Friday, December 09, 2005

As the Office of Fair Trading decides on a full inquiry into Waterstone's bid to acquire Ottakar's, at Booktrust we're going to be doing some inquiring of our own. The Reader is at the heart of everything we do at Booktrust. So what are readers entitled to?
What is the role of independent presses and bookshops in ensuring readers themselves remain independent?
What are the forces today which influence our choices and access to literature?
And how can Booktrust best serve readers of the 21st Century?
Your thoughts on any of the above are welcome.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Christmas is coming, I'm slightly hungover from our staff drinks party last night, and preparing for the AGM next week. We have a fantastic board giving their time to support the work of Booktrust - and I'm not just saying that! Boards of trustees can be problematic groups, frustrating to be on and to report to - but this one is both encouraging and challenging; I'm truly grateful for their time, wisdom and energy. Kim Reynolds, our fantastic current chair, has written this introduction to the Annual Report.


2005 has been another dynamic year for Booktrust. The portfolio of established projects has been consolidated, and more recent initiatives have attracted exactly the kinds of partners and attention that characterize Booktrust at its best. The exciting Get London Reading scheme, for instance, has not only received funding from Creative London, an initiative of the London Development Agency, but is also growing through the support of major book organisations in the capital. The buzz around this event is growing weekly through the hard work and imaginative initiatives of the Booktrust team.

‘Buzzy’ would be a good way to describe the year for Booktrust. Book House is currently a hive of activity with lorries full of Bookstart materials being sent all over the country, and a host of events such as the Children’s Laureate launch, the National Short Story Prize, and the own-brand prizes such as the Booktrust Teenage Prize, all attracting enthusiastic and wide-ranging media coverage. Activity around National Children’s Book week has been building steadily, too. A detailed picture of Booktrust’s activities and services can be seen on the redesigned, reconceived, more substantial Booktrust web sites.

This has not just been a year for launching activities, but one of strategic re-evaluation and professional development. Several excellent new appointments for Bookstart and Booktrust are in place and contributing to the delivery of projects, fundraising, and very importantly, to planning for the future of the organisation. Some projects have been completed; others have been wound up to make way for fresh initiatives arising from contemporary needs and opportunities. The board, too, has had an injection of lively and talented new members via the Arts & Business GAIN scheme. With secure funding and an appropriate range of projects, it has been possible to invest time and training in staff at all levels, strengthening the knowledge base and commitment of all those who work at Booktrust.

These changes have come about through detailed and creative leadership; the resulting high regard in which Booktrust currently stands has been recognised through increased funding and approaches from significant new partners. Partnerships can sometimes be unequal, but the internal strength of the organisation and its increasing clarity of objectives mean that Booktrust is able to ensure that such partnerships are firmly rooted in the ‘Booktrusted’ ethos.

Having reached this stage in the planned development of Booktrust, a rebranding exercise has commenced which will raise the profile of Booktrust itself, alongside its many important projects. The coming year seems set to hear the buzz become a roar!

My thanks go to the Director and his staff, the members of the Board, and especially my predecessor, Trevor Glover, who stepped in at several crucial moments, and to all our collaborators and supporters who have contributed to this most successful period in the history of Booktrust.

Kimberley Reynolds

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

So much has been going on since I last found time for blogging: At the end of September we awarded the Booktrust Early Years Awards at BAFTA, won by Poppy Cat's Farm by Lara Jones (Campbell Books), The Very Dizzy Dinosaur by Jack Tickle (Little Tiger Press) and The Fantastic Mr Wani by Kanako Usui (Little Tiger Press). The picture above is of board member Emmanuella Dekonor with one of our judges, HRH The Countess of Wessex.
Soon after, Laureate Andrew Motion was a fascinating and fascinated interviewer of Laureate Jacqueline Wilson at an event at the Soho Theatre.
In October I went to the Frankfurt Bookfair and a meeting in Mainz with the EUREAD group where European plans for Bookstart schemes are being hatched.

On National Poetry Day I met up with poet Debjani Chatterjee at an event to celebrate 'Poetry in the Waiting Room', an amazing project co-ordinated by Rogan Wolf who I first met at the Poetry Society when he approached us for support. Rogan has been committed to the project ever since and it has grown and grown. Debjani and I were both in a writers' group called Poets Plc back in the Eighties.

November began with the announcement of the winner of the third Booktrust Teenage Prize. It was obvious from her gasp on hearing the news that Sarah Singleton did not expect to win with Century, her first novel.
Meanwhile lorries have been setting off from our distribution centre in Newcastle loaded with Treasure Boxes and Bookstart Plus bags for the expanded Bookstart scheme. The team are working their socks off to support local schemes around the country as they cope with the challenges of this remarkable investment in the future of reading.

Text of a talk at the Qualification & Curriculum Authorities' seminar on English 21, a national discussion on the future of English, 9th November 2005.

What's creative? This is:

Is a beautiful use of a mind.
Our thoughts are bees
Buzzing in the hive of our head.

The bees visit flowers
Then return with ideas,
Stories of butterflies,
dogs, cats, rabbits and grass

Our blood runs like honey,
Sticky with thoughts."

This poem is from year 5, Kingsway Primary School, Wallasey. It’s quoted in Jean Sprackland and Mandy Coe’s book on writers in schools which is called ‘Our Thoughts are Bees’. it's simple, no reference to literary culture, no long words, no complex rhyme scheme or metric structure, no difficult ideas - but a stunning new poem, a real act of creation.

To be a good writer or any kind of artist or communicator, or someone who tells good stories or sends memorable e-mails, you need Competence, Cultural awareness and Critical ability. But to start with you have to do what these writers did: have the nerve to "create new meanings and make new effects", to make a fresh image, to shape words your own way and see what happens. To write things you yourself don't fully understand as you write them.

So what gives you that nerve? Well, often somebody gives it to you. Someone persuades you that you have that right and that potential. Often it’s a teacher. David Almond said:
"I’ve seen some stunning work done and it just emphasizes how I feel about teachers today, they’re just fantastic and compared to teachers when I was at school are just amazingly creative."

Sometimes it’s not. The poet Michael Donaghy wrote, “I started a PHD in English because I loved poetry, which I now realize is like saying I studied vivisection because I loved dogs.”

And lots of people talk about how education can crush the life out its subjects. It’s a serious charge levelled at schools today, in the age of attainment and measurement, with so much emphasis on what exactly each unit of work is FOR – that there’s no space left for free creativity.

So how do you defend that space, and generate that creative spark?

Often it’s a one-off satori-like experience like… going to the theatre and suddenly a whole world of possibilities opens up.
(At an Arts & Kids event film Australian film director Baz Luhrmann talked about seeing Shakespeare in a little town in the middle of nowhere and how it blew his mind. Then Prince Charles said he grew up in a big house in the middle of somewhere and saw Shakespeare with his granny and it changed HIS life too).
For me a drama group I was part of as a teenager was fantastically liberating- it felt too good to be true: to attend a drama workshop with actors who give young people permission to play about and make believe, and takes their actions and inventions seriously.

Of course reading is a creative activity in its own right, and at the core of building a creative sense of self. Freedom and the information yo need to find the books that inspire us is vital, but the kickstart to creative writing is often to meet a creative writer.

Now, it’s not just creative writers who are creative, (and they can be uncreative too at times!), but writers, dramatists, actors are uniquely involved in making the imaginary - telling new stories. It can be life changing to actually meet a writer, like for instance - to pluck one name from the pool of diverse and brilliant writers who work with children - John Hegley, performance poet, and musician. A trickster, punster, wise cracker, rule breaker. He’s very funny, but also kind of cool, and very moving on the topic of growing up a glasses wearer, very honest about his time as a school bully. He’s a personality (but not a glitzy celebrity) who says all things are possible with words.

A visiting writer reading from their own book brings the whole library alive, makes children long to get to grips with how grammar and spelling can be used like glue and string to build your own word-things.

We all know this, but do all children?
As part of English 21, Booktrust got together with a range of literature organizations – like the Poetry Society, Apples & Snakes, NAWE, The Arvon Foundation… to look at the idea of a creative entitlement. Could we pin down the key opportunities children need in order to open them up to their potential for creativity?
Our first version was a list of activities, from reading whole books to having a writer visit the school - things we thought should happen to every child as they go through school.

THEN we sent it out to all and sundry: writers, organisations, teachers.. There was widespread approval of the general idea.. but lots of minor suggestions. For instance writer Eva Salzman said “I can't imagine not thinking this Entitlement idea a good one! I was glad to see the mention of theatre, and related activities. being a cross-arts sort of person, I've worked with children in galleries or museums a lot, so was wondering if or how this might figure”

Those responses have led us to reshape the document – trying to pin down the key elements of the entitlement in reading, drama and writing. Here's the latest version.

A Creative Entitlement for the Classroom

Imagination and creativity are at the heart of English. Children are entitled to experience and develop creative uses of language through reading, drama and writing. Some of this can happen as part of normal classroom work, but wider opportunities stem from partnerships beyond the school. These will enable children to involve themselves fully in the world of words as readers and writers, and by taking part in drama.

Children are entitled to:

• discover and rediscover the pleasure of reading through responding imaginatively to great books, stories and poems

This means children should, from their earliest years, hear stories read aloud and regularly read whole books purely for enjoyment. They should be able to choose books that interest them and discuss the reasons why.

• enter with confidence the world of books and culture, becoming part of the community of active and creative readers

This means that children should meet and talk with writers and readers, visit public libraries, bookshops and literature venues, participate in book groups. They should be involved in projects - like National Children’s Book Week and National Poetry Day - which inform and inspire reading.

• share the experience of live theatre, being caught up in the ways words, actions, music and staging combine to create unique dramatic moments

This means that children should regularly go to the theatre, see street performances, and participate in Theatre in Education in school.

• explore and expand ways of expressing thoughts and feelings in words and actions through improvisation and performance

This means children should participate actively in drama workshops and discuss with actors, playwrights and directors the impact and meaning of different ways of performing and staging drama.

• try out many ways of discovering and shaping their own meanings, seeing written language as a fascinating resource for expressing thoughts and feelings

This means children should work in sustained and practical ways with writers to learn about the art, craft and discipline of writing.

• share their words with confidence

This means that children should see their own and each other’s work presented through publication, display or performance, voice their own thoughts and hear the reactions of responsive readers.


Let me know what you think. These documents are hard. How do we make it strong enough without sounding bossy? This isn’t a wooly menu of options, we intend it to be a requirement for schools. And it’s not just for the enthusiasts - it’s for all.

So why is this important? For literature organisations I think it's revolutionary.

All of us do projects with schools, produce resources to schools - at Booktrust we run Children's Book Week and the wonderful (and free) website for teachers. But those activities can feel like drops in an ocean that’s hard to fathom when we’re bobbing about on the top of it.

Through the WRITING TOGETHER alliance, literature organisations have been speaking a lot more with DfES and QCA. The evidence is that many perfectly competent schools still would not think of bringing in writers or theatre companies.
Armed with this entitlement we can work as a sector with schools across the UK, tailoring our activities to help schools meet their responsibilities. We can debate together how best we can deliver the entitlement. We have a clear role with clear benefits for those we work with.

At the meeting with literature organisations, people started off a bit dismissive.
“Yes, but these things happen in most schools!” We had the QCA on hand to say that well, maybe they don’t .
The organisations said, “Can’t we make a more radical manifesto?”
Yes we can. And we will. That’s the next stage. But this isn’t it.
The entitlement needs to be manageable, feasible within existing resources.

So why is creativity imortant for children?

Lots that we learn from school prepares us for the future, equips us to make a success of ourselves in later life. And of course the business world is crying out for creativity of the flipchart and brainstorming variety. The authors of ‘Our Thoughts aree Bees’ will be good at that.

But creativity is also what makes whatever life we lead worthwhile. It helps us make connections, tell stories, share jokes, find interest wherever we look, express ourselves freely.
An author describes the pleasure of working in schools, of "days when the formal classroom dissolves away,
because the whole group is enthusiastically engaged… it becomes a group of eager, self-motivated, curious, exploring writers."

Creativity is absolutely vital to self esteem which is vital to being alive.
Schools have a responsibility to encourage all children not just to learn about the real world but to make up worlds of their own. As William Blake said, “I believe a person may be happy in this life and that this is a world of
Imagination & Vision.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005


The Small Wonder Festival (15th - 18th September) at Charleston in East Sussex, supported by Booktrust and the STORY campaign, featured Zadie Smith, poets turned story writers Sean O'Brien, Sophie Hannah and David Constantine, Alex Linklater of Prospect, the brilliant John McGahern and many more.

At the Lib Dem Conference in Blackpool, Booktrust lobbies for Bookstart at a fringe meeting on 'Parent Power'.

The Scottish Bookstart conference in Edinburgh featured Wendy Cooling, Marc Lambert of Scottish Book Trust, and more.
Bookstart Communications Officer Emily Butt documents the event.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

This blog now has a link from the Booktrust main site, so may actually attract some readers! I welcome your comments, and in particular would like to know:
What are the questions you think Booktrust should be addressing over the next five years?
How do you make booktime in your life - when and where do you do your reading?
Which are the books you read on holiday this summer that meant most to you and why?
Email and tell me.
Then go to
  • Get London Reading
  • to find out about Booktrust's challenge to Londoners!

    Tuesday, September 13, 2005

    At the weekend I spoke at the Third International Conference on the Book at Oxford Brookes University and heard papers presented on 'the Artists' Book and Negative Space' by Australian artist Nola Farman whose own work - flicker books meet the haiku - was fascinating; public attitudes to coffeeshops in bookshops; the American right's attack on Harry Potter, and 'Bookscapes' - not our reader development project, but a paper "towards a conceptualisation of the Architectural Book" by Willem de Bruijn, a PHD student from the Netherlands. I spoke at a plenary session on 'Literacy, publishers and the media' with Boyd Tonkin, literary editor of the Independent, and the editor of the Kenyon Review who talked optimistically about the increasing cultural diversity of the authors and publishers of the USA .
    It's amazing to go from the busking and winging it world of projects and funding proposals to the land of academe where people look so carefully into the quirkiest corners of thought. At Booktrust we want to spend more time looking at the bigger questions to which our projects are attempts at answers, for instance, what is the future of the book - who will write it and read it? what could it look like and how will it be distributed? This conference tackled that issue from every angle.

    Thursday, September 08, 2005

    Booktrust has a busy autumn ahead.
    The STORY campaign and National Short Story Competition were launched very successfully at the Edinburgh Bookfair, creating even more attention than we'd expected. The first New Writing Ventures competition we've run for the New Writing Partnership in East Anglia nears its close - winners to be announced in October.

    Faith Liddell, co-ordinator of the STORY campaign, Jacob Polley, poet and a judge of the New Writing Ventures competition, Kate Griffin of Arts Council London and Yvonne Hook, Reader Devt Officer at Booktrust and editor of our 'Underwords' anthology.
    The winner of the third Booktrust Teenage Prize will be announced in November, the Booktrust John Llewellyn Rhys prize soon after that, the Nestle Children's Book Awards in December... (see our main websites for details on all of these). Our wonderful Children's Laureate Jacqueline Wilson will be in conversation with Andrew Motion in an event to launch this year's National Children's Book Week.... I'm speaking at the Conference on the Book at Oxford Brookes University this Sunday, at a fringe meeting of the Lib Dem Conference and the Scottish Bookstart Conference over the next few weeks, and attending the Frankfurt Bookfair for a meeting of EUREAD, the European network of reading promotion organisations. Meanwhile we're all working hard on the expansion of Bookstart.
    I'll be taking a camera and posting blogupdates on these events as they happen,plus putting up some archive photos of events gone by.

    Thursday, September 01, 2005

    Rosemary Clarke, Head of Bookstart, and the Bookstart Bear

    (This article appeared in THE BOOKSELLER, Feb 2005)

    The BML’s 'Expanding the Book-Market' research reveals the urgent need for the trade to look way beyond its comfort zone, and reach out to the 45% of the population on whose radar books just do not register. Too many potential customers lack literacy skills, are turned off by bookshops, don’t trust the blurb on the back of books and don’t want books as gifts.

    "I read all the time now - and I'm not a reader." That quote came not from a new marketing campaign but a participant in Breathtaker, a Booktrust project run three years ago with what we’d now call light readers. With funding from the Hamlyn Foundation we worked with isolated mothers, victims of crime and young offenders, offering them the services of readers in residence Maggie O’Farrell and Alex Wheatle to recommend three breathtaking books to give them a boost and some breathing space to take a fresh view of their lives. Those involved told us about the thrill they felt when a parcel of free books arrived through the post chosen specially for them. Even more thrilling was the personal letter which accompanied them.

    One young mother in Suffolk showed me a paperback she’d been sent and said, “I loved this book - and it’s not my kind of thing at all.”


    Booktrust staff Hannah Rutland, Karen Dickenson and Helen Hayes celebrate with author Alex Wheatle at the launch of our Development Board, 2004.
    The use of personal recommendation, expert input and new settings in which to share books, chimes with many of the recommendations of ‘Expanding the Market’. This approach has been integral to reader development work ever since the 1980s when we clocked how many borrowers headed straight for the Returns trolley. Faced with the mass of choices on offer, people went for titles that someone nearby had read recently. The booktrade took some convincing of the significance of all this to the hard-nosed business of shifting units.

    A lot has changed since then. There are strong collaborations now between publishers and reader development organisations like Booktrust, Opening The Book and The Reading Agency. Bookstart, our amazing books for babies scheme now funded in England by SureStart, has tremendous support from publishers who no longer see it as a charitable cause but a vital route to the readers of tomorrow.

    Give a board book to an eight month old child and they will grab it, suck it, open it and savour it. Nobody can tell those babies that books are boring or ‘not for them’. Bookstart gets under the wire of assumptions and fears to put books directly into the eager hands of the next generation; like a Jamie Oliver school dinner, it gives kids a taste for the best. Now the booksellers too are looking at how the Bookstart ‘brand’ could tempt new customers over their thresholds. The potential has never been better for collaborations, but these must be based on mutual trust and awareness of our different strengths and aims.

    Nick Hornby and Zadie Smith at the launch of GET LONDON READING, February 2003
    Literacy and literature organisations have pioneered work with word of mouth book promotion, encouragement of readers’ groups, broad based promotions like the Reading Campaign, National Poetry Day and Children's Book Week, innovative residencies for writers in businesses, schools and the community, not just broadening access to words but deepening appreciation, inspiring new experiments between reader and writer. As a sector we’ve raised significant funding from Government and trusts as well as commercial sponsors for projects targeted at exactly those parts of society the trade have not been reaching.

    Booktrust’s logo is a red book. I think of it not as a novel but a notebook, the book where readers feel free to doodle, jot down odd thoughts about the stories they've been reading, what they’ve been thinking and doing recently, with maybe a scrap of their own poetry and a list of 'Things To Do' . It represents the breathing space which is the essence of creative reading, where we find the time to reflect on what we make of the world we live in.

    Everyone has the right to that space, but many lack the literacy skills, the knowledge and, most vital of all, the confidence in their ability and creativity to claim it. Our work at Booktrust is tending that time, space and notebook.
    We don’t sell books – we make booktime.

    It's up to the trade to look at the commercial implications, but if Bookstart isn't absolutely key to expanding the book market of the future, then my name's Harry Da Vinci.

    Tuesday, August 30, 2005

    Piloting new initiatives to bring books and people together

    Public Art outside State Library of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia

    From an article on Booktrust's work, originally for the Booked! conference and book, published January 2004 by Audiences Yorkshire.

    However busy people are in the modern world, they tend to find time for watching telly, getting exercise, having sex, eating out - these activities are seen as part of leading a busy life; but reading still gets relegated to the sparest of time: when you’re stuck on a train, can’t sleep at night, have absolutely nothing else to do but sit on the beach in the sun.

    A major survey of reading habits in 1994 found that over 42% of those people who didn’t read books said this was because they “didn’t have time”. Far fewer – 29% - said they didn’t enjoy reading.
    Booktrust works closely with authors, with people who publish, market and sell books, with organisations whose first aim is to increase literacy levels, library loans and footfall, bookshops sales and educational attainment. Of course our work supports all of these things, but I think our main aim at Booktrust is: to make more booktime.

    By that I mean more hours spent by the widest range of people, of all ages and backgrounds, enjoying books, reading for pleasure, reading them creatively and confidently, thinking and talking about them, sharing books with others.


    Andrew Motion talks about baby books at the Bookstart conference 2004


    Gaby Holm and Majo de Saadeleer, German and Flemish members of EU*READ, the alliance of reading promotion organisations of which Booktrust is a member. EU*READ is campaigning for more Bookstart schemes across Europe.

    Representatives from Japanese and South Korean Bookstart.


    "Creative Reading" was the term we coined when I worked with Rachel Van Riel in Sheffield Libraries back in the 80's where we set up the Opening the Book Festival. In Sheffield we found a way of doing literature promotion which started with readers. It has developed over the years into the Reader Development movement in public libraries, spearheaded by the amazing Rachel's Opening The Book organisation and now The Reading Agency.

    Creative Reading cuts across the division of books into educational and for pleasure. It's about the individual's journey through reading and how we locate those books which speak particularly to us, and lead us somewhere special. It invites readers to talk about what their books mean to them, how they enrich their lives in that way that only books can.

    And although libraries provide access to literature, neither they nor the bookshops are where reading happens. Booktrust is an independent organisation, defending the independence of the reader who may find their books in shops, schools, libraries, websites, car boot sales… but they read them in the midst of their whole lives, in time which is personal, pleasurable, exploratory, creative - and very precious.

    (Winners and judges and authors and publishers at the launch of 'Underwords', Booktrust London Short Story Competition Anthology, published by Maia Press 2005.)


    K. Sello Duiker, South Arican novelist in residence at Booktrust in 2002 with Anne Fine, ex-Children's Laureate.
    Tragically Sello took his life last year. We remember him as an exceptional talent and a lovely man.

    Gordon Brown at the event to celebrate the handing out of the 4 Millionth Bookstart Bag. London 2005.
    Plunged back into work now, just back from the very successful launch of the STORY campaign and National Short Story Prize, I'm working with Catherine, our Development Manager, and the rest of the team on our five year plan, and a branding review, so looking back at recent articles and thoughts on what we're all about.
    I wrote this for the MANIFEST O conference last year organised by NALD, the National Association for Literature Development.


    Audience/Reader Development

    Who are we working for?

    In the process of writing this article I’ve realised what Booktrust’s logo is really about. That red book isn’t a novel at all – it’s a notebook, one of those nice hardback ones. It’s the book where readers feel free to doodle, jot down odd thoughts about what they’ve been reading, doing, watching, thinking and feeling recently, with maybe a scrap of their own poetry, a shopping list and some columns of ‘Things To Do’ too.

    It represents the breathing space which is the essence of creative reading, where we find the time to reflect on what we make of the world we live in. Everyone has the right to that space, but many lack the literacy skills, the knowledge and, most vital of all, the confidence in their ability and creativity to claim it.

    Our work strays into the territory of marketeers, youth workers, programmers, educationalists, PR agencies, literary critics, social engineers, but our particular patch, at least at Booktrust, is tending that time, space and notebook.

    Reader Development at its best is a creative endeavour in its own right, undertaken by those who not only like words and believe in increasing access to literature, but find fulfilment in devising imaginative ways to open the books to new readers. We do it for ourselves, but out of a concern that the books are not for ourselves only.

    Of course our kind of work is funded by the State and charitable trusts because it hits their targets - improves literacy and educational skills; works with disadvantaged communities; helps to increase library usage and book issues; supports forms of literature such as poetry and short stories which are recognised as requiring subsidy to help them stay afloat and on course in the shark infested waters of our commercial world.

    Like a drum, the tone and resonance of what we produce is enhanced by the pull of the different agendas we are stretched between. That’s the creative tension of work in the public realm.

    Writers are delighted when we invite them to events where we pay them to plug their new books and talk to polite fans, but can get suspicious of our wider intentions, fear being overloaded with requests to run workshops and pen letters of support for good causes; are wary also of having their work dumbed down to become more palatable to the many.


    Massed authors, judges and administrators of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in Victoria, 2004

    Though some writers - Simon Armitage comes to mind as a shining example – are highly supportive of experimentation in the relationshiop between reader and writer, many aren’t. Others are won round to become passionate supporters and collaborators when projects offer them genuinely inspiring connections with readers.

    And do readers like reader development? Those who identify as such will say they can develop themselves thanks very much; those hard to reach readers we are all so keen to work with are – well - hard to reach and often not hugely grateful when we do get our hands on them,

    What do we do that no one else is doing?

    Reader Development tempts people to explore new territories in their reading and thinking through projects which highlight what I really do believe is the unique quality of the experience of reading. Books connect with your psyche at a deeper level than other art forms; we escape from the self to enter a character or the landscape of a story or poem, and transcending self is one of those things that all humans yearn to do.

    The American concept of Bookcrossing brilliantly transforms the world into one huge conceptual free, Borgesian library. Cities from Seattle to Liverpool have urged their citizens to read one book all at once, creating one citywide bookgroup; our own ‘Get London Reading’ explored a dozen fictional versions of the capital and asked residents to map the libraries, shops, parks and cafes where they found and savoured their books.

    Literary events, like the recent Small Wonder Short Story Festival, which find original themes and formats, intelligently juxtapose ideas and writers to spark off amazing conversations. Okay, so readings can be hell on earth, but the best are bedazzling.

    Residencies for poets and authors in public settings can open doors to new experience for the writers, draw attention to their work from new quarters, and spark inspiration. When Poetry Places twinned the much mourned Michael Donaghy with close up magician Chris Powers, the result was an astounding evening of poetic tricks and stand up phliosophy at the Poetry CafĂ© for the launch of his equally astounding book ‘Wallflowers’
    Similarly, Creative Reading work with young people can tease out amazing responses to imaginative literature - these are thrilling and meaningful undertakings.

    The Big Read proved that there are big numbers out there who want to talk and think about books they love; they’ll download a pack about starting a bookgroup,and I hope a proportion of them actually set them up. They don’t want to be part of the Hay-On-Wye-going-literati, but they deserve more than just (God bless ‘em) Richard and Judy and the celebrity driven Big Read.
    However you find out about books and wherever you get them from, you read them in your head, in the midst of your real life.

    I hope that NALD members, Booktrust, the Reading Agency, Opening the Book, the NLT’s Reading Campaign, festivals, venues and other literature and reader development projects around the country provide some kind of infrastructure to support independent readers. I’m not sure we’ve thought enough together about whether we do.

    What is essential to keep on doing?

    1. Giving Bookstart bags to babies. I would say this wouldn’t I, but that first introduction really can unlock the door to so much more. And the key to Bookstart is that it’s all about pleasure. The more I think about this scheme the more profound its significance becomes. New research by the University of Roehampton compares Bookstarted children, one with perfectly good literacy skills but no book habit, the other used to sharing books; the questioning, imaginative response of the latter was the epitome of creative reading.


    Wendy Cooling with Professor Doh and Suh from Korean Bookstart

    The Government’s new commitment to help us give books to every child at 8 months, 18 months and at 3 years is wise and wonderful, and I hope all those who care about books and people will do what they can to help this investment in reading succeed.

    2. Encouraging people to make more time for reading and thinking about books, as well as buying and borrowing them.

    3. Sticking to our creative guns in the face of the pressure to fit criteria and targets which have nothing to do with literature.

    What we mustn’t do is hold meetings where organisations which have bust a gut to define their unique selling points and market their resources in a competitive sector, are then invited to sit round a table and asked to pool their precious ideas.

    Good collaboration comes from differentiation, a clear recognition of the particular strengths and perspectives of each partner, and of what they can gain from a connection.

    The Writing Together partnership, which involves Booktrust, The Poetry Society, NAWE, the Qualifications & Curriculum Authority, DfES Literacy strategies plus many other partners from around the UK has proved to be a robust alliance with the shared aim of bringing more writers into schools. Competitiveness is redundant here because we each know what we’re in it for. Without that clarity there’s nowt but rivalry coated with mush.

    What could we do that we don’t do now?

    Looking overseas is useful. EU*READ, the European network of reading promotion organisations of which Booktrust is a member works well because we can nick each other’s ideas without worry. Our German equivalent, Stichtung Lesen, works as much for media literacy as books. They produce teachers packs on new blockbuster movies, as our Film Council does. This connection between page and screen is interesting. Majo de Saadeleer is the inspired director of Stiftung Lesen Flaanderen. Her Fahrenheit 451 project with teenagers is very impressive… oh but you can find your own ideas!

    I’d like us to put more energy into mapping the bookscape contemporary readers inhabit. Libraries cannot claim to be the home of reading anymore, but neither can bookshops. Our reading lives are more complex than that. If you were trying to set up a service to provide free public access to literature in the twenty first century, I doubt you’d come up with a network of libraries. The web is a perfect place to provide services to supplement the private act of reading. Having said that, the library as shared, public space for reflection and research is as crucial as it’s ever been. We need sanctuaries, and communal spaces still. And the web entangles one in umpteen distractions; it’s a bit like trying to read a serious novel while someone hums, taps you on the shoulder and waves topless pictures of Britney Spears in front of your nose.

    We could do things we haven’t thought of yet but can make the time to think about.

    Is it just me or is creative reading not looking so creative anymore? I want to dig deeper, think harder about our own responses to literature, move beyond formulaic interactive tricks to encourage reader responses, and work on eliciting some truly exciting content.

    And I'm also interested in developing some ideas about a management practice which is informed by the work we do. In this sector 'that management stuff' is often derided. I'm aware that people in our field often swallow whole what business tips they receive, and I think that literature deserves better. I'm interested in the narrative of organisations as well as the structures; finding imaginative ways to run creative organisations.

    What do we need to do it?

    Money to do the undreamt of. Supportive and imaginative funders who will recognise good ideas, allow us to take risks, be prepared to accept some uncertainty, and be honest enough to ask us to run ideas past them again if they don’t get them the first time (and all the best ideas take a bit of getting).

    The Roald Dahl Foundation have given Booktrust two grants, the first was for Booktouch, an idea which emerged out of a hugely stimulating conversation about our aims and their criteria. The second was a Quentin Blake Award. For this the Foundation asks organisations they’ve already funded to come up with projects that push at their boundaries. It’s a fantastic concept, and so refreshing after hearing funders say, “that’s an exciting idea – shame it doesn’t fit our criteria”.
    Let’s make excitement the criteria.

    Tuesday, August 16, 2005

    Arriving back at work today I remembered when I first brought my daughter into work with me to see Booktrust and she said,
    "Wow, Dad - it's like a castle!"
    Later we commissioned artist Fiona Banner who created two white flags with big black full stops on, and a full-stop screensaver to download from the website, connecting our real and our virtual homes. (Fiona is keen on full-stops!)
    Today Booktrust looks good - and we've moved the whole team onto the ground floor, which suddenly makes us feel much more connected.

    Sunday, August 14, 2005


    It's mid-August and I'm just back from a week in Portugal with family and friends spent eating, sunning and drinking, going pink and visiting churches, reading around the pool. Books circulate, conversations begin to include references to the fictions we're sharing. This year our daughter, 18 and awaiting A-level results, takes a break from her social whirl to be with us, maybe for the last family holiday. Our own and our best friends' sons are already off on their own adventures. Is it by chance that this year's novels include poignant portraits of daughters growing up and away?

    Ian McEwan's SATURDAY, Kate Atkinson's CASE HISTORIES, Meg Rosoff's HOW I LIVE NOW each confront empty nest nightmares, leading to thoughts scribbled in notebooks at town square cafes, warm night-time talk over wine and more wine.
    Which books led to what thoughts on your holidays this year? I'd love to know.
    Bookless on the Beach