The Reading Revolution in Northern Ireland

We’ll be taking Read To Lead to Northern Ireland very soon, as part of a new schedule of Open Courses for 2012 (if you’re in Northern Ireland and are interested in training to become a shared reading facilitator, read on…) but The Reader Organisation already has a growing presence in the country, with very successful Get Into Reading groups operating in Queen’s University and within the Criminal Justice system.

Our Northern Ireland project worker Patricia Canning fills us in the ongoing progress of Get Into Reading Northern Ireland, highlighting the powerful impact words and literature have amongst a wide range of people:

Every Wednesday afternoon I read with a group of women who tell me that being a part of this Get Into Reading group makes them feel relaxed, ‘chilled’, less stressed, and on the whole, liberated. The irony is, that this GIR group is in Hydebank Prison, Belfast. Reading an extract from Dickens’s A Christmas Carol a few weeks back, the women talked about how his depiction of the biting cold had made them all feel very chilly: ‘he really knows how to describes things, doesn’t he? I’m freezing here!’

Being able to ‘feel’ what the writer is describing – even if it is the cold – is a testament to the power of words, and of the benefits of reading good literature. These women, like everyone else who benefits from attending Get Into Reading groups across the mainland, enjoy that liberating feeling of being able to identify with other characters, with events and with feelings and emotions that they might otherwise struggle to understand, articulate, or even acknowledge. Words can do that – as Ferdinand Pessoa puts it:

To express something is to conserve its virtue and take away its terror. Fields are greener in their description than in their actual greenness. Flowers, if described with phrases that define them in the air of the imagination, will have colours with a durability not found in cellular life.

Reading a difficult Shakespearean sonnet recently, one of the women read the line, ‘I all alone beweep my outcast state’, and proclaimed, ‘it’s about depression, isn’t it?’ In our group, Shakespeare has helped us understand that depression is a timeless phenomenon and can chance upon the best of us.

Thankfully, these benefits are reaching further afield because people are attending to the positive effects of shared reading here, as Health In Mind’s recent poetry and prose event at Coleraine library so wonderfully demonstrated. We now have a fantastic Get Into Reading group in Queen’s University, Belfast, every Thursday afternoon, which is well attended by a spirited bunch of people who read, chat, drink tea, chat, read, and marvel at the ways in which reading together enriches both the reading experience and our day in equal measure.

The Reading Revolution has begun in Northern Ireland, but we need passionate people who believe in the power of reading to help take it even further. We are hosting an open Read To Lead training course at Holywood Library over three weeks: Friday 3rd, 10th and 17th February 2012. If you want to share the joys of shared reading in your community, there are a few places left on the course. For further details and to book your place, please contact Jessica Reeves for more information:

Get Into Reading shortlisted in PrisonerActionNet Awards

We’re very pleased to announce that Get Into Reading has been shortlisted for the PrisonerActionNet Awards 2011. The awards recognise outstanding projects that strengthen prisoners’ and ex-offenders’ sense of personal identity, belonging, independence and relationships with other people. Over 70 high-quality entries were received by Lemos&Crane, co-ordinators of the Awards, so making the shortlist is a real achievement.

Our work in furthering shared reading in prisons and within the Criminal Justice system is expanding, continuing to make a significant and valuable contribution to the process of rehabilitation and reduction in offending amongst group members. Those who attend Get Into Reading groups in prisons, probation and community initatives have been unanimous about the many postive effects shared reading has on their lives – with one man saying that Get Into Reading provided him with “a second chance”.

The winners and finalists will be announced on Tuesday, November 1st.

For more information about the awards, visit the Lemos&Crane website.

Recommended Reads: Dragonfire by William S. Cohen

Continuing our series of recommendations from inmates of Walton Prison, here is Martin’s take on a thriller written by the former US Secretary of Defense, William S. Cohen.


by William S. Cohen.

I cannot praise this book enough. When I first got it, I thought that it would just help pass the time – boy, was I wrong.

The book opens with the American Secretary of Defence being assassinated. The main character, Michael Santini, current Wall Street banker, former US Senator and Vietnam POW, is rapidly handed the keys to the most powerful military office in the world. The action kicks in and it is a race against time to stop World War Three – threats coming from militia thinking Uncle Sam is giving the good American people the middle finger, to Russia Mafia, to terrorists and ‘rogue nations’.

The level of detail in this book is truly mind-blowing. The author quite knows his material, from the layout of the inner echelons of the Pentagon to the insanely annoying military and political acronyms they throw out like party favours.

I think the main character, Michael Santini, is a work of art; you come to understand his likes and dislikes, often pre-empting the author. He is a no-nonsense man banging his head against the wall that is American politics.

What I like is that William Cohen is not afraid to paint a realistic picture of America, the way the various intelligence chiefs go about petty one-upmanship, showing that if they pooled their resources a lot more might get done quicker and more effectively. He also shows how the country uses the threat of economic and military sanctions to bully other nations.

The author in addition portrays people who truly believe in what the United States stands for: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. I feel he is saying that America’s position as the only remaining superpower is under threat from a rapidly emerging China, a sentiment I share.

Dragon Fire presents a terrifying series of events that will leave readers wiping their brows. Written by anyone else, it would remain firmly in the realm of fiction. But William Cohen leaves you wondering exactly what Joe Public isn’t being told in the interests of national security.

A definite must read.

Posted by Martin

Recommended Reads: The Guv’nor Tapes by Lenny Mclean

Continuing our series of reading from the inmates of Walton prison, Anthony recommends this tale of a hard man with a heart of gold.

The Guv’nor Tapes (John Blake, 2007)

Lenny Maclean and Peter Gerard

This book is one of those books that you can’t put down. Bareknuckle fighter Lenny McLean was Britain’s hardest man. There have been many times when his back was against the wall and he has always come out on top. He once went up against eighteen men on his own. Nine ended up on the floor and nine ran away. He has been shot twice and stabbed once, which almost cost him his leg, but he’s never been put down and he always made it to hospital on his own two feet. He has fought the hardest men around and won, like Roy ‘Pretty Boy’ Shaw*.He even went to New York and beat the toughest man the Mafia could find.

What I respect about Lenny is the fact that he’s not a bully, he won’t hurt weak people and he wouldn’t let it happen in front of him. Also this is a man who loves his wife and kids very much and has always looked after them properly.

There was only one downside to the book and that is the beginning where he talks about his childhood. How he survived it, I will never know. His stepfather beat him black and blue from the age of five and it knocked me sick. Maybe if he hadn’t had such a bad childhood he would not have ended up being such a hard bastard.

Lenny went through all this and lived, but then something he could not beat killed him – cancer. Lenny McLean died in 1998. God bless him.

Posted by Anthony

* Roy Shaw actually called himself Roy ‘Mean Machine’ Shaw, but there was no love lost between these two.

Recommended Reads: Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Last week Wendy Kay introduced the reading group from Walton prison. Here is the first in a series of book reviews by members of the group.

Wizard’s First Rule (1995)

by Terry Goodkind

The book opens with a young man called Richard Cypher, a woods guide living in the forests of Westland. One day he is walking by a ravine when he encounters a young woman under attack by four large armed men. He does the chivalrous thing and helps her fend off three of the men; the fourth is mysteriously despatched by the young woman. She reveals that her name is Kahlan Ahmnell; she crossed the boundary to find the great wizard who created the magical boundary to stop the evil Darken Rahl.

From the outset, this book looks like one of those ‘nice’ books that occasionally comes along where nobody swears and people faint rather than get killed, but you could not be more wrong. There is blood and guts aplenty and torture scenes that made even me wince in sympathy.

This is an explosive series and the first book sets the pace for the entire series. The level of detail is awesome and the locations are inspired. The author jampacks detail into just shy of eight hundred pages, not too much but enough to keep you wanting more. The crowning feature is the characters, from the stout-hearted Richard to the fierce and passionate Kahlan; from the wonderfully eccentric Zedd to the devilishly handsome and utterly despicable Darken Rahl, who is possibly the most evil character I have ever read. I wonder what is lurking in the author’s mind when he creates such characters.

Wizard’s First Rule is a benchmark in the Fantasy genre. It had me hooked from beginning to end. If there is one book you should read if you are a Fantasy fan, it should be this – Tolkien be damned, long live Goodkind!

Posted by Martin

Get Into Reading Goes to Prison

Coming up over the next week or two we’re going to be featuring book recommendations from the Get Into Reading reading group at HM Prison Liverpool, known locally as Walton Prison. Here Wendy Kay describes her first contact with the prison and the inspiration behind the prison reading group.

The initial contact with Walton prison was through Liverpool Reads.  The idea was that Liverpool Reads would supply a number of copies of Tamar and Keeper by Mal Peet for prisoners to read. Mal Peet then agreed to come and meet a number of reading groups who had read the books and have a question and answer session. Walton prison were keen to have Mal there and we really didn’t know what to expect in terms of numbers and interest.

We arrived at the prison and were shown to a room where approximately 40 men were sitting patiently waiting for us (we were 30 minutes late due to weather and security checks). From a personal perspective it was amazing the way that Mal talked about the novel and responded to incredibly perceptive questions about how and why he wrote, where he got his ideas and how much research was needed. Mal said it was one of the best sessions he had taken part in.

On the way out of the prison the prison librarian Stephen Jones and Carol Booth showed us the prison library. It’s a good facility, well used and with a selection of titles as wide as any public library. I noticed they had these little cards dotted around the library – like the things you see in Waterstones and Borders with a book recommendation on. It seemed as though the people who read the books there had views that could be shared with an audience wide of the prison and that’s why I asked if we could use them on the blog.

Posted by Wendy Kay



The Reader Magazine issue 31 is now available. Read more about it here.