The North Recommends: Oxenhope St Mary’s Book Group

The Oxenhope book group began four years ago and is one of 103 book groups supported by Bradford Library Service. The group meets once a month in the bell tower room of St Mary’s church in the village of Oxenhope (we have to turn the bells off as they chime every quarter). Oxenhope is a small village along the Worth Valley from Haworth – home to the Brontë Sisters and indeed Patrick Brontë delivered a service or two in St Mary’s.

The book group has 10 regular members and we get our books from the Bradford Libraries book group service which has dedicated sets of books that are only available to its book groups. The books are selected by the group and new book sets are bought by the library service every year to add the reading group list.

In June we read Stickleback by  Mark Connors which features Alan Siddall, a young 68-year-old Black Sabbath fan who wears shades from dusk till dawn who has outstayed his welcome at his local Mental Health Unit, Highroyds – a psychiatric hospital that a number of the book group were familiar with – and indeed some us had had personal experience of. In the novel Alan is about to be sent to Willowbeck Gardens to see out the rest of his troubled days. But he bumps into Cassandra, a love of his life from his youth, and before his disastrous marriage to Babs, thus Alan refuses to go gently into residential care because he wants Cassandra back. Alan’s character is beautifully drawn and behind the troubled mind, the bad language and the sun glasses is a person we all felt sympathy and understanding for. The character of Alan is so real and relatable. The book deals with troubling and often sad situations and illnesses but does so with a real warmth and humour. The group really enjoyed the novel and for once we all agreed on what we felt about the book.

Mark Connors, author of Stickleback, lives locally so he very kindly offered to come and talk to the book group in July. We discussed psychiatric care and many of us shared personal experiences – it was interesting to talk so candidly about mental illness and how so many people are touched or affected by it. Mark enjoyed the group discussion so much that he has now joined the group.

Oxenhope St Mary’s book group meets the second Monday of every month at 7pm.