Penny Readings 2015: Northern powerhouses, Astounding Broccoli Boys and Dickensian cheer

Maxine 1 - Caro Rowland
Maxine Peake on stage at the Penny Readings 2015 (credit: @CaroRowland on Twitter)

Last night, St George’s Hall in Liverpool was full to the brim with festive spirit as the Penny Readings 2015 took place. For just over two hours, the glittering Concert Room – which Charles Dickens himself deemed as “the finest room in the world for reading” when he read on the very same stage – saw the sell-out show wow the audience with seasonal literature, music and entertainment, all for the price of just one penny a ticket.

Our star readers came in the form of ‘Northern powerhouses’ Maxine Peake and Shaun Evans, delighting and moving us in equal measure with their choice of readings. We were treated to a double helping of D.H. Lawrence with extracts from Sons and Lovers and The Rainbow, perfectly brought to life by Maxine’s dulcet tones, with her take on the Morel’s family Christmas awaiting the arrival of eldest son William back from London rightly called ‘captivating‘ by one of our many audience members – a feeling that was surely shared by the whole room. The Dickensian spirit of the Penny Readings was in full effect with Shaun’s piece from David Copperfield, which saw the title character in particularly high spirits, and his characterful reading of the ‘devilish good fellow’ brought frequent gales of laughter from the crowd. Maxine ended with a poignant Christmas piece – The Oxen by Thomas Hardy – although arguably her most challenging role of the evening came when she was called upon to draw the famous Reader Raffle, which had some incredible prizes on offer including a Kiehl’s gift-set, tickets to The Alice Experience and The Beatles Story, hampers from Asda and LEAF, Independent Liverpool cards and a signed authenticated picture of Liverpool FC midfielder Phillipe Coutinho!

Shaun Evans reading from Dickens (credit: @Sbarber5bp on Twitter)
Shaun Evans reading from Dickens (credit: @Sbarber5bp on Twitter)

Another memorable performance came from the ever-entertaining Frank Cottrell Boyce, who read from his latest hit novel The Astounding Broccoli Boy after regaling us with tales from his schooldays and in particular the case of a nun who may or may not have been concealing a Dalek status…Frank also pleased the crowds by signing copies of the book in the foyer afterwards. Angie MacMillan treated us to an exclusive preview of the latest in the A Little, Aloud series – A Little, Aloud With Love, due to be published in early 2016, and the Christmas cheer was brought back into proceedings with special guests Adele, Madison and Josh from Norman Pannell Primary School telling us the story of How The Grinch Stole Christmas. As ever, Phil Davis invoked the festive spirit with the traditional reading from A Christmas Carol, bringing the scene from the Cratchits’ dinner table to life.

Musical interludes were brought courtesy of The Ukulele Uff & Lonesome Dave Trio with their set of singalong classics including the love song for insects Never Swat A Fly and Irving Berlin’s Blue Skies, the super-talented piano player – and composer! – Evie Gill-Hannan, and the AINE Gospel Choir, finalists from the BBC Songs of Praise Gospel Choir of the Year 2014, who led the whole cast and crowd in a soulful rendition of Lean On Me to bring this year’s proceedings to a rousing close.

It was a real compliment for our supporters Publiship to call this year’s show the ‘Best Penny Readings ever’ and the #PennyReadings hashtag on Twitter was full of similar highlights from those in attendance:

Absolutely loved our first at . Thanks for organising a great evening! 🙂

all sounding/looking beautiful for the magical

Loved listening to made me laugh and nearly cry at end of reading…

Thanks and for a fab night.

Shaun Evans and Maxine Peake backstage with staff from Whitefield Primary School
Shaun Evans and Maxine Peake backstage with staff from Whitefield Primary School

With so much festivity and goodwill in abundance, we like to think that Dickens would be proud.

All that is left to say is a massive thank you to all of our performers, supporters, stall holders including News From Nowhere, Royden Revolve Rotary Club and The Reader Cafe, staff members and everyone in attendance for making the Penny Readings 2015 so memorable. Here’s to next year! In the meantime, to borrow a phrase or two from Bob Cratchit:

“A merry Christmas to us all, my dears. God bless us!”

Featured Poem: A Crazed Girl by William Butler Yeats

Here at The Reader’s HQ, the weekend antics of Blur’s Damon Albarn have got everyone talking. After refusing to end a marathon five-hour set at the Roskilde festival in Denmark, Damon was picked up and carried offstage by a man thought to be the stage manager (BBC News), at the heroic hour of 4am – much to the crowd’s disappointment.

I’m sure there are times when many of us have experienced the immersive power of music – though perhaps we don’t reach a point of being literally carried away like Damon. In Yeats’ ‘A Crazed Girl’, the speaker is enthralled by a young woman who finds relief from her harsh existence in singing. Despite the poem’s bleakness, perhaps like the speaker we can take something uplifting from ‘her triumph’ over her situation, through the ‘desperate music’ she makes.

A Crazed Girl 

That crazed girl improvising her music.
Her poetry, dancing upon the shore,

Her soul in division from itself
Climbing, falling she knew not where,
Hiding amid the cargo of a steamship,
Her knee-cap broken, that girl I declare
A beautiful lofty thing, or a thing
Heroically lost, heroically found.

No matter what disaster occurred
She stood in desperate music wound,
Wound, wound, and she made in her triumph
Where the bales and the baskets lay
No common intelligible sound
But sang, ‘O sea-starved, hungry sea.’

William Butler Yeats

‘O the mind, mind has mountains’: Ad Hoc Creative EXPO

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?

ad hoc crwativeWe’ve read the above many, many times over the years in our shared reading groups across the country, with a vast range of reactions being evoked. Now a new and exciting multimedia project will reenvision Gerard Manley Hopkins’ words to be showcased on a grand scale.

Ad Hoc Creative, a collaboration between Bido Lito! Magazine and Ad Hoc Property Management, presents Ad Hoc Creative EXPO, celebrating the buoyant artistic community within Ad Hoc properties across the UK and Europe. The very first Ad Hoc Creative Expo is bringing together musician and composer Bill Ryder-Jones and visual artist Marco Lawrence to produce a brand new immersive audiovisual installation which will be presented for one evening only within Calderstones Mansion House, where we’re building our International Centre for Reading.

The poem No Worst, There Is Noneas featured in The Reader Organisation’s anthology Poems to Take Home,  has been selected by Ad Hoc Creative EXPO as the inspiration for the new installation, to be presented at the end of May. The meeting of Hopkins’ words, Ryder-Jones’ music and Lawrence’s vision all within Calderstones Mansion House makes an ideal and engaging combination, marrying the power of great literature and shared reading to the ability of creative energy to create beautiful new ideas in a reimagined space. A section of the Mansion House is part of the Ad Hoc scheme, which allows people to live and work within properties at a minimal cost and play a part in bringing treasured buildings back to life.

bill ryder jones
Bill Ryder-Jones

Bill Ryder-Jones, previously of The Coral and now a solo artist and much-sought after producer said of the project:

“I’ve been jumping between producing, playing shows and working on the next album for over a year now, so I’ve been hoping something like this would turn up. The chance to revisit a different way of writing – and also to indulge a side of myself – was too good to pass up.”

while artist and Head Printer at the prestigious Print Club London Marco Lawrence said:

“I’m always interested in incorporating rhythm and narrative in some way into my work, so I’ll be seeking to expand on these themes. And I’m interested in what this new platform allows me to achieve. Equally, I’m excited to be making work with Bill Ryder-Jones. His work is beautiful, thought-provoking and even eerie sometimes. It’ll be tough to match and marry visuals to his audio, but I’m looking forward to it.”

Marco Lawrence
Marco Lawrence

It’s extremely exciting for us to be a part of this project and to have Calderstones Mansion, our new home for readers, playing such a role in fostering a strong artistic community in Liverpool along with the work of Ad Hoc Creative.

The first Ad Hoc Creative EXPO – the only chance to experience this exclusive installation – will take place at Calderstones Mansion on Thursday 28th May at 6pm. Entry is free, but due to limited capacity registration in advance is essential. Register for free tickets at

Find out more about Ad Hoc Creative and keep up with developments on Ad Hoc Creative EXPO on their website and Twitter: @_ADHOCcreative

“There was a star danced…” – Much Ado wows the Garden Theatre at Calderstones

The stage for Much Ado at the Garden Theatre (credit: @willowsh on Twitter)
The stage for Much Ado at the Garden Theatre (credit: @willowsh on Twitter)

“For man is a giddy thing, and this is my conclusion.”

We certainly had a most giddy time at the end of last week as we welcomed The Globe on Tour back to Calderstones Mansion House for their touring production of Much Ado About Nothing. Bard buffs, literary lovers and those who fancied a detour from football fever entered the Garden Theatre to enjoy one of Shakespeare’s liveliest and most well-loved comedies.

It was lucky enough that the sun shone down – with just a few showers here and there – providing us with the perfect backdrop to proceedings out of doors on a wonderfully authentic Shakespearean stage, and the glorious sounds of many a musical instrument rang out around the Garden Theatre as the merry band of players brought us the story of Much Ado over five performances on three days.

The eight strong cast entertained the crowds with aplomb, with Simon Bubb and Emma Pallant putting in stellar performances as the warring would-be lovers Benedick and Beatrice, and local connections coming from Sam Phillips, who played Claudio. Fittingly for a play that is full of fooling and people taking the place of others, the cast switched between characters throughout – perhaps the most inspired change of roles came from Chris Starkie, who played both the dastardly villain Don John and the perennially confused Dogberry.

Enjoying the show and a fair few ice-creams in the sunshine, our audience were keen enough to let us know what they thought on Twitter:

Had a brilliant night watching ‘s ‘s beautiful outdoor theatre at . Magical!

Fab afternoon watching Much Ado!!! 🙂 what an amazingly talented cast!!! 🙂 Bravo!!! 🙂

Basking in the afterglow of a tremendous Much Ado from and (s)

Much Ado in full swing at the Garden Theatre at Calderstones (credit: @shell_here on Twitter)
Much Ado in full swing at the Garden Theatre at Calderstones (credit: @shell_here on Twitter)

There were also fabulous 4* reviews from Catherine Jones of the Liverpool Echo, who called the production ‘quirky and charming’, as well as David Sedgwick from The Public Reviews:

“It’s certainly no mean feat to have the audience in stitches after a mere four centuries have passed. Having said that to extract that comedy requires a level of performance and direction of the utmost deftness. The laughs are all hard-earned. […] This Much Ado then is nothing if not accessible. Yet the play still ripples with profundity, still revels in linguistic musicality and still dazzles with intellectual dexterity.”

It’s been another amazing Shakespearean experience in the Garden Theatre, and we hope that everyone at Osbourne House in the Isle of Wight will have as much fun when the show rolls up there later this week as we did at Calderstones.

There’s no stopping at the Mansion House as our summer programme of events is now online for you to take a look at. From concerts to heritage walks around Calderstones Park, a host of Summer School Sizzlers and our very first Children’s Literature Festival in The Secret Garden of Stories this August, there’s something for everyone to enjoy – and we hope that the weather holds up, but regardless there’s lots of fun in store.

For more information of all of our events at Calderstones this summer, head to our Events calendar:



The Reader Organisation at Latitude Festival

festivalSpring may be in full swing, but here at The Reader Organisation we’re already looking to the long and hopefully hot days of summer as we’ll be appearing at this year’s Latitude Festival, taking place from 17th-20th July at Henham Park, Southwold, Suffolk.

One of the most diverse festivals in UK, offering a bumper line-up of music, comedy, theatre, poetry and lots of other literature too, Latitude has something to offer everyone with this year’s bill being no exception. We’re looking forward to bringing some Tea and Tales to the festival, where festival-goers can rest their tired feet and enjoy the calm that reading great literature provides as the sun shines down (fingers crossed) – what could be better for a weekend in the summer? As we read a selection of specially chosen stories and poems and share our personal reflections with no pressure to participate, you’ll also be able to find out more about what we do connecting people with literature around the UK.

Latitude will be bringing lots of big names from the world of literature to Henham Park over the weekend, including Roger McGough, Gillian Clarke, Michael Rosen and friend and patron of The Reader Organisation Lemn Sissay on the Poetry Stage. TRO will be part of the Literature line-up, sharing the bill with headliners including Richard Wiseman, Lauren Beukes, Jon Ronson and Robin Ince. With tons of great music including Two Door Cinema Club, Damon Albarn and Editors amongst many more and comedy from the likes of Dara O’Briain, Simon Amstell and Tim Key, Latitude is the perfect festival for any culture lover.

For more information about Latitude Festival and TRO’s appearance at it, visit the Latitude website:

If you can’t make it as far as Suffolk, then you can still enjoy a weekend’s worth of literature in the park at our Park Life Reading Weekend at Calderstones on Saturday 21st and Sunday 22nd June, where we’ll be enjoying a special selection of stories and poems that will help us get back to nature. For more information, see the Courses section of our website.

The Big Night Benefit

If you’re in London this weekend, you can enjoy a night of fun, film, dancing and fifties fabulous-ness at one of the city’s best kept secrets big night benefitWhirled Cinema. Not only this, but your night out will be benefiting The Reader Organisation!

Maggie Roy, a kind and generous friend of The Reader Organisation, has arranged this Big Night Benefit to raise money for our work in London and around the UK.

Come along and kick-start your night with a classy cocktail, enjoy a screening of ‘Big Night’, an Italian Feast of a film about love, family and food, then turn the music up to dance the night away. Fifties-style glad rags are very welcome – we look forward to seeing you there!

Big Night Benefit: Saturday January 25th 2014
7pm Cocktails, 8pm Film and dancing

Venue: Whirled Cinema, 259-260 Hardess St, London SE24 0HN

Advance Tickets: £10.Visit our website to find out how to reserve your place.

All proceeds to benefit The Reader Organisation

The Penny Readings Festival: Local Talent tops the Bill

Frank and Jane 72 dpiExcitement has been in the air for weeks, and now there are just days until St George’s Hall will be taken over by a festive extravaganza as The Penny Readings Festival takes place!

The Reader Organisation will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of our seasonal event by holding a free public Christmas festival from 1.30pm-5.30pm this Sunday, 15th December. There’ll be tons of things for the whole family to do all afternoon, including shared reading activity for children and adults, festive entertainment, craft stalls, a Christmas cafe and lots more. Come along and spend an afternoon getting into the Christmas spirit completely for free in the Great Hall.

All this festive fun is ahead of the main events, the Penny and Ha’penny Readings, sponsored by Publiship and Liverpool Learning Partnership. The 10th Penny Readings at 6.30pm in the Concert Room is completely sold out after another hugely successful public raffle took place at the end of last month. If you were lucky enough to be drawn out of Santa’s hat, you can look forward to an evening full of festive reading and entertainment, including:

There’s all this alongside the famous Reader raffle, with the opportunity to win some wonderful Christmas goodies from the likes of Waterstones Bold Street, Serious Readers, John Lewis Liverpool and Royal Court Theatre. The Christmas season will start in true Reader style in a jam-packed event that Charles Dickens himself would surely be proud of.

Keep your eyes on The Reader Online over the next few days for more on the events and the special free Penny Readings Festival. Got your ticket? Share your excitement with us on Twitter, using the hashtag #PennyReadings

The Penny Readings Festival is nearly here…

That’s right! For its spectacular 10th anniversary, the 2013 Penny and Ha’penny Readings will be part of a whole festival of Christmas reading celebrations in St George’s Hall, Liverpool, on Sunday 15th December.

Come back later this week for more information about the big day, including how you can get tickets – we can’t wait to see you there!

Frank (online)

Getting Everton reading

From Laura Lewis, Family Project Worker, Everton

With our head office based in Everton in Liverpool, here at The Reader Organisation we love to offer as many opportunities for local people, whatever age, to enjoy our shared reading groups. There are a whole range of exciting story and song groups around Everton for you and your little one to try. All of our groups are free, so why not come along and join in? Sharing stories and rhymes with your child is one of the best ways to help them develop speech, imagination and creativity. It is also a wonderful opportunity to spend time with your baby or toddler in a fun, friendly environment.

One of the recent reads enjoyed as part of Magical Story Time in Everton
One of the recent reads enjoyed as part of Magical Story Time in Everton

We currently run two groups for under fives and their parents and carers; older siblings are welcome too in the school holidays. There is

  • Magical Story Time at Everton Children’s Centre on a Tuesday morning, 10-11am,
  • and on a Friday morning you can celebrate the end of the week with Time for a Rhyme at Whitefield Primary School, 9-10am.

The Time for a Rhyme group is term time only, but you don’t have to have a child registered at the school to attend.

For the older children, we run a Family Story Time group at Breck Road Library, 3.30-4.30pm on Fridays. Children of any age can come along with parents or carers and enjoy games, colouring and a story; refreshments are also provided.

But before all of you grown ups feel left out, don’t worry! There are several free reading groups for you to come along to as well. Noveltea is at BNENC (Breckfield Road North) on a Tuesday, 12-1pm and Book Brunch runs at Breck Road Library at 10.30am-12pm every Friday.

Time for a Cuppa is our crafty reading group, every Thursday morning at Whitefield Primary, 9-10.30am. You don’t need to know anyone at the school, just come and join us for crochet (absolute beginners very welcome!), a story and a poem. All of our adult reading groups involve tea, biscuits and friendly faces. You don’t have to read aloud, but you can if you want. We read the book together in a relaxed environment and talk about the story; you don’t have to read anything in advance.

Please don’t miss out on these exciting groups in your local area; they’re free, fun and offer you the chance to meet other adults and parents. Also, remember to keep an eye on The Reader Organisation’s Twitter account (@thereaderorg) for details of special events in the area. I hope to see you all soon!

For more information call Laura Lewis on 07812 238 377 or email

Our Everton story time sessions for children under 5, their parents and carers run in association with LCVS and Thrive at Five. For all the information of our groups for children and young people, as well as our open groups in and around Everton, see the Reading With Us page on our 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.