defined as passionate about being informed on a particular topic) Culture; it seems to me as though it’s cool to embrace the hobbies that you love, be they sports, music, art or literature.
Take that aside; the technology available in this country means that young people in particular can access books in a variety of different mediums – from phones, e-readers, paperbacks and more. An argument can be raised that with text messages, emails and social networking; young people are in fact reading and writing profusely – albeit in non-traditional ways. There are now published works based on text messages – I don’t know if this was taken into account during the original survey but I am confident that children will not be embarrassed to be caught gaming or online. 


This is my personal opinion-not that of LeedsBookClub. Sometimes you just need to get a rant off your chest!
In a world where a one in five adults cannot find a plumber in a phone book, teaching the elite to remember is not the way to raise standards.
The proposed reforms to the Key Stage 4 qualification are yet another example of this government selling a generation short. By divided people (not only children take GCSEs, despite what the majority of sub editors seem to think) into those who can sit for three hours and perform at their best on one day in one year and the rest of us, Gove is turning students into show ponies.
We don’t need a generation where 9 out of 10 are made to feel failures; we need a nation confident in using recognisable tools to live their lives; research, the ability to compare and contrast and in depth analysis of problems. Exams don’t always do this.
Again, this is an example of where the knowledge of what librarians can bring to education would be useful. Librarians can offer students a chance to learn real life skills needed to succeed in more than just one exam. We can teach them to find, evaluate, and use information in a way that is suitable to them. Yet again, the role of librarians in education is side-lined in favour of headline grabbing reforms that ignore our worth and belittle our experiences.
The Baccalaureate might be the buzz word on the continent, but right now we have people coming into education again, often after years, to be told that their aspirations and achievements are useless. This is not only a backwards step, it is also a dangerous one.

Happy International Literacy Day

Happy International Literacy Day
Since 1965, the 8th of September has been celebrated to promote literacy internationally. 
The theme for 2012 is Cultivating Peace.
What is literacy?

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation defines literacy as the “ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute, using printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning in enabling individuals to achieve their goals, to develop their knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in their community and wider society.”                       Wikipedia 

And why is it important?

Literacy is a human right, a tool of personal empowerment and a means for social and human development. Educational opportunities depend on literacy.

Literacy is at the heart of basic education for all, and essential for eradicating poverty, reducing child mortality, curbing population growth, achieving gender equality and ensuring sustainable development, peace and democracy. There are good reasons why literacy is at the core of Education for All (EFA).

A good quality basic education equips pupils with literacy skills for life and further learning; literate parents are more likely to send their children to school; literate people are better able to access continuing educational opportunities; and literate societies are better geared to meet pressing development.          UNESCO

A life long reader; I consider myself fortunate to have lived in places and with people that placed a high value on being comfortable with the written word. 
My family are readers. My friends do tend to be also. However this is not the case with everyone. 

Public libraries actively promote reading and writing to people of all ages. These are a wonderful resource that are under-appreciated and at risk.

Today – as a celebration of reading and literacy – I shall visit my local library. I perhaps won’t thank the librarians and support staff out loud – but those words will be silently running through my mind all the same!

Visit the Leeds Library website HERE
Visit the UNESCO Literacy Day HERE

* International Literacy Day is celebrated each year on September 8.
* International Literacy Day was first observed on September 8, 1967.
* The aim of International Literacy Day is to focus attention on the need to promote worldwide literacy.
* The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) is the founder of International Literacy Day, and is responsible for appointing a jury to award international literacy prizes.
* The UN estimates that almost 800 million of the world’s adults do not know how to read or write (about two-thirds of this number are women) and that almost 130 million youth do not know how to read or write.
On International Literacy Day, individuals, organisations, and countries throughout the world renew their efforts to promote literacy and demonstrate their commitment to providing education for all.
As part of a network of literacy organisations, the International Reading Association cosponsors an annual celebration of International Literacy Day, which typically includes featured speakers, representatives from a wide range of governmental and nongovernmental institutions, members of the press, and invited  guests.
State and provincial councils and national affiliates of the International Reading Association often sponsor International Literacy Day activities and celebrations.
From YesNet

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