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‘A life changing business': Stephen Fry on reading aloud

August 19, 2014

dementia 2The art of reading aloud was explored by Stephen Fry in a fascinating programme on BBC Radio 4 yesterday – and Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis along with some of our Readers in Liverpool were featured speaking about the power and special quality of reading aloud.

In Greek and Roman times, reading silently was frowned upon – the skill of reading aloud was much prized amongst the finest in society and the Romans could even be described as the predecessors of shared reading, gathering to read aloud in groups. Fry’s English Delight took listeners on a journey through the history of reading aloud, which amongst other gems told us that for over a third of the 21 centuries that have passed reading aloud was the most common form of reading and that authors such as Tennyson, Charles Dickens and Jane Austen were particular fans of reading aloud: Austen would ‘road test’ the drafts of her novels, including Pride and Prejudice, by reading and having her family reading them aloud.

The Reader Organisation connects people with great literature and through reading aloud in our regular shared reading groups in the UK, and the programme visited us at one of our groups in Liverpool while they read Silas Marner by George Eliot. Readers including Damian, who went for years with undiagnosed bipolar disorder, and Louise, who has Asperger’s syndrome, spoke about how reading aloud has affected them, using terms such as ‘addictive’ and referring to the stories and poems that are read as ‘a bright light shining in the darkness’. When the words of great writers are read aloud we are not only attuned to their beauty but are exposed to the value of great minds and thinking, which can act to make us emotionally stronger.

Woman laughing hystericallyThe question of whether people might be put off by the apparent performative nature of reading aloud is something dismissed in our shared reading groups, as the informal and relaxed atmosphere allows people to choose to read only if they want to, letting people be themselves. As Jane says, reading aloud is one of the most democratic forms of communication, with everybody able to get something out of it.

The programme also featured speakers including Professor John Mullan of University College, London, who provided insights into the greats of literature and their skills of reading aloud – giving even experts in the field something to learn. 10 year old Ben, who started and rounded off the programme, spoke about how he thinks it’s every parent’s duty to read aloud to their children – a reader to watch for the future! Stephen Fry himself was in praise of the art, saying:

“Reading aloud and being read to can be a deeply affecting, life changing business.”

With readers like Damian and Louise as well as many more benefitting from the power of reading aloud, we can attest to this.

If you missed the broadcast of Fry’s English Delight you can listen again on the website:

Featured Poem: Beauty by Wilfred Owen

August 18, 2014

Continuing to think about the literature that emerged from the First World War, this week’s Featured Poem comes from Wilfred Owen, who is often the first name to come to mind when we think of war poetry.

Owen has strong ties to Birkenhead, where he lived with his family after the death of his grandfather. Not too far away in Cheshire was where his poetic vocation was realised, with strong influence coming from the Romantic movement. This may come as a surprise considering he is most famed for his verse which holds no bars against conveying the bleak and violent nature of war. His poetry was influenced by fellow soldier and poet Siegfried Sassoon, whom he met at Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh receiving treatment for shellshock.

Though his poetry shows disillusionment and heavy criticism of the nature of ‘The Great War’, Owen returned to the Front in August 1918, and was awarded the Military Cross for his courage and leadership. He was killed in action exactly one week almost to the hour of the signing of the Armistice which would signal the end of the war in November 1918, also being promoted to the rank of Lieutenant the day after his death.

This thought provoking and poignant poem about how we might consider the different interpretations of ‘beauty’ is particularly resonant as we commemorate those lost in battle.


The beautiful, the fair, the elegant,
Is that which pleases us, says Kant,
Without a thought of interest or advantage.

I used to watch men when they spoke of beauty
And measure their enthusiasm. One
An old man, seeing a setting sun,
Praised it a certain sense of duty
To the calm evening and his time of life.
I know another man that never says a Beauty
But of a horse;

Men seldom speak of beauty, beauty as such,
Not even lovers think about it much.
Women of course consider it for hours
In mirrors;

A shrapnel ball -
Just where the wet skin glistened when he swam -
Like a fully-opened sea-anemone.
We both said ‘What a beauty! What a beauty, lad’
I knew that in that flower he saw a hope
Of living on, and seeing again the roses of his home.
Beauty is that which pleases and delights,
Not bringing personal advantage – Kant.
But later on I heard
A canker worked into that crimson flower
And that he sank with it
And laid it with the anemones off Dover

Wilfred Owen

The Author’s Den at The Secret Garden of Stories: Meet Cathy Cassidy and Andy Mulligan

August 14, 2014

9780141325224_Cherry_Crush_PB_bookWe’re counting down the days at The Reader Organisation until our very first Children’s Literature Festival, The Secret Garden of Stories, gets underway. From Thursday 28th to Saturday 30th August there will be tons of fun in store in the Secret Garden at Calderstones Mansion House, including storytellers from the Roald Dahl Museum, a ‘Pets Challenge’ as Team Cat and Team Dog compete through a series of obstacles and a very special performance of the classic book The Secret Garden by The Bookworm Players. You can find out more about what’s in store at The Secret Garden of Stories on our website:

Over the three days, our Author’s Den will be open with the chance to get up close and personal to some of Britain’s best children’s authors. We’ve already previewed Jon Mayhew and Lydia Monks, who will be appearing on Thursday and Friday respectively, but on Saturday we’ve got a bumper treat with not one but two amazing authors who will be visiting…

Cathy Cassidy started writing when she was a child herself, creating her very first book for her little brother and making editions of her own comic, full of picture stories, special features and competitions, which her friends loved to read (although she could only make one copy at a time – something that isn’t a problem anymore with her books). Originally from Coventry, she came to Liverpool to attend art college. She has been a teacher as well as fiction editor and an agony aunt for Shout magazine, but is now a full-time writer and spends her days thinking up stories, which include The Chocolate Box Girls series - following the adventures of Cherry Crush, Marshmallow Skye and Coco Caramel amongst others – Hopes and Dreams, Dizzy , Driftwood and many, many more.

In 2010 Cathy was crowned ‘Queen of Teen’ by legions of fans who love reading her books and reigned for two years running, and she tours across the UK extensively meeting lots of keen young readers. After many years living in the Highland hills in Scotland, she returned to Merseyside where she lives with her husband, two dogs, two cats and a rabbit. Her favourite childhood books include the Narnia series by CS Lewis and the Swallows and Amazons books by Arthur Ransome, and her favourite things to do include reading (of course), daydreaming, swimming and eating cake with friends.

Come and meet Cathy Cassidy at the Author’s Den on Saturday 30th August, 12-1.30pm (Tickets cost £5) – book online

andy_mulliganAndy Mulligan hails from South London, where he grew up. His career has been varied – he worked for ten years as a theatre director before his journeys through Asia, India, Brazil, Vietnam and the Phillipines as a volunteer and teacher influenced him to start writing young-adult fiction.

His first novel, Ribblestrop, was published in 2009 and entered the world of a ramshackle stately home turned into a school where the colourful bunch of students run riot. Termed ‘comedy-horror-action-suspense-school-fiction at its most bizarre’, the book was shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize and gained praise for being a funny and fresh read. Its success meant that it turned into a trilogy, with the second book in the series Return to Riddlestrop gaining the title of Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize in 2011.

Trash, published in 2010, tells quite a different story, taking place on a dumpsite in Brazil. The novel follows Raphael, a street child, who spends his days wading through and sorting mountains of rubbish. One day he comes across a small leather bag, and it is this which will change the life of him and his two friends forever, pitting them against the world. Trash was shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal in 2012, and plans for a film version of the book were soon put into action. Starring Martin Sheen and Rooney Mara and directed by Stephen Daldry (the man behind Billy Elliot), the film is due to be released this Autumn.

His latest book, The Boy with 2 Heads, was published in June 2013.

Come and meet Andy Mulligan at the Author’s Den on Saturday 30th August, 2-3pm (Tickets cost £5) – book online

For more information on The Secret Garden of Stories, visit our website or follow the hashtag #SecretGardenStories


Fry’s English Delight

August 13, 2014

stephen fry“I’ve always known that reading aloud is one of the paths to greater happiness in life…reading aloud isn’t medicine to be swallowed to make one feel better. It’s pleasure. Pure pleasure.”

Actor, broadcaster and beloved figure of British culture Stephen Fry is a keen supporter of the art of reading aloud (given the quote above straight from the man himself) and you’ll hear him take a closer insight at the practice on his latest radio programme – featuring input from some of our Readers.

Fry’s English Delight is currently in its seventh series on BBC Radio 4 (Mondays), exploring the ‘highways and byways’ of the English language. In the next episode, Reading Aloud comes under the spotlight as Stephen investigates the art from Roman times right up to the present day.

We’re delighted to be featured in the episode, to be broadcast on Monday 18th August at 9am (repeated at 9.30pm the same day), with some of our reading group members who were recorded as part of one of our groups at Calderstones Mansion House talking about the importance of reading aloud and what it means to them.

If you’re a lover of the English language as well as literature, it’s an unmissable series – previous episodes have already covered the mysterious language of magic and the punishing business of proper nouns and capital letters.

You can listen in and find out more about Fry’s English Delight on the Radio 4 website:

And don’t forget to make a date in your diary for Monday 18th August!

Head to the ‘Reading With Us’ page of our website for a full list of all of our current open shared reading groups running around the country:

Job Vacancy: Executive Assistant

August 12, 2014

The Reader Organisation can announce a new job vacancy for an Executive Assistant.

  • Based: Calderstones Mansion House, Calderstones Park, Liverpool, L18 3JD
  • Salary: £25k
  • Hours: Full Time
  • Contract: 1 year fixed term in the first instance

As we continue to grow, we require someone to provide additional organisational, adminstrative and secretarial support, especially to the Founder/Director and Managing Director. As well as these key responsibilities, this specialist role will provide more general adminstrative support to the Senior Management Group, act as secretary to the Board of Trustees and take responsibility for our liaison with external organisations such as Companies House, The Charities Commission, the OSCR and more general compliance and governance matters.

This role could be for you if you can bring a flexible approach to standard systems and procedures, are able to be bold but kind, can look for innovative solutions to traditional problems and are highly organised and able to organise others.

Responsibilities will include:

  • Diary management and full secretarial support for the Director and Managing Director
  • Secretary to the Board of Trustees, other stakeholder groups, Senior Management Group, Operational Management Group.
  • Office Management of TRO’s Headquarters at the Coach House including customer service and reception service at The Mansion House.
  • Responsible for all regulation and compliance matters and relationships (Charities Commission, Companies House, Scottish Regulator)
  • Line Management of Receptionist
  • Oversight of travel and accommodation, stationery needs, etc for all staff
  • Attend meetings on behalf of/deputise for TRO Senior Management Team
  • TRO’s annual calendar

A full specification for this role can be downloaded on our website.

How to apply:

Please do not just send in a CV. We will only consider applications that adhere to the following process -

Visit and select the Job Opportunities underneath the ‘Working With Us’ tab where you will be able to view the full job description and download an application form. Please complete the application form and submit a covering letter, explaining how you meet the requirements of this role, to

Your covering letter is an opportunity for you to include any additional information which could not be explained within the application form.

Deadline for applications: Friday 22nd August 2014

NB: applications arriving after 5pm will not be considered.

A high volume of applications may make replies to everyone impossible.

Interviews: As soon as possible thereafter

Featured Poem: For The Fallen by Robert Laurence Binyon

August 11, 2014

Last Monday (4th August) marked a momentous anniversary – exactly 100 years since Britain entered into World War One after the invasion of Belgium. The centenary brought forth some poignant scenes, most markedly the turning off of millions of lights around the country leading up to the same hour that war was officially declared within the country.

At services around the country, poems were read as well as prayers and an especially fitting choice is this week’s Featured Poem by Robert Laurence Binyon. Perhaps one of the most famous poems to emerge from ‘The Great War’, For The Fallen has been claimed as a remembrance for all casualties of war. Though he was too old to serve, Binyon contributed to the war effort by volunteering at a British hospital for French soldiers. He is also one of the 16 Great War poets commemorated at Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

As well known as it may be, this poem is worthwhile reflecting on, especially so at this point in time.

For The Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres.
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain,
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Robert Laurence Binyon

Reading Round-Up – 1st-8th August

August 8, 2014

Want to be kept up to date with the latest happenings in the literary world, but too busy buried in a book to find out? You’re just in luck as The Reader Online is here to offer you a digest of the what’s happening with all things books and reading related. With our regular Reading Round-Up, you never need be out of the loop again.

The Reader Organisation’s current Arts Admin Intern Rebecca Pollard is your guide:

this bookThe #THISBOOK campaign by Baileys Women Prize for Fiction has recently come to a close with Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird taking the top spot. By using the hashtag #THISBOOK, thousands of readers took to Twitter to state which book, written by a woman, had been the most influential to them.
You can find the Top 20 most influential books on the Women’s Prize for Fiction website.

The Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist has recently been announced, and many people within the literary community are celebrating the fact that this year’s awards have been extended to authors across the globe (as long as the novel is written in English). However, as the Booker Prize only takes into account the views of the judges rather than the public, there is still the issue that the novels (two of which have not yet been released) may not be prizeworthy in the eyes of the public.
The Guardian’s third annual Not-The-Booker-Prize, however, combats this. The prize follows similar rules to the Booker, yet the books are nominated by the public, and judged afterwards. The Not-The-Booker shortlist has just been released if you wanted to check out the public’s shortlist (they’re also running a competition to win the shortlist – but you didn’t hear that from us).

Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo, has been the subject of controversy this week. Her recent book The Scarecrow’s Wedding depicts a scarecrow blowing smoke rings to impress a girl. Although Donaldson says ‘never encourage smoking in a children’s book’, some parents believe that the concept is too adult for its intended audience.
You can read more about this on The Guardian’s website.

On a lighter note, authors such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Jackie Kay, Will Self, and Howard Jacobson have shared their summer memories in The Guardian article ‘A Postcard From My Past’. Adichie shares a photo of her and her brother during the long ‘summer vac’ in Nigeria; Jacobson’s contribution sees him rejoice that his son and grandson love the summer (which he never did).
The full article is available to read here.


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