Bringing Shared Reading to Kensington Palace

Great Shared Reading doesn’t need much in the way of surroundings: some people in a space, with chairs to sit on, a story or a poem to read. But over the last 12 months, some of our volunteers at The Reader have had the opportunity to run Shared Reading groups in the beautiful surroundings of Kensington Palace in London.

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Bringing people together with Independent Liverpool

Ahead of The Reader’s Courtyard Fair on Saturday 9 September, we caught up with Dave from our event partner Independent Liverpool to discuss independent culture, community and memories of Calderstones Park.

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The Reader 60

Reader 60 coverThe first issue of The Reader in 2016 is here and it’s a very special one indeed as it heralds our sixtieth edition. There are plenty of diamonds to be found inside Issue 60, ranging from the brand new to the nostalgic, and the inclusion of our One -Pagers’ – the raw, powerful and punchy moments from works of literature that make us feel alive and which we often turn to at times in need of affirmation.

‘We seek the ‘lines of life’. When readers tear from books the words that suddenly matter to them, that is their own pre-poem, the beginning of their work as receivers and transmitters of suddenly felt meaning. Reader writers: apply within.’ – The Reader Writers, Philip Davis

You’ll still find plenty of broader content within Issue 60, including new poetry from Carol Rumens, Julie-ann Rowell, Claire Allen and Vidyan Ravinthiran. The big themes of change and the future – still on many a mind as the year is fresh – feature in Gill Blow‘s story ‘Ladies of the Soil’, and Raymond Tallis seeks perspective on life from the imagined vantage of his future death in an extract from his new book The Black Mirror.

Sitting alongside future thoughts are frequent glances back towards the past, as we republish poems by Les Murray and U.A. Fanthorpe from our earliest issues, and revisit our childhoods while keeping feet firmly in the present day as we talk to Jason Hazeley and Joel Morris, co-writers of the hugely popular Ladybird Books for grown-ups. Our second interview visits photographer Tim Booth, who talks about his stunning collection A Show of Hands – a collection of portraits of hands.

Marjorie Lotfi Gill features in The Poet on Her Work, turning distance that feels like helplessness into clarity as she writes on the subject of gun violence. Charlie Darby-Villis writes about reading poetry in a high security prison, and the poet David Constantine responds with his own recollection of visiting HMP Low Newton. More on the particular power reading can offer come from pieces by Drummond Bone, Ben Davis, David Abrahamson and Claire Sive.

All this alongside our Regulars and Recommendations – there’s much to celebrate in our latest milestone.

If you’re keen to make a literary resolution for the year ahead, yearly subscriptions to The Reader begin from £24, offering four issues of the magazine. You can also purchase your copy of Issue 60 for the price of £6.95. There’s the chance of winning a full set of the Ladybird Books for grown-ups within the issue, so don’t delay in ordering!

For more on The Reader, see our website.


The Reader 59

Reader 59 cover-1In need of something to bring a warm glow into the lengthening Autumn nights? The latest issue of The Reader is here to offer a wealth of new fiction and poetry, alongside a range of illuminating essays and thought pieces – and the bright cover artwork by Michael Troy is sure not to get lost amongst the gloom.

In Issue 59, you’ll find new work from two big names and returning contributors to The Reader. Blake Morrison introduces his poetry collection, Shingle Street, and the profoundly moving first chapter of The Life-Writer by David Constantine offers an enticing insight into the new novel from the author of In Another Country, the inspiration for the recent award-winning film 45 Years.

The Poet on His Work features Jonathan Edwards and his poem Song, where the low culture – ‘the earthy, the musical, the ordinary, the real’ – sits alongside the poetic:

“This poem took ten years to write. It took a few hours. I’m not the first boy in the history of the world to write a poem about a girl.” – Jonathan Edwards on Song

Marjorie Lofti Gill, Ian Tromp and Mary Maher complete the poetry line-up.

Dr Steve Mowle, a partner at Hetherington Family Practice and Associate Director for GP Education for Inner South West London, talks to Fiona Magee about life as a GP, the long-term relationship between patients and doctors and how reading within a group is part of ‘social prescribing’.

Tim Parks uses Chekhov to rebel against the problem of ‘biographical fallacy’; the ‘poet’s poet’ F.T. Prince comes to our attention courtesy of Anthony Rudolf; Brian Nellist recommends a Neglected Novel – as well as offering The Old Poem – and there are more from The Reader regulars, including Ian McMillan and Enid Stubin.

Curl up by the fire and order your copy, available to order from the website. If you’re on the search for Christmas present suggestions, a year’s subscription to The Reader – giving you four issues – costs £24 in the UK and £36 abroad.

The Reader 58 has arrived

Issue 58 of The Reader features Bill Bailey, Anna Woodford, Sarah Helm, Matthew Hollis, Salley Vickers and many more
Issue 58 of The Reader features Bill Bailey, Anna Woodford, Sarah Helm, Matthew Hollis, Salley Vickers and many more

If the heat is making you yearn to sit in the shade with some new reading material, then you’re in luck as Issue 58 of The Reader has arrived and it’s packed full of literary goodness to help you while away the long hot hours.

The contemporary very firmly combines with the classic this issue – new poetry comes from Matthew Hollis, Robert Etty, Claire Allen and Julian Flanagan with new fiction – the thought-provoking One, Two, Three, Four – from Greg Forshaw. To accompany the ever-popular Old Poem feature by Brian Nellist, we’re now introducing The Old Story to bring back a forgotten gem from the past, the first coming from Katherine Mansfield.

Bill Bailey talks to Fiona Magee about his own unique brand of comedy and why he’s not a fan of jokes, his relationship with language, ambitions to write a book and his belief in the importance of reading out loud.

“That’s the great power of literature: not all the information is there – you have to bring something as well to it to make it” – Bill Bailey

A trio of formidable female writers share their work: in this issue’s The Poet on Her Work, Anna Woodford discusses her poem ‘The Gender and Law at Durham Research Group’, looking at how two specialised languages – that of poetry and of law – respond to personal loss and the threatened loss of self. Salley Vickers‘ essay on The Winter’s Tale also examines loss – in particular the slow story of possible restoration after it – and extracts feature from Sarah Helm‘s If This Is A Woman, a scholarly and at the same time unswerving history of Ravensbruck, Hitler’s concentration camp for women.

All this, as well as a preview of the Storybarn, Liverpool’s new interactive story centre for children and families, by Jane Davis; tales from the Versewagon by Ian McMillan; five featured books about sisters from Angela MacMillan, and much more.

“Literature still serves all the purposes that oral storytelling once achieved, and remains essential to our wellbeing” – Joseph Gold, The Story Species

Make sure you order your copy now in time for your summer getaway – Issue 58 is available to order online now, via single copy or annual subscription, saving you 15% on the cover price over the year.

Visit our website for full details on purchasing:


‘A life changing business’: Stephen Fry on reading aloud

dementia 2The art of reading aloud was explored by Stephen Fry in a fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday – and Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis along with some of our Readers in Liverpool were featured speaking about the power and special quality of reading aloud.

In Greek and Roman times, reading silently was frowned upon – the skill of reading aloud was much prized amongst the finest in society and the Romans could even be described as the predecessors of shared reading, gathering to read aloud in groups. Fry’s English Delight took listeners on a journey through the history of reading aloud, which amongst other gems told us that for over a third of the 21 centuries that have passed reading aloud was the most common form of reading and that authors such as Tennyson, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen were particular fans of reading aloud: Austen would ‘road test’ the drafts of her novels, including Pride and Prejudice, by reading and having her family reading them aloud.

The Reader Organisation connects people with great literature and through reading aloud in our regular shared reading groups in the UK, and the programme visited us at one of our groups in Liverpool while they read Silas Marner by George Eliot. Readers including Damian, who went for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and Louise, who has Asperger’s syndrome, spoke about how reading aloud has affected them, using terms such as ‘addictive’ and referring to the stories and poems that are read as ‘a bright light shining in the darkness’. When the words of great writers are read aloud we are not only attuned to their beauty but are exposed to the value of great minds and thinking, which can act to make us emotionally stronger.

Woman laughing hystericallyThe question of whether people might be put off by the apparent performative nature of reading aloud is something dismissed in our shared reading groups, as the informal and relaxed atmosphere allows people to choose to read only if they want to, letting people be themselves. As Jane says, reading aloud is one of the most democratic forms of communication, with everybody able to get something out of it.

The programme also featured speakers including Professor John Mullan of University College, London, who provided insights into the greats of literature and their skills of reading aloud – giving even experts in the field something to learn. 10 year old Ben, who started and rounded off the programme, spoke about how he thinks it’s every parent’s duty to read aloud to their children – a reader to watch for the future! Stephen Fry himself was in praise of the art, saying:

“Reading aloud and being read to can be a deeply affecting, life changing business.”

With readers like Damian and Louise as well as many more benefitting from the power of reading aloud, we can attest to this.

If you missed the broadcast of Fry’s English Delight you can listen again on the website:

RISE: Erwin James in conversation with Jane Davis

Erwin-JamesRISE: Erwin James in conversation with Jane Davis
Monday 14th October, 6pm (FREE)
Ustinov College, Durham University, Howlands Farm, South Road, Durham DH1 3DE

Join Erwin James, Guardian journalist and former prisoner, at this special, in-conversation event with Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis, a fringe event of Durham Book Festival 2013 and The Reader Organisation’s Reading In Secure Environments (RISE) programme this October, in association with the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.

Erwin will be talking about his life as a reader and a writer with Jane at this free event, where they’ll also be joined by two of The Reader Organisation’s Reader-in-Residences at criminal justice settings in Durham, Charlie Darby-Villis (HMP Low Newton) and Lynn Elsdon (HMP Frankland).

Erwin James began writing for The Guardian on criminal justice issues while a serving prisoner in 1998; to this day, he is a regular columnist and contributor. Two collections of his columns, A Life Inside, A Prisoner’s Notebook and The Home Stretch, From Prison to Parole, have been published. He credits his discovery and interest in reading and education while in prison with changing his life. As well as being a trustee for Prison Reform Trust and patron of charities including CREATE and Blue Sky, Erwin is also a patron for The Reader Organisation.
As a believer in the value of reading in prisons, Erwin has expressed his support for the RISE programme since its beginnings last year:
“I’m thrilled at the news of The Reader Organisation’s RISE programme. My first experience of reading as a shared experience happened when I was in prison and the poet Ken Smith came in to talk to a group of us about his work. I was ten years into a life sentence and was still trying to find my way. Ken invited us to read some of his poems and extracts from one of his books. We were all intensely inhibited at first, defensiveness being the default position to survive on a prison landing. None of us had ever done anything like it. But in the library that day Ken made us feel safe enough to let our defences down, and to engage with him and each other as the real people we were deep inside. The humanising impact of Ken’s visit lasted long after he left us. He probably never knew it but in the two hours he gave us he managed to remind us that though we were prisoners, we were people first – and that we had some value. The potential for RISE, I believe, is massive.”
Erwin also spoke about RISE, The Reader Organisation and his own experiences of reading in prison in one of his recent posts for The Guardian Books Blog.
All are welcome to attend this free and special event, which promises to be a deeply interesting evening.
For more information on Durham Book Festival 2013, see their website.

The Reader 51 has arrived

51 Cover 72 DpiWe’re at the start of a new season, which means that the arrival of Issue 51 of The Reader magazine is incredibly well-timed. Featuring a gorgeous and comforting Autumnal scene cover, appropriately titled ‘Little Comfort’ by artist Michael Troy, Issue 51 is full of rich content to keep your literature levels well stocked up as the days get shorter and nights get longer once more.

Highlights of the issue include:

  • A new poem from Jean Sprackland, Taking Down the Scaffolding, which also features in Charlie Darby-Villis’s account of her visit to HMP Low Newton as part of the Reading in Secure Environments (RISE) programme
  • New poetry from Hannah Lowe, John Wedgwood Clarke, Jonathan Edwards and Barney Eden
  • Sean Haldane writes on the strange arrangement of personal time in this issue’s Poet On His Work
  • The craft, nature and beliefs of Thomas Hardy is given perspective as we get ‘Four Helpings of Hardy’ from Mike Irwin, Bernard O’ Donoghue, Jane Thomas and Josie Billington
  • The new Vintage Classics editor Frances Macmillan is interviewed on publishing matters and the literary phenomenon of the year, Stoner by John Williams
  • Combative, engaging and fascinating essays from Philip Davis, Martin Boston and Malcolm Bennett
  • New fiction from Stuart Evers and Victoria Benn

All this alongside your regulars and more tales from the Reading Revolution – a true wealth of literary goodness as golden as the leaves descending from the Autumn trees.

Current subscribers can expect Issue 51 of The Reader to drop through their letterboxes any day now, and if you haven’t already subscribed then there’s no need to miss out – you can snap up your copy of the new edition or purchase a year’s subscription from on our website, where you can also browse through our back catalogue of vintage Reader copies.

The Reader 49 is here!

The sun is shining, the birds are singing and spring has finally sprung – the first issue of The Reader for 2013 is here!

Reader 49 cover 72dpiIn Issue 49, we recreate in print the charged RISE (Reading in a Secure Environments) event, which saw poet and writer Jackie Kay reading from her work to women at HMP Styal. There is a question-and-answer session led by Charlie Darby-Villis, along with extracts from Jackie’s memoir Red Dust Roadand poetry too, including ‘Here’s My Pitch’, a poem which she would later read to the crowd at Sheffield United’s Bramhall Lane stadium as part of the ‘Kick it Out’ campaign (against racism in football) but which she premiered for the women prisoners.

There is new poetry from David Constantine and new fiction from John Kinsella, and a searching interview with publisher David Fickling on the power of books to guide you without programme or instruction. They do it by involving the reader in the telling of the tale and not by the attempt to educate:

‘Reading is an invitation to think and if you reach for the issue you close down the thinking and the creativity in your own head, and the dialogue between the author and you. The best stories are not ones where the writer excludes the reader from the book but the ones that include you, where the story is completed by the reader reading it.’

You will also find Niall Gibney’s honest and heartfelt account of his visit to South Africa, delivering books to schools with Liverpool Football Club Foundation; here too there is the amazing photography of some very different readers by street photographer Ourit Ben-Haim. Her website (The Underground New York Public Library) is dedicated to capturing the readers travelling on the NYC subway. Strongly recommended!

If you’re already a subscriber, then you can expect the magazine through your letterbox any minute now. If not, and you don’t want to miss out on this jam-packed issue of literary goodness, why not head over to our website and purchase the magazine or a full subscription now? Happy reading!

Get Into Reading in the Merseysider

The MerseysiderThe Merseysider is an annually published magazine covering all aspects of life on Merseyside. This year, among articles on Desert Island Discs, Liverpool’s appearances in films, local events and local artists, there is also an article about The Reader Organisation!

The article traces the growth of the organisation all the way from one of the earliest reading groups in 2002 and features several examples of how Get Into Reading has positively affected people.

The article gives a good sense of how open and honest people are when relating texts to their personal experiences. In the article’s interview with Jane Davis, she compares the frankness of literature (in this case George Herbert’s ‘Tempers’) to the discussions which occur in Get Into Reading groups. ‘Literature is about writing down what’s going on inside human beings,’ she says. The human authenticity found in literature means that it both resonates with people and helps them to talk about the way they feel.

One of the most crucial things about reading is that it lets people know they aren’t alone. Linda, a group member from Wallasey, says that she feels more diplomatic because situations now remind her of poems and short stories she’s read. It seems to become easier to understand ourselves when we realise that authors have already experienced and written down what we feel. Their honesty about the human condition makes it possible to see ourselves in their work. They also give people a language to express this with; good literature often puts difficult, even seemingly inexpressible, things into words.

If you would like to read the full article, along with many more about Merseyside culture and history, you can buy the magazine from The Merseysider website as well as in local book shops and newsagents across Merseyside.