Friday, 3 July 2015

BIG UP BIG CITY READS

 

Paula Rawsthorne feels honoured to be included in Nottingham’s first ever BIG CITY READ.


I love the concept of a Big City Read.  It’s been happening in American cities for years and now, more and more British cities are taking up the idea with Brighton and Hove having the longest running ‘City Read’ in the UK.

 The idea is that a city selects one book and encourages the whole community to read it.  This then leads on to discussions, debates and even inspiration to get writing through a series of special events, workshops and performances throughout the city.

 Previously, around the UK, ‘City Read’ choices have been current best sellers, classic works of literature or, novels by a local author.  However Nottingham’s ‘Big City Read’ is unique.  Nottingham decided that, rather than select an existing book, they would commission local authors, working in different genres, to write short stories for the city. 

The authors approached were enthusiastic about the project and, thanks to the determination and hard work of FiveLeavesBookshop, Nottingham Writers’ Studio, BromleyHouseLibrary, NottinghamCityofLiterature and ArtsCouncilEngland, the stories were soon published in a bespoke anthology of Nottingham tales entitled ‘These Seven.’
 
Six out of the seven stories are set in Nottingham and this helps make the connection between the community and their Big City Read much more personal. We hope that our stories will trigger many interesting conversations.

The intention is to bring the book not only to avid readers but also to people those who might otherwise miss out. It intends to show reading as an enjoyable, stimulating activity; and one that is inclusive, open to all. The authors will be doing talks and workshops in schools, colleges, prisons, women’s groups, reading groups, community centres, libraries and a wide range of other venues. Also, to encourage greater public involvement, a website will be set up for people to share their stories, submitting their own take on Nottingham and life within.

The idea of using short stories instead of a novel makes the Big City Read more accessible to reluctant readers who may find the length of a novel daunting. With ‘These Seven’ self-contained stories the reader can finish a complete, satisfying tale in the time it takes to get a bus across town.

The great advantage of an anthology using local writers is that the authors themselves can run the workshop and talks and therefore bring a much more intimate knowledge of their stories and inspiration to share with the readers.

Already the preview readings of ‘These Seven’ at LowdhamBookFestival played to a full house with great questions and interest from the audience. The official launch of Nottingham’s Big City Read will be on 17th July at the Council House in the city centre.

The six other writers in the anthology are best-selling crime novelist, John Harvey, Booker shortlister Alison Moore, writer and journalist, Shreya Sen Handley, literary novelist Megan Taylor, graphic novelist and political cartoonist John Stuart Clark AKA, ‘Brick’ (treating us to an illustrated tale) and the legendary Alan Sillitoe, with a story specially selected by his wife, Ruth Fainlight.

My story, ‘A Foreign Land’ is narrated by a ten year old Sudanese boy called Jay who has been brought up in the city and sees himself as a Nottingham lad through and through, which makes the decision to deport him and his family all the more cruel, bewildering and frightening for him. 

Pippa Hennessy, of Nottingham Writers’ Studio and project director for the City of Literature bid team said, ‘I’m really excited about this project, because it will bring Nottingham stories to Nottingham people, and allow them to tell their own stories that we hope will capture the unique spirit of this city’.

I felt honoured to be commissioned to write a story for Nottingham’s first ever ‘Big City Read’. I came to the city over twenty years ago as a student and stayed because I loved it so much. Nottingham has a thriving, and supportive writing community including the unique NottinghamWriters’Studio which is an organisation set up by acclaimed author Jon McGregor and run by writers, for writers, at all stages of their careers.

After months of work and preparation the city has just put in its bid to become a UNESCO City Of Literature (of which there are currently only seven in the world). Time will tell whether we will succeed, but the process alone has been a positive experience harnessing the enthusiasm and skills of many different city groups who love reading and writing and want to promote storytelling and literacy to people of all ages in Nottingham.    


‘These Seven’ writers- Alison Moore, John Harvey, Paula Rawsthorne, Megan Taylor, Brick, Sheelagh Gallagher (representing Nottingham City of Literature) Shreya Sen Handley. Photo taken by Stephen Handley.

I’m really looking forward to sharing this book with groups throughout Nottingham and hearing their stories too. Creating a bespoke ‘Big City Read’ with tales relating to the town is a great way to engage local people in reading and storytelling. Maybe other cities will think so too.

 

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