A Little, Aloud: A New Blog and a New Event

  • A LITTLE, ALOUD BLOG: have your say

Lots of people have been in touch with us to tell us their experiences of reading A Little, Aloud, so we’ve set up a blog – www.alittlealoud.com – for you to leave your comments on and share your thoughts with others.  We would love to know which of the stories and poems you have read out loud; how you found that experience and how the person or people you read to received them.  As well as shared reading we will then be sharing the experience of reading together. Please do write about it here.


Tuesday, 23 November 2010, 7:00PM

Come along and celebrate the sheer delight of reading aloud – and being read to – with Angela Macmillan and guest readers from The Reader Organisation as we read from our new book A Little, Aloud. Tickets are limited so please get yours early! Tickets are £2 each, redeemable against the price of the book on the night and are available in store

Further details: 0151 708 6861

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Don’t forget! A Little, Aloud makes the perfect Christmas gift, so take advantage of the 3 for 2 offer in Waterstone’s or the 30% discount on Amazon (RRP £9.99) and bring to more people the pleasure of reading aloud together. What’s more, all royalties in full are donated to us to support our valuable outreach work.

Booktrust Teenage Book of the Year

by Emily Lezzeri, Get Into Reading South West

“Congratulations, you’ve won”, the e-mail said. Unaware that I had entered a competition, I read on eagerly and quickly found out that the e-mail was addressed to my son, Theo. Unaware that he had entered a competition, I was amazed to find out that he had won a national short-story competition and was soon to be a judge for the Booktrust Teenage Book of the Year Award. As I didn’t know anything about this, I presumed that Theo’s school had entered him. My son is thirteen and the usual response to my persistent question “what did you do at school today?” is answered, mono-syllabically, with “stuff”. As a result, much to my amusement (and his annoyance), I cannot resist answering the perennial question “what’s for dinner, Mum?” with “stuff!”

Along with a state-of-the-art Flipcam, the prize was to go to London and judge the Booktrust Teenage Book of the Year and attend the award ceremony. The short-listed books soon arrived in the post and Theo set about reading six novels in a month. Fortunately, all of the books were fantastic and I didn’t have to crack the parental whip too much to get this accomplished. Please note: “parental whip” is used metaphorically here (you can’t be too careful these days!) Theo was so enthusiastic that, even with five hours of debating ahead of him, he wanted to spend the whole two hour train journey to London discussing the strengths and weaknesses of each book.

I delivered Theo to the meeting point at Portland Place and left him to enjoy his five hour literary debate. I proceeded to have my own internal debate on arrival at the adjacent RIBA cafe: chocolate tart or (a very architectural) chocolate brownie….? Chocolate tart won and was magnificent. Please note: I did not spend all of the five hours eating chocolate tart!

Theo, meanwhile, was happily discussing the novels with Tony Bradman (author), Barbara Band (chartered librarian), Barbara Ellen (journalist), Mary Hoffman (author) and the other teenage judges: Chelsea Jane Brown, Poppy Freeman-Cuerden, Hannah Jenkins and Claudia Freemantle (young judge of 2009). The contest to find the Teenage Book of the Year was a fierce one; the panel had to choose between six very diverse novels. Revolver by Marcus Sedgwick; Nobody’s Girl by Sarra Manning; Out of Shadows by Jason Wallace; Halo by Zizou Corder; The Enemy by Charlie Higson and Unhooking the Moon won and, at the end of a hard day, the judges, so Theo told me, were all happy with the final decision.

Unhooking the Moon is the first novel by Gregory Hughes. The story focuses on a recently-orphaned brother and sister travelling to New York to search for long-lost Uncle Jerome. Along the way, they meet a variety of characters from a cigar smuggler to a celebrity rapper. The novel explores “big” issues such as love, loss, violence and mental illness. Gregory Hughes handles these issues with compassion and humour and has produced a novel of great depth; I would recommend it to teenagers and adults alike.

Gregory Hughes, unfortunately, could not come to the award ceremony but, from the interviews he has given, it is clear that he has led a life no less dramatic than that of his two protagonists. Gregory was born in Liverpool and had a troubled childhood, ending up in a reform school at the age of fourteen. He completed his GCSEs and A levels at Liverpool Community College when he was twenty-three and then went on to travel and work in America, Canada and Norway. Gregory has now been writing for ten years; he states his inspiration as stemming from a writing teacher in Liverpool who told him: “to tell a story the way you would tell a story to the person sitting opposite you”. Sound familiar?

Listen to how A Little, Aloud came to be

Listen to the latest Vintage Podcast, which features Jane Davis (Director, The Reader Organisation) and Angela Macmillan (Editor, A Little, Aloud) in conversation about how A Little, Aloud came to be – you can listen to it (Vintage Podcast 2) on the website www.vintage-podcast.co.uk and download and subscribe via itunes (Jane and Angela can be heard from about 23 minutes in).

A Little, Aloud from the publisher’s mouth

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:

How to Publish the Perfect Book: A Morality Tale

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…

Read on here.

Romeo and Juliet at the Fire Station on film

Did you miss Romeo and Juliet at the Fire Station? Want to relive some of the memories? No idea what I’m talking about?!

Not to worry on any count, here’s a short film, made by Kev Higgins (Merseyside Community Theatre‘s Media Assistant), which captures the essence of this huge community project in the Alt Valley area of Liverpool and some of the magic created by the shows (one of the highlights being the brilliant ‘Thriller’ routine at the end of this film):

Here’s a few comments from people that saw, or were involved in, the show:

One of my friends has seen ‘Romeo and Juliet’ on five other occasions and she mentioned that this was the best version she had ever seen.

Thanks to The Reader Organisation also for having the guts to bring this to my community – not many would have given us the chance to shine – now, for the first time in a long time, good things are being reported about the area and everyone is buzzing. A great positivity seems to be in the air.

I had low confidence before this project and was very shy meeting people, but now I’ve made some great friends, become more sociable, and have more confidence within myself. My eyes have been opened to the possibilities in life and I feel I can deal with anything.

I wasn’t too sure what to make of it at first, nothing like this had happened in Croxteth before, but when I saw how many people came to watch and just how good it was.  I thought it was fantastic, for all the people involved and for the image of the area.  Well done, more please.

Event: Heart Beats Bonfire Bonanza

Heart Beats Bonfire Bonanza!

Saturday 6th November 2010

7.30pm – 11pm


The Gallery Café,
21 Old Ford Road
Bethnal Green, E2 9PL

Nearest tube: Bethnal Green

Join Heart Beats in its new home for the next instalment of poetry and music as the nights draw in and we turn to words to keep us warm. This Bonfire Bonanza will feature mystery and magic, sparklers and apple-bobbing!

With poetry and comedy from:

Nathan Penlington

Nathan fuses poetry, comedy, storytelling, and award winning magic with writing to create a unique form of literary cabaret. He has performed his work on BBC Radio 1, 3, 4, and 6music, and his innovative graphic based poetry has been published in a wide variety of places from The Journal of Experimental Fiction to Peaches Geldof’s magazine Disappear Here.

Camellia Stafford
Camellia was born in Warwickshire. In 2007, tall-lighthouse published her debut pamphlet entitled another pretty colour, another break for air. Her poems appear online for Tate Etc., nthposition and Limelight. Kathryn Gray described her poetry as ‘tender, sensuous and perfectly poised’.

Chris McCabe

Chris’ publications are The Hutton Inquiry, Zeppelins (both Salt), and The Borrowed Notebook (Landfill). He has had his play Shad Thames, Broken Wharf performed at The London Word Festival and it has just been published by Penned in the Margins. He lives in Liverpool and works as Joint Librarian of The Poetry Library, London.

And music from

Cakes and Ale

“…a very English Fleet Foxes would be a very lazy way to compliment this… Beautiful playing, fine tunes, simple inviting evocative words… they’ve a sense of fun, a touch of wickedness… Modern life and folk and timeless traditions and everything good here.” The Organ

Hannah Forster

Hannah writes beautiful songs about moths and magpies, the wonder of nature and the magic of love. Her sweet voice and twinkly tunes will delight music fans of a folky persuasion, bringing to mind perhaps a British Joanna Newsom.

Please pass this invitation on! Tickets on the door, more info at our facebook page here

Congratulations Howard Jacobson

Friend and supporter of The Reader Organisation, Howard Jacobson, was last night awarded the 2010 Man Booker Prize for fiction for his comic novel, The Finkler Question.


To celebrate, how about a look at a featured poem from two years’ ago: Howard reading Wordsworth in a Soho restaurant whilst having dinner with Jane and Phil Davis.

Here’s what Howard recently said in support of our Reading Revolution:

Everything The Reader Organisation touches turns to gold.  A Little, ALOUD is wonderful – a luscious, challenging enticement to read and hear and share the love of doing both. We don’t read with the eye only.  Until we hear literature we don’t possess it.  This anthology is more than a collection of good writing, it wakens the ear to what good writing is.

Chapter and Verse festival at the Bluecoat

FOR ALL LOVERS OF LITERATURE – the 3rd annual Chapter & Verse Literature festival at the Bluecoat starts today Wednesday 13 October and continues til Sunday 17 October with a wonderful programme of readings, talks, films, performances, workshops and much more.

The full programme is available on our website www.thebluecoat.org.uk and our ticket line is 0151 702 5324.

Don’t miss this chance to be enlightened, engaged and enchanted.

World Mental Health Day

The Reader Organisation is the UK’s leading charity for reading and health, and as today is World Mental Health Day, we thought we would celebrate our long-standing, innovative and hugely successful partnership with Mersey Care NHS Trust.

We were recently joined by Alan Yates, the Chief Executive of the Trust, at the Liverpool launch event for A Little, Aloud, who praised the presence of Get Into Reading in Mersey Care and the huge impact it was having in improving the wellbeing of service users. Also important for Alan, is the cost effectiveness of Get Into Reading:

I can identify people within Get Into Reading at Mersey Care NHS Trust who otherwise would have needed in-patient care had it not been for the support and benefit of the groups. Groups cost about £6 per person per session; by comparison, an in-patient stay costs on average £9,000.

Here are a few words from some of the other people involved in our Mersey Care Reader-in-Residence project, starting with Lindsey Dyer, Director for Service Users and Carers at Mersey Care:

The Get Into Reading programme has been running in Mersey Care NHS Trust since 2007 and currently there are 34 reading groups across all our services – adult mental health, older people, learning disabilities, drugs and alcohol and low, medium and high security services – a testament to the success of our partnership with The Reader Organisation.

The weekly reading groups provide vital creativity and engagement and contribute to the mental well-being of service users and staff. Mersey Care staff, including the Chief Executive Alan Yates and Medical Director Dr David Fearnley, are trained to facilitate the reading groups themselves, ensuring that these groups can continue for years to come.

Mary Weston, Mersey Care Reader-in-Residence Project Manager, The Reader Organisation:

In October 2009 we put on a literary festival in conjunction with Liverpool’s Bluecoat annual ‘Chapter and Verse’ festival within Mersey Care.  You can read about Brian Keenan’s visit to Ashworth in The Reader 38.

After the huge success of last year, we decided to do it again! This year our star visitor will be Mersey Beat poet Brian Patten, who will be talking to some of the older service users about life in Liverpool and at Ashworth Hospital, Chuck Perkins, a jazz poet from New Orleans, is performing. And much more besides…

We will be putting on several smaller events in the new year:  author visits and workshops that we take direct to the wards to maximise the number of service users who can attend.

Dr David Fearnley, Psychiatrist of the Year 2009 and Medical Director, Mersey Care:

“Get Into Reading is one of the most significant developments to have taken place in Mersey Care NHS Trust and mental health practice in the last ten years.”

From one of our readers in Mersey Care:

Being part of a group is special – it’s a bit more than just reading a book.  I was never a great reader beforehand, but this group is something that Ihave become attached to; it means a lot to me to be part of it and it has helped me in my life outside the group as well.

Grace Farrington, who is working on a doctoral research project looking at shared reading as a therapeutic intervention (and is facilitating and observing groups within Mersey Care NHS Trust) writes here about the links between reading and mental health:

The relationship between reading and mental health is not one of guarantee, or straightforward prescription. The history of this relationship is diverse and suggests the potential power that can be activated by literature, whether the mind be healthy, diseased or troubled. Its effects might be as various as its readers. Autobiographical accounts are thus able to convey the impact that a text had for an individual, at a particular time in their lives. John Stuart Mill, for example, found in reading Wordsworth a key to his own recovery from a breakdown towards which he had long been heading. Marcel Proust wrote of the captivating experience of reading as a child, when the characters or “beings” in a book would absorb his full attention and devotion, to  become his closest companions. And Charles Dickens has the character of David Copperfield recount a similar tale of how reading provided a source of comfort and an enlivening stimulus to his boyhood imagination, when all other relationships were failing him. Reading then is a way of making the present more habitable.

But the effects of reading might not always be so easily traced. Wordsworth makes ‘The Growth of a Poet’s Mind’ into a history of epic length, and if the mind is as complex as this suggests, then perhaps we do not know what effect the reading of a text will have on the way we think and process thoughts, today, tomorrow, or in years to come. It may be that reading deposits in the mind memories, thoughts, suggestions, that come to bear a much longer term significance. This long-term development of the mind, facilitated by reading, is in alignment with recent recommendations  within the science of wellbeing; a government report of 2008 highlighted the importance of “mental capital” to the way in which an individual is able to cope with significant life events.

At a more fundamental level, the relationship between reading and mental health can also be viewed in reverse, since many writers are known to have expressed in their work, with almost painful articulation, aspects of their own mental suffering. The enduring work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson, Virginia Woolf and Sylvia Plath, to name just a few, bears testimony to the strength of the mind to shed light on its own condition, from within itself; producing markers and maps of experience that readers continue to recognise from within themselves.