An annual project that connects readers, authors and local libraries in the North has just begun. Yvette Huddleston reports on Read Regional.
For the next few weeks the annual campaign run by Read Regional in partnership with New Writing North is bringing together northern authors and readers with the help of libraries across Yorkshire and the North East.
Launched in 2008, Read Regional was originally set up as a project to connect writers within the regions with local readers. Beginning in the North East, it went on to embrace Yorkshire in 2012 and works with libraries to organise a variety of author events and workshops. Books and authors are selected through an open submission process.
“We choose on the basis of books we think that readers would like to read,” says Laura Fraine, Read Regional co-ordinator. “We try to get a good range – literary fiction, genre fiction, poetry, young adult and for the first time this year we have two children’s books.”
Authors have to live in Yorkshire or the North East and from next year there are plans to expand further into the North West. It is a project unlike any other bringing together an arts organisation, publishers and libraries to support readers and writers across a wide geographical area.
A key aim of the campaign has always been to raise awareness about, and encourage the use of, libraries and their rich resources. This aspect of the project has become especially pertinent in recent years with huge numbers of libraries, especially smaller ones, closing. ““We get Arts Council funding for the project so we can subsidise libraries with their programmes,” says Fraine. “And we encourage them to be quite creative with their ideas. I think the campaign helps libraries to attract new audiences and to look at what they can do in their communities – especially with Young Adult and children’s books; that could mean bringing authors into schools or bringing schools into libraries. And we do encourage the authors to maintain contact with the libraries and develop an ongoing relationship.”
The campaign – which continues until the end of May – also ties in with the Bridlington Poetry Festival and the new Doncaster Literary Festival. Next Wednesday will see one of the most high-profile events of the almost 80 on offer this year when novelist Gavin Extence appears at Leeds Central Library to discuss his book The Universe versus Alex Woods.
The book was one of the most talked about last year, boosted by its inclusion on the magical Richard and Judy summer reading list. “I think it’s a wonderful project,” says Sheffield-based Extence. “It helps local readers and writers to connect through their shared love of literature. Writing is normally a very solitary pursuit, so it’s great to meet other local authors and feel part of a local writing ‘scene’. I think it’s really important to support and celebrate regional culture and talent.” Next Thursday, poet Tara Bergin, who lives in North Yorkshire, will be reading from her latest collection This is Yarrow. “It is scheduled with a poetry reading workshop,” says Fraine.
“It’s looking at reading contemporary poetry which quite a lot of people find intimidating. The whole idea of the workshop is to look at specific poems and discuss them in an informal way. Tara’s poetry is fairly abstract but what’s interesting about it is that it benefits from being read aloud. It’s very sensitive and almost fragile but absolutely beautiful and Tara reads it really well.”
Fraine says that both libraries and authors benefit from their participation in the project – many of the authors are particularly grateful for the opportunity to engage with their readers. “We organise reading group events which is really nice for the authors as they get to hear from people who have read their books.”