Wednesday, 5 August 2015

A New Kind of Reading - Kathleen Jones

Since 2007 I've been lucky enough to be a Royal Literary Fund Fellow.  It sounds very grand, but is really just one of the most wonderful safety-nets any writer can have. The RLF has been around for nearly three hundred years, helping writers in need, including many of the most famous - like Coleridge, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Ivy Compton-Burnett and Dylan Thomas.  It has also supported the bereaved families of authors such as Robert Burns. It relied on charitable donations, but things changed when one of its former recipients, A.A. Milne, left the RLF the copyright of his Winnie the Pooh books.

The sale of some of these rights to Disney in 2001 allowed the Fund to support writers in a much more imaginative way. Fellowships were created in a number of universities which then provided a two way benefit;  the university got a professional author to advise its students on the art of writing and the author received financial support for a set period of time. It was a 'wizard wheeze' that has benefited a lot of writers newly impoverished by the downturn in commercial publishing, particularly the abolition of the 'mid-list' which was bread and butter to many of us. The Society of Authors has glumly recorded the plummeting of advances and the ruthless pruning of editorial lists over the last 15 years. I find it quite funny to think that, since 2007, I've been employed by Winnie the Pooh.
My Employer
I've thoroughly enjoyed my university posts - 2 days a week in contact with enthusiastic students struggling with essays on subjects as diverse as The Lubrication of the Phalangeal Joints, and Marxist Theory in the work of George Orwell.  I have worked with post-graduates on PhD theses researching Donne's sonnets in Chinese (don't ask!), the International Arms Trade (written by the son of a Third World President), as well as Mindfulness and Mental Well-being (which I needed after working through both the aforementioned). It has been both entertaining and educational and provided much-needed financial support while I wrote my biography of Katherine Mansfield, which took me on several expensive research trips to New Zealand. I have reason to be grateful to the RLF.
Katherine Mansfield, whose short stories I'm hoping to include.
Now the Fund has come up with another brilliant idea to support authors.  We all know that authors depend on readers, so why not provide something that helps both?  So they have created the Reading Round project and I'm one of the lucky authors chosen to set up a group in my neighbouring town.

Encouraging books to give up their secrets . . . 
Reading Round is not a book group - there's no 'homework', nothing to read in advance.  Each group is facilitated by a practising author, officially a 'Lector', who has several years' experience as an RLF Fellow. A short story, memoir, or other piece of narrative non-fiction, and a poem is read aloud and then discussed in depth within the group and encouraged to give up its secrets. The idea is to look at the nuts and bolts - to discover not just whether you like a piece of writing, but why you like it and how the author has created this or that effect. The RLF explains that  "readers are encouraged to respond afresh to the words on the page in front of them, rather than relying on preconceived ideas about a text. All that is required of participants is a willingness to listen, discuss and be open to new ideas. For many participants, the group provides a valuable opportunity to meet with other word lovers in a friendly, stimulating and relaxed environment."
. . . and, of course, there will be cake!
We're aiming to read wider and deeper and help readers to get more pleasure from their reading. We also hope that they will discover new authors, or perhaps be tempted to sample genres they had previously avoided. This is all about The Reader, rather than the writer. It's a project I'm very excited about and I can't wait until September to share all the wonderful bits of prose and poetry I've got lined up for discussion, including some that are new to me too. I'm also looking forward to meeting other book lovers and making new friends.


For more information about Reading Round and to check if there is a group near you please follow this link.

Royal Literary Fund

Kathleen Jones is a biographer, novelist and poet who publishes on both sides of the fence.  She blogs at 'A Writer's Life', is often to be found wasting time on Facebook, and Tweets incognito as @kathyferber 

Her latest novel is The Centauress, available on Amazon.

9 comments:

Sandra Horn said...

What a wonderful idea! On a day of not-much-cheer in the news and plenty to depress, this gives me hope that the need for food for our souls has been acknowledged and acted on. Sorry for incoherence - lack of sleep.

Leela said...



Can't wait for September either. I guess we will get the 'Reading Round' feedback online. Thank you for sharing.

Dennis Hamley said...

This sounds wonderful and is, as Sandra says, a tiny gleam of light in the arid wastes which surround us. Pity it's limited to ex-RLF fellows. I should have been one when I had the chance. It's sad that benefitting from occupational pensions leads one straight to inertia.

Kathleen Jones said...

Thanks Sandra, Leela and Dennis - yes, it's great that there is some 'reader development' work going on - writers are nothing without them!

Lydia Bennet said...

Sounds like a good scheme, I hope you enjoy your reading group - I started a book group locally and it's still going over a decade later. I wonder how one becomes a Fellow... must google.

Kathleen Jones said...

Dear Lydia - yes, just look it up on rlf.org - the full instructions are there. You used to have to be recommended, but now you can just apply.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

My four years as RLF Fellow were very happy ones - best job ever. They were setting up a new Fellowship so (unusually) I did two years of a day a week and then another two of two days a week. The money was welcome and wonderful and they are a brilliantly supportive organisation.

madwippitt said...

Love that - employed by Pooh Bear! :-) And those cakes ... oh yes, books good enough to eat! :-)

Alice said...

This scheme sounds fascinating and so worthwhile. Do keep us posted. It sounds a little like work done by The Reader in Liverpool. However, their groups are always in prisons or similar places. What I find fascinating about their work is that they have evidence to prove that reading modern novels doesn't help with depression but that reading the classics does. I find that fascinating.