Thursday, August 16, 2007

And now the end is near.. well, of my time as Director here at least, and as a Booktrust Blogger too.

Viv Bird is to be the new Director and I'm sure will be brilliant. James Smith, website editor, has already stepped into the blogging role. I'm off to be co-Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book, a do and think tank currently located in Brooklyn, New York and extending its activities in Europe.
I've had an amazing time at Booktrust, will miss the fantastic team here and am very proud of the range and quality of work we've been doing to bring books and people together. But mustn't get too mushy yet.
Before I go there's lots to do. And if you want to read my future bookfuture thoughts go

Bob Stein, Founder of the IFB with Ruth Borthwick of Planet Poetry

Thursday, June 28, 2007

To Norway on holiday.

Not content with being the most beautiful and friendly country in Europe, Norway also has its very own Hay-on-Wye book town (or bokbyen) - Fjaerland, on the Sognesfjord. I might move there.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

At the South Bank on Sunday to witness the relaunch of this national institution, I saw Billy Bragg, Alan Yentob, Richard Rogers and thousands of other artsy people. I watched street theatre from a garden shed, went Gormleyspotting - oh and saw one of those bags.

On Monday it was an absolute pleasure to MC the Children's Laureate announcement this week at BAFTA, despite having woken up that morning with a stinking cold.
Jacqueline Wilson has been superb in the role and her final round up of laureating activity was impressive. Michael is wonderful and will do wonders for children's poetry - which needs all the help it can get according to the judges of the CLPE prize awarded today to Julie Johnstone (editor): The Thing That Mattered Most. Scottish Poems for Children illustrated by Iain McIntosh (Scottish PoetryLibrary/Black & White Publishing). Our new laureate was there as was judge Ian McMillan, an old friend from Sheffield days.

Yesterday I met up again with the phenomenal Rachel Van Riel of Opening the Book, pioneer of Reader Development and scourge of floppy thinking, and Gary McKeone, the man we all miss at the Arts Council, currently working with the Reading Agency. We were on a panel with performance poet and web 2.0 enthusiast Jacob Sam-La Rose, talking to London librarians at the LLDA conference on their GET LONDON READING strategy - a good opportunity to urge everyone to rise to our own Get London Reading challenge. 'ReadDating' was one of the best ideas of the last GLR I thought: speed dating meets book talk.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Wednesday 6 June

To the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction and the Orange Broadband Award for New Writers ceremony at the refurbished Royal Festival Hall, prior to its official reopening.

Booktrust administers the prizes, which means sorting submissions from publishers; sending titles to the judges; attending longlist and shortlist meetings; and - perhaps most importantly - remembering to bring along to the ceremony the winners' cheques and the Bessie statuette. Our head of IT also plays a key role in maintaining and updating the Orange Prize website.

Kate Mosse, founder of the prize, generously praised us in her speech for the behind-the-scenes role we play.

The winner of the OANW was Canadian writer Karen Connolly, who gave an impromptu speech about the Burmese people who had inspired her and her book (The Lizard Cage), and also praised - in this era of digitisation - that perfect piece of technology: the book.

Then a huge cheer greeted the announcement of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie as the winner of the Orange Prize for Fiction for Half of a Yellow Sun. Chimamanda's surprise was all the greater because her handbag had been stolen the day before (thanks, London), which she had convinced herself was a bad omen.

Spotted at the ceremony: Bianca Jagger; Gerald Scarfe and Jane Asher; India Knight; authors Romesh Gunesekera, Zadie Smith and Nick Laird, the lovely Joanna Briscoe and equally lovely Charlotte Mendelson.

By happy coincidence, it was also my 40th birthday, but Kate forgot to mention that ...

Friday, May 25, 2007

And the winner is ...

At a lavish ceremony at the Wallace Collection in London last night, the Rossica Translation Prize was awarded to Joanne Turnbull for her translation of Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky's 7 Stories. Her publisher, Glas, was recognised as well.

And Robert Chandler was specially commended, both for his translation of The Railway and in recognition of the excellent work he has done over the years in bringing Russian literature to an English readership.

If anyone ever needed an example of how to run a superb event, this was it - a stunning setting, champagne and canapes, a warm welcome from Academia Rossica, a distinguished and witty guest speaker (Michael Frayn: 'translation is impossible'), a lucid - and note-free - summation of the merits of each shortlisted title by Peter France (one of the judges), and two very happy winners.

Huw Molseed, Head of Websites at Booktrust, at The Plantin-Moretus Museum, Antwerp.
This houses two of the earliest printing presses in the world, dating from the days of Jan I Moretus (1543 - 1610). The museum preserves the only complete set of Garamond's letter dies. The typographical collection of the Plantin-Moretus Museum is often called upon when old type fonts are digitized.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Economics of Attention by Richard A Lanham arrived at my house yesterday bought online and secondhand from Amazon , recommended by Professor Ronald Soetaert who gave a fascinating talk to members of the EUREAD reading promotion task force in Antwerp last week.

Soetart teaches teachers – his subject is the interconnectedness of different disciplines, and his talk was appropriately wide ranging. He spoke about research showing how a group of teenage Metal fans discuss their favourite music along very similar lines to academics discussing their field. Both groups frame their debate in the context of a canon of great work, a past golden age, an unappreciative general public etc.

Ronald also collects quotes from the many books which describe the great virtue of reading being that it gives one a ‘Second Life’. How come the same people who rave about the imaginary world of fiction find digital play so unnatural?

He’s interested in the complexity of computer games and the energy and intelligence that young people put into exploring them, without any encouragement from teachers or parents. It’s a bit like discovering your child has been locked away in his room secretly learning latin.

And he talked about Lanham’s work on the Age of Information in which what there’s a dearth of is not product but attention. From novelists to manufacturers, everyone is out to catch and claim your precious time. Reading Promotion organizations fly the flag for books not because we love ink, paper and cardboard but because we think reading fiction can capture the attention in a particularly imaginative and profound way. But if we focus on the issue of attention, we’re lead to look at other comparably grabbing activities, and to look at reading as it fits into the midst of our multi-modal lives.

Website editor's first entry:

To the London Review Review Bookshop for an evening of readings from books shortlisted for the Rossica Translation Prize. The prize, set up by Academia Rossica, recognises the best translations of books from Russian into English; crucially, three-quarters of the prize money goes to the translator and one quarter to the publisher. Certainly in the case of this year's shortlist it would be difficult to reward the authors, most of whom are no longer alive.

The six books in contention for the prize are: new translations of Tolstoy's The Death of Ivan Ilyich and War and Peace; a travelogue about a road trip taken by two Russians across America in the 1930 (Ilf and Petrov's American Road Trip); Sonechka: a novella and stories by Ludmila Ulitskaya; Hamid Ismailov's The Railway, set in Uzbekistan; and a collection of surreal stories by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, who was only published in Russia decades after his death.

Introductions and readings from five of the books were given by the translators. Robert Chandler was moving about how privileged he felt to have worked on The Railway (Ismailov was at the event); Anthony Briggs' chose two episodes from War and Peace to illustrate Tolstoy's virtuosity, reading both with gusto; and Hugh Aplin read in measured tones about Ivan Ilyich's visit to his doctor.

Anne Fisher's rendering of the Russian into 1930s 'American' was the most modern of the evening, her accent - she is American - perfectly complementing her translation; and Arch Tait gave us a slow, composed reading from Sonechka about a deeply unsympathetic grandmother after telling us that he had completed his translation of Anna Politkovskaya's book on the day she was murdered.

Finally, the actor Andrew Sachs read one of Krzhizhanovsky's stories in its entirety, a surreal fable about a man whose box-like room magically expands when he paints a substance called Quadraturin on its walls. Sachs, a master of pacing and different voices, had already recorded Krzhizhanovsky's stories for BBC Radio 4 - this event gave him the opportunity to read one of them in its entirety.

Academia Rossica has done readers in the UK a great service with this award. Like the Independent Foreign Fiction prize, it reminds us that - surprise, surprise - people in other countries can write as well as 'western' authors. Durr.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

At the end of the week of the PM's stepping down, I'm making a slightly less historic step in opening up this blog to James Smith, website editor, and between us we'll be encouraging others at Booktrust to contribute their news, views and musings. I'm Director till September, but this curious handover phase is a good time to present different voices of Booktrust. And talking of handovers, I was glad to see that Gordon Brown's first interview took place with a shelf of books in the background.
Next week I'm going to Antwerp with Huw Molseed, web expert at Booktrust, to a meeting of EU*READ to talk to them about their hopes and fears for the future of the book in the digital age. I'm interested to discover whether the topic is generating such heat across Europe and what we can do together to explore the creative potential for readers and writers.
Meanwhile I've been reading Steven Hall's 'The Raw Shark Texts' - Moby Dick meets Roget's Thesaurus - and some fantastic graphic novels lately, all of which make best possible use of the black and white printed page, and challenge the notion that Real Readers don't mess with pictures. Marjane Satrapi's 'Persepolis' is an account of growing up female in Iran which has a wit and lightness of touch which makes the horrors hit home too.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Booktrust's Big Picture seminar at the London Book Fair

There's so much going on at Booktrust currently - major new book gifting projects for children in care, children arriving at school and at secondary school; campaigns to promote picture books and the short story; the challenge issued to Get London Reading; the appointment in June of a new Children's Laureate - I am deeply impressed by the energy and dedication of the Booktrust team.

After seven very enjoyable and engrossing years here I've decided to step down as Director in September, feeling that new skills are needed to lead the organisation through its next phase of development, but I hope to remain connected. Currently I'm working up plans for a project to explore the creative opportunities that the digital age offers to writers and readers, working with the FLO (Friendly Literature Officers group on an event in June on Leadership and Diversity in literature development, and am involved in planning another Booktrust education scheme to promote writing as a life skill. There's lots to do - but time to marvel at how much goes on at Book House these days to help people of all ages and cultures to discover and enjoy reading.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

The Reading Adventures Conference organised by the brilliant Miriam Posner and held in Jerusalem from 19 - 21st February brought together academics and reading promotion practitioners from around the world.

To begin with Prof Stephen Krashen delivered a passionate and witty keynote speech on 'Free Voluntary Reading: the most powerful took in language development.
"Study after study confirms that those who read more read better, write better, have larger vocabularies, and have a better control of complex grammatical constructions."

At the end of the conference Prof. Dr Hans-Heino Ewers argued that "all too often for educational policy reasons discussions about the importance of literary education in the era of multimedia side with the traditional media only."

Between the two keynotes, workshops covered every aspect of reading promotion including: the School Library as a focal point for cultural enrichment for the whole school population; the principles practices and effects of reading aloud to young children; connecting Jewish and Arab children through reading - and much more.

I was there with EUREAD colleagues from Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium, talking about Bookstart and Bookfutures. It was a fascinating week and I'll be writing more about it soon.

Discussions at the bar with Belgian academic Prof. Ronald Soetaert led to the issue of how few rock songs feature references to books and reading. Can you add any to our short list?

Paperback Writer; Day In The Life ('I read the news today oh boy'); (who who who wrote..) The Book of Love; Every Day I Write the Book - Elvis Costello...
Can you think of more? Do tell.

Friday, February 02, 2007

A Million Penguins - The More the Merrier

Penguin has launched its first wiki and in a project called A Million Penguins have created a space where anyone can contribute to the writing of a novel and anyone can edit anyone else's writing.

"Over the next six weeks we want to see whether a community can really get together, put creative differences aside (or sort them out through discussion) and produce a novel. We honestly don't know how this is going to turn out - it's an experiment. Some disciplines rely completely on collaboration, while others - the writing of a novel, for example - have traditionally been the work of an individual working in isolation. But with collaboration, crowdsourcing and the 'wisdom of the crowds' being buzz words du jour, we thought we might as well see if these new trends can be applied to a less obvious sphere than, say, software development." says
Jeremy Ettinghausen, Digital Publisher, Penguin Books.

Penguin are working with members of the Creative Writing & New Media MA at De Montfort University. A Penguin editor is on hand to write regular reading reports on the novel in progress, and the rest is up to the wreaders.

A Million Penguins

Can a community write a novel? Let's find out.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Stephen Page, CEO of Faber & Faber, talks at an event on Literature Leadership organised by the FLO consortium of Friendly Literature Organisations.
Members of FLO each gave short talks on different issues. Here's mine on the future of the book.

As it happens it was the poet Simon Armitage who was the first person to show me an iPod. I thought it was beautiful and snazzy, but just a classy form of walkman.

Actually the iPod was the moment when music stopped belonging on disc or CD or even concert hall and sailed aloft to exist in the ether, ready to be downloaded into our lives in whatever way seems most appropriate at the time.

That’s what’s happening now to words – Google digitising everything they can lay their hands on, Sony bringing out the e-reader, a Cambridge company Plastic Logic making a flexible screen on which you could watch a tv programme, read a short story, search a blog, or do all kinds of inbetween things we’re only just beginning to think about.

So the book is changing, artforms and platforms converging, but what’s that to do with leadership and literature?

We need to lead the way for writers grappling with the ‘transliteracy’ skills they need to make texts which incorporate new media as part of their substance, not just the wrapping.

And we need to be clear about the essence of what readers need, as all the trappings we associate with books transform around us.

But I think the ‘Literature Sector’ is ahead of the field.

We’ve talked for years about creative reading and writing. In the digital age that blurring of divisions between creator and consumer is now taking place across the board.

Other art forms are suddenly grappling with personalisation – turning their staged events into podcasts to be consumed privately in people’s own homes and heads, creating on their computers a ‘bookshelf’ of their favourite cultural product.

But we know all about bookshelves, and the portable, personalised virtual reality generator that is the book.

Film makers are horrified to find everyone churning out YouTube snippets, remixing Star Wars and finding thousands of viewers for a film of teenagers miming to stolen songs. Publishers realise that readers and writers can cut out the middleman and communicate directly...

But Literature Development and Reader Development are practices based on the interactivity between reader and writer.

Back in the 80s in Sheffield we set up Write Back noticeboards in libraries and encouraged users to post their own poems then post their comments on other people’s. We photocopied single copies of anyone’s work and made it free to borrow – looking back it was akin to a manual MySpace for local writers.

Before the blog there were photocopied pamphlets of poetry, before videocasting there were rooms above pubs. Anyone who has run a poetry competition knows about User Generated Content; there is no shortage of poetry out there!

And we’re used to seeing some great writing emerge from that dense but democratic mass of words.

Young poets - like Daljit Nagra, now being published by the illustrious Faber - are likely to have learnt their trade through workshops, contributing to small magazines, appearing at poetry clubs above pubs. Nagra lived in Sheffield so maybe he even came across the Write Back board. Once published, poets like bloggers know they’re still responsible for growing their readership through appearances and wordspreading.

In the NESTA report Ten Habits of Mass Innovation Charlie Leadbetter writes:
“The future of our society should not continue to extend the pleasures of consumerism ad infinitum. Our aim should be to become a society of adapters, contributors, participants and designers, with people having their say, making a contribution (often in small ways) to add to the accumulation of ideas and innovation. A society of mass innovation offers access to a deeper story about freedom and self-expression that will distinguish us from many societies...”
That could be a society modelled on the literature sector.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

EVERYBODY WRITES is a project to promote the importance of writing as a life skill.
Last friday Allison Edwards and I ran a workshop at the Institute of Education for primary school teachers with actor Toby Jones (currently receiving rave reviews for his role as Truman Capote in 'Infamous'). The session was about creative approaches to making the whole school a 'Writing School' and led to ideas for word benches, poetry gardens, blogs and newspaper projects, letter writing days and much more.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Well it's utterly disgraceful that this is my first Booktrust blog of 2007!
It's no excuse whatsoever that the last few weeks of last year were utterly hectic - including our wonderful children's party at Number 11 Downing Street, exciting news in the pre-Budget speech and the Annual General Meeting when we said a sad goodbye to our wise and supportive Chair, Kim Reynolds, and Trevor Glover, who held the post before Kim and handled this difficult role with great skill.

Today a number of the Booktrust team attended the launch of the Family Reading Campaign at the Oval where newscaster Huw Edwards held court, so let this murky photo represent a year of family reading and glad collaboration between reading organisations.

I have no excuses, but am also in the midst of much planning, which includes thoughts on the direction of the Booktrust blogerama more news of which shortly.