Becky Hardie (the book’s editor at Chatto & Windus), writes an amazing blog about the process of publishing A Little, Aloud on the Vintage website. It begins:
Publishing charity books feels good, but often that’s all it does. Mostly, and tragically, they sink without a trace. Publishing anthologies is ALWAYS a nightmare. All those fiddly permissions with different rights and territories held by different publishers, agents, estates. Publishing a charity anthology … well, you do the math.
On a gloomy day in February 2010 we were visited at our office by members of The Reader Organisation, which claims it’s on the cusp of a reading revolution. We met Jane Davis, the charity’s founder, who started corresponding with Doris Lessing when she (Jane) was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Doris offered to send Jane (broke, on the dole, young kids) money to buy books. Jane refused the money, but liked the idea of the books. So she joined her local library and she read, and read and read. Until she was better. And now Jane is on a mission to make others feel better through reading books. She is a kind of Jamie Oliver for books. She has exactly that zeal and energy and conviction.
The Reader Organisation runs weekly ‘read-aloud groups’ in care homes for the elderly, in prisons, in rehab clinics, hospitals, schools, libraries and children’s homes. The stories of their success are staggering and often deeply moving – from a group of fireman reading Chekhov and talking intimately about their lives for the first time, to the old lady who asked to read the part of Iago because ‘I was married to that bastard for thirty years’, to patients feeling less pain and depression lifting. Their work has been called ‘one of the most significant developments in mental health practice in the last ten years’ by Dr Fearnley, Psychiatrist of the Year 2009.
Naturally, that day in our office, we were helpless to resist Jane and her colleagues. So, we hatched a plan to produce an anthology of pieces for reading aloud, all tried and tested in The Reader Organisation’s groups. It would be a groundbreaking book, and all royalties would go to the charity. And our beloved author Blake Morrison was one of the trustees of the charity and would write us a brilliant introduction. Bingo! Wonderful. A nice little project that would fit in beautifully with Random House’s literacy initiatives and our own belief in the power of books and reading.
But that’s not quite how it turned out. We produced a nice little sampler to publicise the book and sent it out to anyone who’d ever expressed any interest in books or reading or charities or … you get the picture. And then the oddest things started happening. One day, my office phone rang.
‘Hello’ I replied.
‘Hello, hello, is that Becky?’
‘Oh My God,’ I shrieked. ‘Is that Richard Briers?’ (I’m notoriously bad at recognising people’s voices on the phone but there was absolutely no mistaking that voice.) Richard explained that he reads aloud to stroke victims and would do anything at all to help our wonderful project…