This post is rather long – so get yourself a cup of tea, but I had a bit of week last week – a lovely week, but one of those weeks when you don’t get any writing done. However I did get to do quite a bit of travelling.
On Tuesday, I was invited by a brand new festival Cully Loves Books to come and talk to the year 9s of Uffculme School. They were bright and receptive, the school was fantastic. From the welcoming librarian to the tongue tied 16 year old budding writer the whole experience was really positive. Afterwards I met Susie Tyler (librarian), the powerhouse behind CullyLovesBooks and went to visit the temporary hub of the festival in the pop up bookshop in Cullompton. Cullompton is a town that has suffered from the decline in rural industry and I suspect a massive increase in online shopping. It’s once proud main street, boasts too many empty shops to feel healthy. However, funding has build a new, shiny, library, enhanced the the ancient church and rescued an extraordinary Jacobean building (the Walronds) which was about to house the pop up book shop. It turned out that even the bookshop was a rescue operation. Nearby Crediton lost its bookshop and only through a community effort was it re-opened in September 2012. Susie rushed back from my event to help two of the volunteers stack shelves and arrange the books before the next event which was to take place that evening.
As I drove away, I couldn’t help feeling real awe at the amount of effort everyone was putting into everything, especially Susie. The monumental task of organising a festival for the first time didn’t appear to have daunted her. She’d raised funding, she’d fought hard for spaces, dates, writers and volunteers. She’d sold tickets, booked schools, unbooked schools, rebooked schools. She looked after me, and I’m sure all the others who came down – and it was full of heart. Every bit of it.
On Thursday, I took my husband on a mad day trip to Scotland. We flew to Newcastle and drove north to Hawick – pronounced ‘Hoick’. The town lies in breathtaking and almost completely empty countryside, and like Cullompton has suffered from dwindling employment and industry. My guide, Brian, born and bred in Hawick, but someone with the perspective of working in Hong Kong for many years, told me of the vanishing knitwear industry and how some people began to worry that with lack of employment came low ambition in children and potentially failing education. They started with reading, and now, several years on, they have something called “The Heart of Hawick Book Awards”. It’s for debut novels. SHRUNK! Was shortlisted, so I had been invited to the awards and felt that I would like to go and see what it was all about.
Once again, it came down to a massive effort from a few very dedicated people (once again, librarians feature here). Here, the award has been running for some years, and is well embedded in the community. The children read and decide on the books that will win. It encourages them to read and think critically about books, get involved and be listened to – and a big bonus for me, one book is chosen to make an animated film. You can see it
We were looked after so well, everyone was so welcoming and warm, it felt fantastic. And all the way back to the airport we talked about what an extraordinary experience it had been to be in the heart of so much goodwill and effort.
What struck me about both of these events was that they had soul. Partly because they’re small, and partly because they are still run by the people that thought they were necessary. But mostly because these people care so much for their towns and believe that reading is a way forward for the children of those towns. A way out, a way up.
Now I’m back in Bath I can’t help feeling that things like Heart of Hawick and Cully Loves Books, really matter, that they deserve more than they get, that we should all take notice of them – and that if you’re invited to go to HAWICK, because your debut novel is selected, do go – it’s a long way, but so worth it, in so many ways.
On Saturday night, I did the Moonwalk – 26.2 miles overnight past the sleeping souls of London. On foot. It wasn’t nearly so much fun, and so big I can’t help feeling it’s lost its heart.
But that’s another story.