My Read Regional events began with a visit to Darlington Library. Working with the library’s reading group, it was an afternoon of readings from The Blackbird Diaries and conversations prompted by the book. Whilst the book is a celebration of some of our most favoured and common garden wildlife, it was really interesting hearing stories from the readers’ own patches, and the discussion widened out to include responses to the loss of some of our iconic species of wildlife. I always make a point of talking about how vulnerable many of our populations of breeding curlew are, and many people readily share memories and thoughts on this iconic bird of the British coast and countryside. Darlington Library itself is a fine example of red-brick Victorian architecture, and the way the staff keep the building alive with literature and community services against all the odds is inspiring.
The next outing was to Yarm Library, where an enthusiastic group joined me for a walk following the River Tees in a loop around the town. I’d only previously passed through Yarm – and that was donkeys years ago – so it was really good having the opportunity to find out a bit more about the place and its wildlife. First stop – immediately behind the library we came across a house covered in nest boxes and more sparrows than I think I’ve ever seen in one place. I often talk about what we can do to support wildlife, and here was an astonishing example of that – one householder supporting a huge colony of sparrows and other garden birds. Pausing again on the bank of the riverbank, we heard a woodpecker across the water, busy drilling away. Woodpeckers have extraordinarily long tongues that loop in a protective layer around their cranium, and it was interesting to think about this as we listened in. During the walk I had a conversation with an English teacher about how much richer schools’ English departments could be if Creative Writing was put firmly back on the curriculum. There are so many great teachers out there, hidebound by the lack of creativity in their schools. Without creativity, we are all the poorer. Returning to the library, again, it was wonderful to see the place busy with mums and toddlers and people using the library and its resources. I read from the book and again, I am frequently in awe of the collective knowledge that the audience brings to book events.
Sunday 28thApril and I’m in Hexham, meeting up with old pals from my Newcastle years, amongst them Harry Pearson, one of the funniest blokes I know, and we spent the lunch hour grumbling about how little authors earn from their work these days. This is another reason why campaigns like Read Regional are so important; not only do authors get to connect with diverse audiences and to communicate their work, (and let’s face it – it’s lovely getting away from the computer for a day!) but the scheme provides an extra layer of income to writers, which is all much appreciated. Hexham library is a wonderful space, very light and airy and the room was almost full. It was lovely having some familiar faces in the audience, and as usual, the writing about species loss provoked some good questions and discussions after the event. Thanks indeed to Hexham Book Festival for hosting me and to Will Mackie of New Writing North for flawless chairing.
Karen’s next Read Regional event will be at North Shields Library on Tuesday 11 June. Find out more about Karen, The Blackbird Diaries and her future #ReadRegional events here.