Reading in Lockdown 2021- World Book Day

On 4th March 2021, World Book Day was held, just like everything else, this year it was very different. With events adapted online as most bookstores are still closed for business. World Book Day sends a powerful and positive message about books and reading in particular for children and even more so in lockdown, when reading is a powerful tool for all ages to cope with the stress, isolation and boredom. This year, authors talked about what World Book Day means to them, and how storytelling can be more important than ever in challenging times like these.

I read a lot, I have since childhood, it was through my grandfather that I came to have a love of reading. But as a family, we have always encouraged bedtime stories and bought books as gifts. Children follow the example of their parents and families, so if they see someone reading, they want to try it too. I owe my sanity in Lockdown to the written word, as the chance to escape to a different world and to learn something different. Life-long learning is essential to all of us, in keeping our brain cells active and staying interested.

The mission of World Book Day is to promote reading for pleasure, by offering every child and young person the opportunity to have a book of their own. Reading for pleasure is the single biggest indicator of a child’s future success, more than their family circumstances, their parents’ educational background or their income. Changing lives through a love of books and reading, it aims to see more children, particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds, with a life-long habit of reading and the improved life chances this brings them.

Designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading World Book Day is marked in over 100 countries around the globe.

Thousands of bookshops and supermarkets took part in World Book Day. This charity brought together the UK’s leading reading and educational charities: Book Trust, CLPE, National Literacy Trust, and The Reading Agency, children’s publisher Egmont and Nielsen Books, in a collaboration providing insights into the impact of the last year’s Lockdown on reading and the improvement to a child’s life chances. Together, they found that many children and parents embraced reading at the beginning of the pandemic, with huge benefits for their wellbeing and development. (Although this was to decrease slightly as the pandemic continued)

The research found that many children embraced reading at the beginning of the pandemic. The majority looked on-line for reading inspiration on YouTube and with social media. Books have provided a valuable resource to support children’s wellbeing. Young people reported that it helped them relax and made them feel happy. 82% of Teachers found ways of reading aloud to their classes during the pandemic because it provided an emotional support as well as developing literacy skills.

The latest research for the National Literacy Trust shows the positive impact World Book Day has had during the pandemic in 2020. With 3 in 5 primary children saying that they had read more books as a result. Over half had talked more about books with family and friends. A third had also read more books with their family. One surprising fact was that 3 in 10 of the children receiving a World Book Day token in 2020 said it was the first book they ever had of their own. So, it’s wonderful that they get to own a book which is something they can treasure.

Thanks to National Book Tokens and lots of lovely book publishers and booksellers, World Book Day, in partnership with schools all over the country, distribute over 15 million £1/€1.50 World Book Day book tokens to children and young people (that’s almost one for every child/young person under 18 in the UK and Ireland) every year on World Book Day.

During the pandemic, access to books remains a serious issue, particularly amongst disadvantaged children and families. Despite many schools implementing quarantine schemes and delivery services, 40% of primary-level children were unable to take books home. However, many local libraries have offered online free books and audio books, although a tablet or android phone is necessary. Libraries have been using mobile units to deliver books to the sick and elderly. Also, in the second and third lockdowns some library offered collection services, a bit like click and collect. I am a big fan of the work local libraries do for the community at large and we should all try to continue to support them. In part so they are able to carry on offering us a service.

A selection of free audiobooks for all ages is available from the World Book Day website as well as a full range of reading and learning resources for the rest of the year. Visit the website for details

Libby is the local library app and free online library cards are available if you don’t have a card, just visit your local library website for details.

I do hope you get chance to read a little, either a physical, kindle or audio book, I am sure you will enjoy it!

100 Years of Agatha Christie Writer, Traveller, Surfer and Archaeologist

Agatha Christie remains, the best-selling novelist of all time, outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare. She is best known for her sixty-six detective novels and fourteen short story collections but produced six more as Mary Westmacott and two under the name Christie Mallowan. The Mousetrap is the world’s longest-running play. Her books have sold over a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation. (She is the most world-wide translated writer)

To cover both her career and personal life in full, I would be blogging for quite some time, so this is a short, compact history, which I am sure I will add to at a later date.

2020 marks 100 years since the publication of Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which introduced Hercule Poirot. It was created in 1916 but not published until February 1920, when it was serialised in 18 parts in The Weekly Times (part of The Times) Agatha Christie came up with the idea for the novel whilst working in a dispensary during WWI.

I began considering what kind of a detective story I could write. Since I was surrounded by poisons, perhaps it was natural that death by poisoning should be the method I selected. I settled on one fact which seemed to me to have possibilities. I toyed with the idea, liked it, and finally accepted it. Then I went on to the dramatis personae. Who should be poisoned? Who would poison him or her? When? Where? How? Why? And all the rest of it.  

Agatha Christie

Miss Marple first came into being in 1927 in The Tuesday Night Club, a short story pulled together into the collection The Thirteen Problems. It was first published in the December 1927 issue of Royal Magazine. Inspired by her maternal grandmother and her friends, Agatha Christie never expected Miss Marple to rival Poirot in the public’s affections but since the publication of The Murder at the Vicarage in 1930, the first full- length novel, readers were hooked. She is the only crime writer to have created two equally famous and much-loved characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple.

Interest in her work still continues today, this year sees the release of Sophie Hannah’s new Poirot novel The Killings at Kingfisher Hill and the big screen launch of Death on the Nile. I really enjoy Sophie Hannah’s books so it will be fun to see what she does with Poirot. Kenneth Branagh made a great job of Death On the Orient Express so the follow up should be as equally good.

She wrote about the world she knew and saw, drawing on the military gentlemen, lords and ladies, spinsters, widows and doctors of her family’s circle of friends and acquaintances. She was a natural observer and her descriptions of village politics, local rivalries and family jealousies are often painfully accurate. Mathew Prichard, her grandson describes her as a “person who listened more than she talked, who saw more than she was seen.”    

Agatha Christie was born in Torquay in 1890 and throughout her life she returned to the South Devon area buying a holiday home there called Greenway House. Her upbringing was unusual, even for its time, as she was home schooled by her father. Her mother, Clara, who was an excellent storyteller, did not want her to learn to read until she was eight but Agatha taught herself to read by the age of five. In 1902 Agatha began her formal education at Miss Guyer’s Girls’ School in Torquay, before moving to France in 1905 to continue her education at three different Parisian schools. Agatha Christie always said that she had no ambition to be a writer although she made her debut in print at the age of eleven with a poem printed in a local London newspaper. By the age of 18 she was amusing herself with writing short stories, some of which were published in much revised form in the 1930s.

Agatha’s Christies, personal life was not without much mystery and some sadness.  It was in 1912 that Agatha met Archie Christie, a qualified aviator who had applied to join the Royal Flying Corps. Their courtship was a whirlwind affair, the war separated them and they spent very little time together, In 1914, they married but, were only reunited in 1918. They had one child, named Rosalind, in 1919.

Archie was asked to tour areas of the British Empire to promote the opening of the British Empire Exhibition, which was due to open in London in 1924. Agatha joined her husband on his travels and while visiting Hawaii the couple possibly became two of the first Europeans to master surfing standing up. They spent as much of their days as they could on the beach riding the waves. She expressed her feeling of mastery and triumph the first time she rode her board all the way to the beach while standing up. This research was done by Peter Robinson from the Museum of British Surfing, who was quick to admit that the discovery caught him by surprise.

Archie and Agatha’s relationship, strained by the sadness in losing her mother, broke down when he fell in love with a fellow golfer and friend of the family, Nancy Neale. In December 1926, Agatha left her daughter to the care of the maids without saying where she was going. Her car was found abandoned the next morning several miles away. A nationwide search ensued. The press and public enjoyed various speculations as to what might have happened and why but no one knew for sure. It eventually transpired that Agatha had somehow travelled to Kings Cross station where she took the train to Harrogate and checked into the Harrogate Spa Hotel under the name of Theresa Neale. Having been recognised by the hotel staff, who alerted the police, she did not recognise Archie when he came to meet her. Possibly concussed but certainly suffering from amnesia, Agatha had no recollection of who she was. An intensely private person, made even more so by the hue and cry of the press, Agatha never spoke of this time with friends or family. Films and TV series have been produced about this event, however the true story has never been uncovered.

After a devastating divorce, the crime novelist took a trip to Baghdad in 1928 and lost her heart to the ancient sites of Iraq and archaeologist Sir Max Mallowan, who become her second husband in 1930. Forged by a love of travel this was to be a much happier marriage. Agatha would spend long seasons at various excavation sites in Syria and Iraq, accompanying her husband. She worked on restoring pieces of pottery, inventorying finds, and photographing artefacts. This also gave her further inspiration for her plots

Christie considered retiring at the age of seventy-five, but her books were selling so well that she decided to keep writing for at least another five years, and wound up writing up until about a year before she passed away at age eighty-six. After a hugely successful career and a very happy life Agatha died peacefully on 12 January 1976. She is buried in the churchyard of St Mary’s, Cholsey, near Wallingford.

Thousands of visitors come to South Devon every year to visit the places that inspired Agatha Christie’s books and imagination. The estate of Greenway near Kingswear which was her beloved family retreat is now a National trust property. Christie called it ‘the loveliest place in the world’ and it’s easy to see why. An annual festival is held here to celebrate her life. The International Agatha Christie Festival in 2020 was cancelled but it will be held again in September 2021, which will feature a competition for aspiring young writers.

I have always been a fan of the books but finding out more about the interesting and surprising facts of Agatha Christies own unique life, makes me even more of a super-fan.

As well as a host of activities and events, more information is available on the website

Independent Bookshop Week

I was watching the local news last week and heard about Independent Bookshop Week for the first time. I have to say that running any Independent retail business is hard. (I have done this for years) But running a book store must be one of the hardest, with Amazon and even supermarkets selling the latest releases at a highly reduced cost it must be very difficult to compete on a level playing field. I meet a lovely lady, who was full of great ideas, at the start of the year at a local networking event who was telling me about the book shop she has been running successfully for several decades, and the many different events and exhibitions that were held throughout the year. I think that indies all need a niche of sorts but with bookshops it is crucial.

Independent Bookshop Week 2020 took place on the 20th to 27th June in the UK, I think the USA version takes place in August. The Independent Bookshop Week is part of the Books Are My Bag campaign and run by the Booksellers Association, it seeks to celebrate independent bookshops in the UK and Ireland. This is organised by the BA and sponsored by Hachette. This annual celebration of independent bookshops across the UK this year has adapted to include online/virtual events to give book- lovers across the country access to authors and books during lockdown.

I think that books and reading have played a huge part in keeping me sane during lockdown, as a chance to escape, when I can’t leave my home for months! I think I’ve reached 80 books so far, luckily friends and family have been dropping bags and boxes of books on my doorstep!

During the week, it was a chance to celebrate the role indie booksellers have continued to play in building a sense of community during the pandemic as well as encouraging customers to support their local high street by shopping local at what is a particularly challenging time for small retailers. I fully support buying local, we all must if the local high street is to survive.

BOOKS ARE MY BAG is a nationwide campaign run by the Booksellers Association to celebrate bookshops. It launched in 2013 and today it comprises of the Bookshop Day and the Books Are My Bag Readers Awards. At the centre of the campaign is the iconic BAMB tote bag. Since the campaign launched, over a million people have worn a Books Are My Bag to show their love for their local bookshop.

Every year over a thousand bookshops around the country take part in Bookshop Day by creating bespoke window displays and holding special events like: reading groups, storytelling, author signings, literary lunches and even face painting! The BAMB Readers Awards are the only awards curated by bookshops and voted for by book-lovers.

Why Buy Books in your local bookshop? Well if you don’t, they will sadly disappear from the high street. But it might be worth also thinking about the reasons below:

You love books

You might make a purchase you’ll value for the rest of your life

You’ll be shopping on your local high street

You’ll be helping create local jobs

You might just find a book you never knew existed

You’ll find great gifts for friends and family

You can talk to real people about books they know and love

You’ll be part of your local book-loving community.

Bookshops aren’t the same as other shops, they aren’t simply a place to go and buy something, they are so much more than that. When people were asked what it was that makes a bookshop so special, the same messages kept coming up again and again. They are different to other shops, they are relaxed, they’re a place of calm and they are somewhere to talk and to hone ideas. You can easily while away hours in a bookshop, knowing that you aren’t going to be rushed and that there are like-minded people around you.

In this day and age, where technology rules all, there is still something very special about an actual book, I love the smell and feel of a book, which is very different to a kindle book. Browsing through shelves, you never know what you will find, flicking through a book can take you into a different world. Books unite everyone that visits, regardless of where they are from and what they do when they aren’t in the shop. Everyone has a love of books in common and that immediately means that we have something to talk about. Visits to bookshop can give much needed ‘me’ time. I clearly remember getting away from it all by heading to the second floor of Waterstones in Hampstead, when I lived a hectic lifestyle in London.

What makes independent bookshops so important is that they are safe spaces. They can become community hubs, a place that can help to ward off loneliness. To visit regularly for a chat and to browse and in many cases have a cup of tea and cake in the attached café. Children are encouraged to look at the books and learn to love them, often there are kid’s book nooks so there is no need for them to worry about being quiet.

As many local libraries have been closed it makes the role of a local bookshop even more essential.

Damian Barr from indie bookshop week said the following “Indie bookshops do so much for readers and writers—they’re the beating heart of publishing. It’s a joy to be able to celebrate a different indie every day for a week, in addition to our Indie Bookshop of the Month feature on Salon.”

Visit their website for more details;

Despite the restrictions of 2020 the event was still a success, Emma Bradshaw, Head of Campaigns at the BA, said: “We couldn’t be more delighted by the enthusiasm for Independent Bookshop Week 2020 from across the book trade. In this immensely challenging time, we hope that book lovers across the country will enjoy the many fantastic online events and exclusive editions on offer from indie bookshops, while remembering to choose bookshops and shop local.”

I do hope this special event can continue to go from strength to strength, and that perhaps during lockdown many people have re-discovered their joy of reading.

Woman Writing a Life of Crime

The genre of crime fiction and suspense was started by men, Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle lead the way, but female writers took the genre and shaped and expanded it throughout the 20th century. Agatha Christie’s Mousetrap play ran on the London’s West-end stage from 1952 to 2020 and she remains to this day one of the best- selling authors. Although there are still popular male crime writers; lee Child and Ian Rankin to name a couple, it does appear to be a women’s game.

Male crime fiction was very much about guns, knives and violence with a male Hero, like a maverick private eye. Women were often written into the plot as secretaries, wife’s or victims, only ever in a supporting never a starring role. On the other hand, women play the leading roles in fiction written by women like Kathy Reich’s, Patricia Cornwall and Alex Cava, the female characters are strong, independent and often in charge! Some popular male detectives like Inspector Wexford by Ruth Rendall and Adam Dalglish by PD James are written by woman but are more well-rounded characters because of it. A women writer, the brilliant Phoebe-Walker-Bridge, the screen writer of Killing Eve, is currently working on the James Bond films. Hopefully her female parts will echo Villanelle rather than the out-dated roles played by Bond Girls.

Rather than been about cops and robbers, the good guys taking on the bad guys, the plots are more physiologically acute in women’s books, often about emotional violence. It can seem lighter in depth but in fact, a nastier and more prolonged death is usually penned by a female writer. Ian Rankin criticised Val McDermid for the graphic depictions of violence in her stories, however her books and the TV show Wire in the Blood based on her work continues to be popular. Some men probably feel that women should not like crime fiction, but 80% of the sales in this market are from women rather than men..

In the last 15 years many of the best selling crime writers are woman, Patricia Cornwall has sold 100 million copes of her books, Minette Edwards has had many of her books used as screenplays for TV series, Kathy Reich’s, has assisted with Bones, the forscenic science drama, based on her books, Paula Hawkins book Girl on the Train, was a big hit on screen and in print. So much so, that some male crime writers have written books with female pseudonyms to break into this popular genre.

Why do women write successful crime? Do women have a better grasp of human complexities, so they can create in-depth characters that are authentic? Do women understand living in fear, do they control more rage, angry and aggression inside, which comes out in their work. It has been said that the writing styles of woman are Killing from the Outside. I guess there is more build-up of plot and suspense. I always love a crime book that gives me a few surprizes, even an odd red herring or two and that I can’t stop reading until the story reaches its conclusion.

There is something thought- provoking about Crime and Suspense fiction, you need to use some powers of deduction yourself, like all the best fictional detectives, male or female. I thought this continues to be the case for a long time yet!