So Spirited A Town–Nicholas Murray Interview

Over at The Book Depository Mark Thwaite has been interviewing Nicholas Murray about his next book, So Spirited A Town: Visions and Versions of Liverpool. In the Capital of Culture year there are going to be a lot of new books about Liverpool (I’m guilty as charged) the best of which will avoid what Murray calls ‘Merseycliche’ and give real insight into this rather wonderful city:

Mark Thwaite: What gave you the idea for So Spirited A Town?

Nicholas Murray: It was a combination of wanting to write something about my childhood and adolescence in Liverpool and wanting to give some sense of the city in which I grew up from a literary point of view. The book, when it is not about me, is about all the writers who have left their impressions of Liverpool and the number is surprisingly large. Some of the names are unpredictable too: Kazantzakis, Capek, Primo Levi, etc. Obviously the designation as Capital of Culture helped to galvanise things. It was a fairly obvious kind of opportunism. The idea had been gestating for a long time but now seemed like a good time to secure a publisher’s interest. I also thought that the eyes of the world would be on Liverpool and people might be searching for something a bit different from the usual Merseycliche. I must also say that I had reviewed several years ago in the TLS Gladys Mary Coles’ anthology of Liverpool writing, Both Sides of the River. Although she wasn’t interested in a lot of the writers I discuss it was an excellent anthology and really gave me the idea of exploring further.


Nicholas wrote about So Spirited A Town for The Reader Online back in October 2007. Here’s the link to the interview with Mark Thwaite again.

Posted by Chris Routledge. Powered by Qumana

Stories from the City: Contributors Wanted

Kenn Taylor is putting together a one-off magazine of new writing about Liverpool for 2008. It will be called ‘Stories from the City’ and is planned to launch in September. He is looking for writers with interesting and original stories to tell about the city, its people, its institutions, and its life. Stories from the City is a one-off, high quality magazine publication about Liverpool’s character, culture, history, and landscape.

If you are interested in contributing contact Kenn Taylor or Shane Gladstone on liverpoolmagazine [at]

Liverpool Reads … Mal Peet

Bea Colley, Liverpool Reads coordinator writes:

2008 is the National Year of Reading as well as Liverpool’s year as European Capital of Culture. Liverpool Reads is proud to present its fourth annual reading adventure with two novels by author Mal Peet, Keeper and Tamar, jointly sponsored for the first time by Cobalt Housing and Liverpool Housing Trust (LHT). Liverpool Reads is a city-wide reading adventure where each year a book is distributed for free across the city and a programme of outreach activity, author events, reading groups, and other great activities are coordinated to accompany the Big Read.

This year’s read focusses on Liverpool, its love of the beautiful game, its regeneration after the Second World War and on to this year of celebration. Keeper will be the central book with 10,000 copies to be distributed for free from Liverpool Libraries. A coupon will be printed in the Liverpool Echo on 6th, 7th, and 8th of March which can be exchanged for a copy of the book. The novel tells the story of El Gato–the Cat–the world’s greatest goalkeeper–how he, a poor South American logger’s son, learns to become a World Cup-winning goalkeeper, so good he is almost unbeatable.

In addition to this, Liverpool Reads will be using Mal Peet’s Carnegie Prize winning novel Tamar, which is a story of espionage, love, jealousy, and tragedy set in Nazi-occupied Holland and appeals to all age ranges. We have 3,000 copies of Tamar to use in various intergenerational projects around the city in. Work has already begun on some of the initiatives for this year including the Four Corners Project in association with The Reader Organisation and The Bluecoat where youth groups and older peoples’ community groups will work together using the two books to produce creative responses to the text.

We are extremely excited to have the support of Walker Books for this year’s Big Read. Author Mal Peet says of the project:

“Books are free travel passes for journeys through space and time, and it’s a brilliant, radical idea on the part of Liverpool Reads to distribute them to the people of Liverpool. And I feel hugely honoured that in 2008, the National Year of Reading and the year in which Liverpool is the European Capital of Culture, my books have been chosen as the City Reads. All it will take now for my happiness to be complete is either Liverpool or Everton winning the Premiership and the Cup. (One each would do!)”

And there’s more …

You are invited to the public launch of Liverpool Reads … Mal Peet which takes place on Thursday 6th March (World Book Day) at the Central Library, William Brown Street, Liverpool.

Light refreshments will be served on a first come first served basis at 6pm and the event starts at 6.30pm prompt.

Mal will be reading from his two novels and answering audience questions

Tickets are now available for collection only for FREE from four Liverpool Libraries: Central – William Brown Street, Childwall – Childwall Five Ways, Walton – Evered Avenue, and Allerton – Allerton Road. Tickets are limited to four per person.

For more details on the project, please contact Bea Colley, Liverpool Reads Coordinator on 0151 794 2291, b [dot] colley [at] liverpool [dot] ac [dot] uk or visit

Reader event: Penny Readings

Penny Readings
St. George’s Hall, Liverpool
December 9th, 2007

By Chris High

In the annual Penny Readings, now in its fourth year of emulating Charles Dickens’s event of 1862 in which the great author described the room as “simply perfect”, The Reader Organisation have managed to encapsulate not only the very essence of Christmas, but also the very heartbeat of what Liverpool ’08 should be about. What better way to herald the arrival of Christmas than to spend a somewhat chilly Sunday evening in the luxurious surroundings of the Small Concert Room to listen to some of the city’s finest exponents of the spoken word reading festive extracts from Hardy, Dickens and Shakespeare?

Introducing some of the city’s musical foundations such as the Life Changers Empowering Ministries Gospel Choir – incorporating singers from seven different countries – and the Merseyside Dance Initiative’s, African Youth Dance, whose performance was filled with colour and unrestrained enthusiasm, BBC Radio 4 presenter, David McFetridge, held proceedings together as MC, reading extracts from Capsica’s Mersey Minis anthologies.

But it is the guest readers who make the event what it is and not least this year was Annabelle Dowler – Kirtsy Millar in The Archers and The Shepherd in The Liverpool Playhouse production of The Flint Street Nativity – who read from The Winter’s Tale and As You Like It, bringing scenes vividly to life with great energy.

Equally as eloquent were the University of Liverpool’s Brian Nellist MBE, who read from Thomas Hardy’s Under The Greenwood Tree and poet Jenny Joseph, reading from Bleak House and her own work, Led By The Nose, A Garden Of Smells.

As is traditional at the this event, however, it is the chosen passage from A Christmas Carol read by Philip Davis, Editor of The Reader magazine, that closed the show and so released the five hundred strong audience into the chilly night air with a lighter heart and a renewed sense of what the meaning of Christmas should be.


Chris High is an author and freelance journalist. He also writes crime fiction book reviews, theatre, music and film reviews, and interviews writers, media personalities and musicians. We are not entirely sure what his tastes in cake are. Or if he even likes cake.

(Festival Girl is away)

BBC Free Thinking Festival: A Festival of Ideas

Free Thinking 07, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Merseyside‘s unique festival of ideas launches in Liverpool this Friday (November 9). With events at Fact and BBC Radio Merseyside, Free Thinking brings you face-to-face with today’s leading artists, scientists and other thinkers. Over the weekend, you can join them and many others considering ideas through interviews, debates, talks, poetry and performances. The Reader is hosting ‘Book at Breakfast’ on Saturday and Sunday (still a few tickets left for Sunday, so book now if you want to come) and Ian McMillan, new regular contributor to The Reader, will record The Verb live on Friday evening.

With freedom as a major theme at this year’s festival, there are events that tackle issues of freedom in education, the ownership of our own freedom, prisons and society, the changing perspectives of childhood and concepts of equality. The full list of events can be found here and even if you are unable to attend, there are opportunities for everyone to tackle the issues raised. Most of the events over the weekend will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Merseyside, as well as being available to listen for up to a week on the Free Thinking website; there are polls and comments awaiting your responses and the chance to write haiku on any debate or theme from this year’s festival (also, don’t forget to vote for Jane as part of the People’s Choice debate!).

Posted by Jen Tomkins

Mersey Minis Launch: Number 5, Leaving

Fans of the popular diminutive book series Mersey Minis–mentioned here before–will be pleased to hear about the launch of book number 5, Leaving as well as the complete five-volume box set on November 6, 2007 at the Merseyside Maritime Museum. This is a terrific series that brings together professional and amateur voices to celebrate Liverpool’s centenary year. The launch will feature readings from Leaving by actor Brian Dodd.

About Leaving:

It is perhaps as a port of exit that Liverpool made its biggest impact on the world, but not all departures in Leavingare physical: the fifth Mersey Mini is packed with a diverse take on leaving, including lost youth, demolition, the docks and death itself. Featured writers include Herman Melville, George Melly, Noam Chomsky, Anthony Burgess and Steven Gerrard.

Edited by Deborah Mulhearn, Leaving is the fifth Mersey Mini, a series of writing about Liverpool by residents and visitors over the past eight centuries. Volumes one to four; Landing, Living, Longing and Loving have been released throughout 2007, including a giveaway of 3,500 free copies of volume three, Longing, to celebrate Liverpool’s 800th birthday on August 28th.

The set of five will be available for the first time, bound with a stylish clear PVC band, allowing the colours of each spine to show through. November 6 also includes the private view of artist Clare Curtis’ lino cuts from the series, with an exhibition following at the Editions gallery on Cook Street from November 8 to 24 2007.

Copies of the Mersey Minis are available from bookshops across Liverpool and Merseyside, and online at loveliverpool-books. Individual copies are £3.95, or the set of five is available for £14.99.

Posted by Chris Routledge

Book At Breakfast Invitation 10th and 11th November

The Reader in association with BBC Radio 3 is running two “Book at Breakfast” events on 10th and 11th November as part of the 2007 Free Thinking Festival. We are offering the chance to attend these invitation-only events. Just complete the contact form below, including a postal address and we will send you a copy of the extract under discussion, directions to the venue, and your free invitation.

1st Book at Breakfast: [Please note that this event is now fully booked]

Saturday 10th November 10.00am – 11.30am
at BBC Radio Merseyside on Hanover Street, Liverpool.
Adam Phillips in conversation with Philip Davis

Adam Phillips is a psychoanalyst and the author of eleven previous books, including Side Effects and Houdini’s Box. He writes regularly for The New York Times, the London Review of Books, and The Observer, and is General Editor of The Penguin Freud Reader (Penguin Modern Classics Translated Texts).

2nd Book at Breakfast:

Sunday 11th November 10.00am – 11.30am
at BBC Radio Merseyside on Hanover Street, Liverpool.
Rose Tremain in conversation with Jane Davis

Rose Tremain was named by Granta as one of the 20 ‘Best of Young British Novelists’ in 1983, and was a judge for the Booker Prize for Fiction in 1988 and in 2000. She reviews and broadcasts regularly for press and radio and lives in Norfolk and London. Her novel, The Colour (2003), set in New Zealand at the time of the West Coast gold rush in the 1860s, was shortlisted for the 2004 Orange Prize for Fiction. Her latest books are a collection of short stories, The Darkness of Wallis Simpson (2005) and the novel, The Road Home (2007). She was awarded a CBE in 2007.

BBC Radio 3 will record the event for broadcast but you will not be asked to speak directly to a microphone unless you are willing do so. Places are limited.

When filling in the form below please state how many invitations you need and which of the two events (Saturday or Sunday) you wish to attend. Tickets now available for Sunday only.

Pitching her case: Jane Davis on Night Waves

In the run-up to this year’s BBC Radio 3 Free Thinking festival in Liverpool next month, Jane Davis (Director, The Reader), can be heard pitching her case for the promotion and pleasure of books for all, as part of the festival’s People’s Choice debate. Listen to Jane on Radio 3’s Night Waves tonight at 21.45.

Of all the art-forms, only books allow us to fully understand the human experience…

Are you a supporter of what we do? Do you think that The Reader‘s hard work and enthusiasm should be further recognised? If so, get voting in the People’s Choice debate during the Free Thinking festival (9th – 11th November)!

The Reader is running ‘Book at Breakfast’ events on Saturday 10th November and Sunday 11th November as part of the BBC’S Free Thinking festival. It is an invitation only event but you will be able to listen to the programmes on Radio 3.

So Spirited a Town: Visions and Versions of Liverpool

Nicholas Murray, author of, among other things, biographies of Bruce Chatwin, Franz Kafka, and Mathew Arnold, writes about his book So Spirited a Town, which is published by Liverpool University Press. As an ‘outsider’ who has just finished writing a book about Liverpool I have a particular interest in the subject of So Spirited a Town, since writing about a place ties you to it forever. Here’s what Nicholas has to say about his book (more on his website and his blog):

I wrote this book about Liverpool to show how it has been seen through the eyes of writers–some indigenous but the majority outsiders–who felt compelled to leave their impressions of my native city. Some were pleased with what they saw, others not, but their written accounts add up to a very rich source and the book was a great pleasure to research. I include Dickens (who gave me my title), Swift, Defoe, Hopkins, Melville, Hawthorne, Orwell, Malcolm Lowry, James Hanley, George Garrett, and countless others. Some are well-known, some almost forgotten. I found room for politicians and priests, poets and preachers as well as professional writers. I spent many hours exploring a range of sources: books, essays, diaries, letters, memoirs, sermons, eccentric guidebooks (particularly good fun), quirky old histories, poems, pamphlets, jokes. Since this is also a very personal book I intermingled with these accounts impressions and memories of my own growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s and 1960s.

Although I was born in Liverpool and educated at school and university in the city I have not lived in Liverpool since the mid-1970s so don’t expect it to be a finger-on-the-pulse guide to what is currently cool on Merseyside. I leave that to the experts!

But in writing largely about the past I am conscious of how much that past continues to exercise a live influence on Liverpool. I don’t mean that the city is backward-looking but that it is impossible to understand it without knowing what it has lived through. It has often been a harsh tale of unimaginable suffering. Consider the plight of the Liverpool poor throughout the nineteenth century and early twentieth century when the port was one of the richest in the world. Or the terrible horrors of the slave trade which created Liverpool’s wealth. As a child growing up in the suburb of Waterloo I felt myself surrounded on all sides by the actual texture of the nineteenth century: Victorian terraces, cobbles, street names, everything that now gets labelled “heritage” but this was at a time when the Beatles were the latest thing. Liverpool, in other words, has always known how to adapt and change without losing its memory.

I have written about my childhood and schooldays and I have explored the accounts of some quite recent writers–like Primo Levi or Nikos Kazantzakis or Karel Capek–whose presence in Liverpool many may not be aware of. It is a hybrid book and I like hybrid books. I also hope it is an entertaining one and will stimulate readers to go back and explore some of the texts to which I refer.

2008 makes Liverpool the European Capital of Culture. We all have our own idea of what “culture” means and mine probably isn’t quite the same as that of the Culture Company–I am after all the biographer of Matthew Arnold author of Culture and Anarchy (who died in Liverpool by the way). ‘Culture’ in the European Year sense seems to be rather more about shopping but then that’s culture too, I hear you say, and of course it is. I hope that my book makes some sort of contribution to the discussion and I look forward to seeing many of the events that are being lined up for next year.


By Nicholas Murray