Wirral Community Shakespeare: Two Extra Performances of The Winter’s Tale

The FREE tickets for all of the original performances of Wirral Community Shakespeare‘s open-air production of The Winter’s Tale in Birkenhead Park ran-out last week. Tickets for the performances have been in such high demand that The Reader Organisation has decided to stage TWO EXTRA performances, releasing 600 more FREE tickets.

The two extra performances will be on Thursday 28th August at 7.45pm and a matinee on Friday 29th August at 2pm. The tickets are FREE and will be available from 10am today, Thursday 21st August, at Birkenhead Park Pavilion (can be obtained from 10am – 4pm, Monday to Saturday thereafter). There are also a few more tickets available for the three original performances (Friday 29th August at 7.45pm, Saturday 30th August at 2pm and 7.45pm). Be quick, they’ll be snapped-up!

Cast members in rehearsals

The Wirral Community Shakespeare Project is community led; it was an idea that came from members of Get Into Reading groups. Twenty-eight members of the Birkenhead community join professional actors and crew, Coronation Street‘s Pauline Fleming (starring as Paulina) and Brookside‘s Neil Caple (Director) to put on a performance that aims to make Shakespeare more accessible to more people. Due to the unprecedented demand for tickets and the project’s engagement with the community, this production proves to be successful in reaching out to new audiences – spectators and participants. 

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Free Thought

As part of the BBC’s Free Thinking festival, Director of The Reader Organisation, Jane Davis, appeared on Radio 3’s breakfast show with her impassioned ‘Free Thought’ about the real value of literature. Jane talks about how she founded The Reader Organisation, with the aim of “Bringing books to life, off the syllabus, down from the shelves and into the hands of people who need them. We all need the added brain power and meditative reflection that reading can bring.” It’s very short and very strong. Listen here.

Edge Hill Short Story Competition Update

Back in June Kate McDonnell wrote about The Reader Organisation’s involvement in the Edge Hill Short Story Competition. Here’s Clare Williams with an update:

For the past few months Get Into Reading groups have been involved in the judging panel for this year’s Edge Hill Short Story Competition. There were five authors up for nomination this year, and GIR groups read one story from each of these author’s short story collections. Everyone involved enjoyed taking part; at the time we had no idea who the authors were so it was all very exciting.

The competition raised important questions amongst GIR members about what a short story should be like. One member from my Wednesday morning group offered the following suggestion about what makes a good short story:

A good short story is one that confronts awkward feelings and thoughts and situations that we all experience as human beings. A good short story makes us recognise the fact that these feelings and thoughts are difficult, and does something with them to make us think and reflect. It is not about being clever or wordy or filling it out with lots of stuff. A good short story needs to have some substance in it … 

On Thursday 3 July GIR group members who had been involved in the competition were cordially invited to attend the award ceremony. Two of my group members came along, as well as several others from different groups, and we all had a really good time. With wine on tap and an exciting array of canapés continually being offered to us (and note I’m talking about very posh canapés of salmon and caviar and goats cheese and aubergine) we really felt part of the occasion and, well, really quite important. Indeed, one of our own group members joined Jane on the platform to announce the winner for the Reader’s Choice Award. Claire Keegan with her short story collection Walk the Blue Fields won the first prize of £5000. During her award speech, Keegan spoke about how the form of the short story had become unpopular as a literary genre because it was often regarded by others as too slow, and yet as Keegan recognised, its very slowness was an integral part of its point. The author interestingly observed:

The short story is there to slow us down. It doesn’t follow a clear progressive narrative in the conventional way. If you’re not reading the short story at the pace of the narrative voice within it, you’re not reading the story.

A very interesting idea I thought, and one that is no doubt integral to the rationale behind GIR itself. Indeed, one of our group members, Louise, spoke in turn about how the short story competition offered the opportunity for a break in the normal ongoing routine of life. Simon Robson won the second prize of £1000 for his collection The Separate Heart. The Reader’s Choice, nominated by GIR, was Christopher Fowler’s ‘Cupped Hands’, taken from his collection Old Devil Moon.

To top the evening off, after several glasses of wine, one of our GIR members thought it would be a good idea to ask one of the authors to join our table. The author in question was Simon Robson, who wrote the short story ‘Fat Girl’, which tells of a young boy’s redemption through the accident of fate. The story’s ambivalent ending (which I won’t give away for those of you who haven’t read it) had always perplexed some group members, hence why Len decided to bring the author over for a personal question and answer session. After the initial shock of nerves and trepidation, and increased confidence with a little help from the red and the white stuff, we suddenly found ourselves involved in a serious literary discussion with this talented author.

Posted by Clare Williams

Open Air Shakespeare Comes To Birkenhead Park

A community performance in Birkenhead Park of A Winter’s Tale directed by Neil Caple is being produced by The Reader Organisation.

Wirral Community Shakespeare

Wirral Community Shakespeare is a project that is running on Wirral with a simple aim, to get anyone involved in producing a great performance of a great play. The project is not simply about putting on a show, it includes workshops, opportunities to volunteer in the build-up to project, to work backstage or front of house on the night.

The show will be on 29th and 30th August in Birkenhead Park. Tickets are FREE and are available to pick up from the Visitors’ Centre, Birkenhead Park 9:30am-4pm. Alternatively send a stamped and addressed envelope to: Get in Reading, The Lauries Centre, 142 Claughton Road, Birkenhead CH61 6EY.

How To Get Involved

Are you interested in being involved? Want to help source props and costumes? Maybe you could host? Or is backstage more your thing? Whatever it is you would like to do, get in touch with Wirral Community Shakespeare using the contact form right here, or email BenDavis [AT] thereader.org.uk

The Reading Cure–Five Day Residential Course

Sunday 21st – Friday 26th September 2008, Burton Manor, Cheshire

The Reader Organisation would like to announce its first five day intensive residential
for people who want to become accredited Get Into Reading practitioners.

We are looking for candidates who are passionate about the transformative power of books and reading, who are able to demonstrate a wide interest in and knowledge of classic literature, including poetry, or who can demonstrate a powerful willingness to develop such knowledge.

Over the five days all course members will participate in at least ten reading group sessions, as well as meeting some of our reading group members, volunteers and project staff and talking to them about what makes GIR work for them.

In addition, you will be asked to read masses of new stuff and to write logs and prepare sessions each evening. There will be films to watch (for book-of-the-film-group sessions) and play-reading to be done in the evenings. (And there’s a village pub not too far away!)

Go here for full details and to download an application form.

Go here to read ‘The Reading Cure’ by Blake Morrison.

Children’s Storytelling on Sundays

From this Sunday – that’s Sunday 6th July  – until Sunday 31st August, The Reader Organisation, in association with the Bluecoat’s literature programme, will be starting summer storytelling sessions for children. Each Sunday from 12.00 – 12.45 one of our wonderful volunteers will be in the Hub at the Bluecoat sharing classic and new stories with the next generation of readers. The Reader Organisation believes that the best thing to offer future generations is the brilliant ancient technology that is: the story!

Reading from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories, kids will be able to discover ‘How the Rhinocerous Got His Skin’ and just who ‘The Man Who Gave People Things to Look After’ is, amongst other well-loved stories which give inspiring answers to some intriguing questions.

The sessions are open to children of all ages, especially those that are aged 4 – 8. Admission is free for all (including the adults that we would ask to stay to look after them). If you would like to ensure you get a comfy seat, you can call the Bluecoat on 0151 702 5297 to reserve your spot. 

These sessions have beenmade possible thanks to the support of Walker Books.

New Reader-in-Residence Sets Sail

The Reader Organisation‘s ‘Reading Revolution’ is in full force: we have just assigned a Reader-in-Residence to Bibby Line Group, one of one of the oldest shipping companies in Liverpool. Armed with books and enthusiasm (and a bit of trepidation), Ella Jolly embarks the ship.


Ella Jolly, Reader-in-Residence and Caroline Swailes, Bibby Line Group’s Community Programme Co-ordinator

As an organisation that embraces change – embodied by its ethos ‘continuing to evolve’ – the shipping company Bibby Line Group has diversified into areas such as financial services and distribution. In endeavouring to evolve once more, Bibby has become the first business in the country to welcome a Reader-in-Residence into its midst. Over the next twelve months in my position as Reader, I will travel to all Bibby UK sites (which range from the Kelloggs factory in Manchester to an oil platform in the North Sea) to promote reading in the workplace. This will initially involve setting up reading groups, based on the successful Get Into Reading model, which will be available to all members of staff.



The first Bibby Get Into Reading group (with lots of tea and cake, of course)

The project will include initiatives such as office book shares and a website with daily poems, monthly novel recommendations and interactive message boards; ultimately culminating in Bibby’s own internal literary festival. Essentially, I am striving to encourage a culture of reading at work, in the hope that this will make Bibby a better place to work.

By Ella Jolly

Reader Poll: Classics on Richard and Judy

Before I start let’s just get something out of the way: The Richard and Judy Book Club is on the whole and on balance a good thing. It encourages reading, helps people choose what to read and gets people talking about books. And while it has been accused–correctly I think–of helping to skew the book trade in favour of coffee table bestsellers and hokey populist emotionalism, I don’t think it’s doing anything more than going with the market flow.

In any case ‘Richard and Judy’ readers, like ‘Oprah’ readers in the United States, are not scared of difficult material. The Richard and Judy Book Club winner for 2008 is Khaled Hosseini’s A Thousand Splendid Suns, a novel about women in Afghanistan which the New York Times described as flawed, but praised for its ‘sheer momentum and will’. Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, another of this year’s books, which tackles manic depression, has been widely praised by serious reviewers in serious newspapers. Obviously the Richard and Judy Bookclub is about readers and lots of them, but popular doesn’t have to mean second rate.

And that brings me to my main beef with the Richard and Judy Bookclub, that there are no ‘classic’ novels on the booklist. Why is there no Elizabeth Gaskell, or the Brontë sisters? What’s wrong with Dickens and what’s so hard about Hardy? Do the producers of the Richard and Judy Book Club think their readers wouldn’t like these writers? If so The Reader magazine would like to bet they are wrong. These great novels are full of stories about difficult human subjects: bad marriages, unrequited love, childhood, families in crisis, joy and mourning. Everything in fact that shows up in the modern novels that do get chosen for the list.

We would like to see a ‘classic’ novel in the Richard and Judy top ten and as of right now we are launching a campaign to make it happen. We’re starting with a poll to decide which novel we should champion over the coming months. In consultation with Phil Davis, the magazine’s editor and having taken suggestions from people in the office we have a shortlist. Please vote for the book you would most like to see championed on the famous couch.

Update: It was announced today (June 16, 2008) that The Richard and Judy Book Club is moving from ITV to the satellite channel UKTV. This is a great chance for a fresh start–let’s have a ‘classic’ novel on the new show.

[poll id=”3″]

The Reader, Issue 30, “I live and write” now available

Issue 30 Cover

Readers will recognise more than a few names on the contents page in The Reader No. 30. By coincidence, they all seem to be Philips of various kinds. We have Philip Pullman talking about the responsibilities of being a writer, three poems by the ubiquitous Phill Jupitus and an interview with the psychologist, Adam Phillips (‘the best psychotherapist in England’, according to Nicholas Fearn in The New Statesman), plus our own Philip Davis, editor of The Reader, of course, lighting fires and being encouragingly astringent along the way. Read his editorial here.

But the Phils haven’t taken over entirely. You will find new fiction by Melvyn Bragg (extracts from his book in progress); Les Murray’s choice of the best ten Australian poems; Blake Morrison’s full article on The Reader organisation’s Get Into Reading programme; Ian McMillan of The Verb (BBC R3); Myra Schneider, Morgan Meis, Tessa Hadley, Josie Dixon, and many others.

Issue 30 highlights include:

  • New poetry by Phill Jupitus, Matt Simpson, and Stephen Sandy, plus we publish the first installment of Les Murray’s choice of favourite Australian poets.
  • Phillip Pullman considers the writer’s responsibility to the reader, the work and to his imagination.
  • We print Blake Morrison’s extended essay, originally published in The Guardian, which examines the work of The Reader Organisation and bibliotherapy more generally as a force for change.
  • Morgan Meis takes us back to the beginnings of sea-faring, bridge-building hubris and tackles Melville and Hart Crane on the way.
  • The Poet on her Work: Myra Schneider talks about her poem ‘Field’ and the way that finding the right form helped let the vibrancy of memory into poetry.
  • Tessa Hadley looks squarely at the difference between stories and reality in her essay ‘Crying at Novels’.
  • Melvyn Bragg lets us read some early manuscript extracts from his new novel, Remember Me, and so witness the not-quite-in-control beginnings of a book taking shape.
  • The Interview: in a far-ranging discussion The Reader editor Philip Davis and psychoanalyst Adam Phillips thrash out a line between imaginative possibility and responsibility, Bellow and Malamud, inspiration and reality principle. Nothing is decided but all seems clearer.
  • Readers Connect is reborn with a panel of five readers giving us their ratings for Anne Brontë’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Not to be missed. Which judge will turn out to be the Simon Cowell figure?
  • Plus reviews, recommendations and all our regular features, including the new regular ‘The Old Poem’. Brian Nellist introduces Sir Walter Raleigh’s ‘Like Truthless Dreams’. Enid Stubin writes from the heart in her latest ‘Our Spy in NY’

If your subscription to The Reader is about to lapse, please note: this is not an issue you would want to miss. Visit the shop now.

The Reader Download Edition:

If you’re thinking about subscribing but want to feel the quality of the cloth first, why not take a look at the previous issue of the magazine, issue 29, now available online for free. Visit The Reader download page.

Edge Hill Short Story Competition–Readers’ Prize

Get Into Reading manager Kate McDonnell writes with news of Get Into Reading’s involvement with the 2008 Edge Hill Short Story Competition. The shortlist for the £5000 prize for the best single author short story collection published in the last year, was announced in May. Get Into Reading reading groups have been asked to judge individual stories. This is a new experience for them. Kate says:

I was approached by Ailsa Cox, the organiser, who had heard of GIR and liked the idea of putting the stories before our readers and asking them to judge the £1000 Readers’ prize.

The 5-strong shortlist is settled on by a judging panel (which this year includes Hilary Mantel) and Ailsa has selected one story from each of these collections for us to read with our groups. The names of the authors have been removed.

In GIR groups, we usually reflect on a book a little when we’ve finished it, but much of our discussion is immediately reactive–focussing on what’s in the book as we read it, what it suggests to us and what it means to us as individuals–but this time we’ve been asked to stand back from what we’ve read and see it as an object–and it’s been very interesting and different. The short story is a problem form for many–often feeling either inconsequential or incomplete, but so far our readers have been very open minded and sophisticated in their choices.

The award ceremony for the prize is to be held at the Bluecoat Art Centre in Liverpool in July. Read more about the shortlist here.