Shakespeare Week and the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

This week I’m celebrating the work of Pupil Library Assistants, and also Shakespeare Week.

I am a member of the judging panel for the Pupil Library Assistant of the Year Award. The competition for the prize was very fierce and, sadly, not everyone could make it to the final seven. However, these pupils clearly all had a great passion for books and reading and took this beyond the walls of their schools. Almost all of the pupils not only worked in their school libraries, but they had also had the opportunity to take part in other schemes connected to books and literacy. One of the longlist nominees, Miranda, described a little about her volunteer work at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.

I was so intrigued by this that I invited her to write a blog post in more detail so that she could explain what Shakespeare and the Birthplace Trust means to her and other pupils.  This is published here to take a closer look at the Birthplace Trust, and to encourage schools to sign up for Shakespeare Week. This runs from 16 -22 March 2015 and encourages everyone to take another look at the world’s most famous writer. So from a writer of the past…to a writer of the future!

My guest blogger is…..Miranda K. Gleaves – Alcester Grammar School

Shakespeare Week: the wonderful world of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

I’m lucky that I’m at a school where being a Pupil Librarian isn’t regarded as a bit bizarre.  Everyone accepts my love of books (I was the first ever Year 7 to get the school’s Gold Reading Challenge Award) and, definitely, my admiration of the playwright, William Shakespeare.

I was seven when I saw my first Shakespeare play (The Comedy of Errors) at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon. My mum explained that I wouldn’t understand every word of it, but that it wouldn’t matter.  She was right – and had to shush me as I was laughing so loudly at the almost-pantomime on stage. No-one should think Shakespeare is incomprehensible, scary or “not for them”.

Thanks to our School Librarian, Mrs Beeson, I was invited, with the other Pupil Library Assistants, on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Shakespeare Birthplace archives and instantly felt that it was the most amazing place.

Since then, I have completed a week of formal Work Experience with the SBT and two weeks with them as a volunteer.  I’ve already arranged to go back!

I’ve helped with conservation work in the archives and at the Shakespeare Houses (having also volunteered with the National Trust for four years, my conservation cleaning experience came in very handy).  I learned how to use the SBT’s unique library system to carry out research, and this enabled me to create a display for the Public Reading Room.  I should also say that the SBT archives are vast – and aren’t just about Shakespeare.  They have masses of information on the local area and my display was on the arrival of Belgian refugees in Stratford at the start of WWI.

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My display.

I’m looking very carefully at the Wolf Hall adaptation on television at the moment, having spent time as a costumed interpreter at Mary Arden’s Farm, one of the Shakespeare Houses. Here, I dressed and behaved as a Tudor, helping to prepare authentic meals to eat in front of the public and discovering the customs of the time (for example, napkins are draped over the left shoulder, those wearing red are ranked more highly than those in blue, and all meals are eaten only with your personal spoon). So far, it looks as though Mark Rylance and his colleagues have got it about right.

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While immersed in Tudor life and language it was fascinating to see at first hand just how engaged visiting school children – also in SBT Tudor costumes – were by the whole experience and how much they learned from it.

I think that Shakespeare Week is a fantastic initiative, and I only wish that I could have participated back when I was at primary school. If I could say one thing to all the pupils and teachers involved, it would have to be “don’t be scared of Shakespeare – he tells great stories”!

With thanks to Miranda Gleaves and her librarian – Louise Beeson – from Alcester Grammar School

You can find out a lot more about the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust using this link.

Take part in Shakespeare Week too! Follow the link for more information and how to join in.

The winner of the 2015 Pupil Library Assistant Award will be announced by 4pm on Thursday 12th March.

What’s in it for me? The truth about libraries for National Libraries Day

A lot has been said about how we should protect libraries, and I’ve read many love letters to libraries and I’ve worked long and hard in advocacy and campaigns, but there is one point of view that I’ve heard over and over again. Why bother? Surely there are more important issues these days, so what’s the point in protecting libraries?

I can see why people might think this, and why busy people with busy 21st Century lives might feel this way. The government wants people to think this way because it makes it easier to close the libraries. If people feel that libraries are not for them and offer nothing for them, it is going to be a lot easier to close them down. Make people choose, and tell them that they are taking food from the mouths of starving children, or that it’s libraries vs child support, or libraries vs community care… all of these methods are widely used to damage the image that you have of libraries and to encourage you to remove your support.

But to support this mindset involves looking at libraries in completely the wrong way. Libraries ARE child support. Libraries ARE community care.

I have written extensively about this before, and you can read a typical day in a community library here. But I can add even more to the list of what a library does. Let’s take a look at this….

What if you are a special needs adult who lives within a community care residence? What do you do all day? Do you sit around your home alone? Or maybe you could go up the pub and drink for most of the day? Or maybe you could wander the streets alone, or sit in the park? Or maybe your could wander around the supermarket for a few hours? Maybe your could go the the community social groups….oh no, wait..those have been closed down due to budget cuts. How about if instead of that you went to the library and got support with your reading, and signed up for a club, and had some help to find some daytime activities suitable to your needs and abilities?

What if you are long term unemployed with low literacy levels? What do you do in the daytime? Well, you could hang around the pub too, maybe develop a steady drinking habit? Or you could sink into depression and go up the supermarket and buy some booze and sit around at home alone and drink it? You could spend the last of your money on newspapers, stamps, envelopes and you can try to apply for a job alone and without support. Or you could go to the jobcentre and….no, sorry… wait…most of those have been closed down too so skip that one. How about instead of that you go to the library and get some help with a job searches and then get some help applying for them.

(I know that some people might try denying that libraries are used for this sort of thing, but I have some statistics for those of you who need further proof. According to figures from GoONUK (the digital inclusion charity) in 2013 1.5 million adults across Europe applied for jobs via computers in public libraries. Pretty impressive stuff. Now let’s picture a world where we remove the UK from that equation because unlike better performing countries we no longer have libraries)

What if you have a bright and intelligent child who loves books? No problem. All of the surveys show that reading will raise your child’s literacy levels, and the government is very keen to have you put lots of books into your child’s life. How about you spend your time popping up to the bookshop a few times a week and spending around £100 buying new and exciting books for them to read? Oh, hold on, your child is a developing reader who is still not sure what kind of book they like so you’ll want to give them lots of choice – so make that closer to £200 a week. Or, instead of that, you could just pop up the library and let them choose whatever they want for free. You could nip by every day after school if you like and let them choose to their heart’s content. No charge.

Still not convinced? What else can you get in libraries?

Access to ; university prospectuses, DVDs, voters lists, holiday guides, maps, computer help and training, copying and fax services, council information, local planning information and applications, local club and society information, talking books, music scores, CDs, books in other languages, language courses, train and bus timetables, encyclopaedias, storytimes, book groups, reading schemes…oh, and referendums and campaign materials from the various political parties.

Where else can you get this sort of information? Well, you can try online (everything is on the internet, right?) but how do you know that you have the right website? With a million or more hits, how do you know which one to trust? Well, you could ask someone with the skills and experience to guide you through that minefield. Who might that be? Well, that would be your local librarian.

So none of this has any relevance to you? Really? There is genuinely nothing here that is of any use to you? Well then that’s fine, but what about the community in which you live? If you want to live in a community that chooses to take away the one place of safety within it for vulnerable people, then I strongly advise you to avoid leaving the house.

Personally, I would always want to have one place in my community where people are not judged or questioned. One place where vulnerable people of all types can feel safe and welcomed. I, for one, have had times in my life where I’ve needed such a place and I’ve been grateful for the quiet mind-space of  the library. A space where I can just sit and think with clarity and peace. A space where I have nothing to do other than be inside my own thoughts.

I’m not alone in needing that and, if we lose our libraries and you have done nothing to act to stop it, you had better hope that you are never one of the millions who will one day need that space.

Find out how to support your library by using the links below – but the most important thing to remember always is to use it, or lose it! Tweet support, join marches, make a noise for libraries! National Libraries Day is on February 7th – join in and make a difference.

You can find out more about library campaigns via the links on the post below…

Show your support and join in by following and using #NLD15 and #vote4libraries

Article written by Dawn Finch (@dawnafinch) Vice President of CILIP, author and children’s library and literacy consultant

All aboard the Blog Tour!


So, it’s all aboard the Blog Tour as part of #mywritingprocess!

We have chugged along the line and stopped at some fantastic places and have now arrived at my little station in the woods thanks to an invite from the ever charming Sally Poyton and you pop over to visit her wonderful blog about books, reading, writing and dyslexia here!

Ok, on platform one we have the ever popular question – What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment I’m currently working on a YA project about a serial killer, as well as the sequel to my book Brotherhood of Shades. I’m usually working on two or three projects at a time, and a few other side projects as well. I like to keep busy but I think I could do with a holiday at the moment.

My favourite project at the moment is not one of my own. I am Author in Residence at a school in Hertfordshire and there is a ten year old girl there who is currently working on an amazing novel and we spend time every week sitting in the school library sounding out her ideas. She is quite remarkable and it is great fun working with her and one day I expect her to say thanks to me by sending her private jet out to fly me to her private island when she is rich and famous.

Over to platform two and it’s – How does your work differ from others of its genre?

Errr, ummm, it’s written by me?

Ok, that’s a bit of a cop out, so let me think…. Ah, I have been told that it is unusual to have your main character die in the opening chapters. He does come back as a ghost so obviously he does need to die first. I’ve always loved ghost stories and really wanted to write a classic ghost story but in a modern setting. Mine is unusual because it does move from the past to the present day, and has a modern feel but touches on historical events like the Great Fire of London.

The locations in my book are all real and can be found in London, and there is soon to be a map of the locations so that readers can see if they can find all the places mentioned.

Platform three is ready to leave with – Why do you write what you do?

Although I write contemporary fantasy, I feel that what I’m actually writing is all about real life (and death!) experiences. When I was a small person I wanted so much to believe that there was more to the world than that which you can see. I wanted to believe that there was another world that operated just outside our reach and that has heavily influenced my writing. I always say that it’s all about the world out of the corner of your eye.

I’m sure it’s there, we just need to find a way to see it.

 Standing room only on platform four as the Blog Tour is almost ready to leave with – How does your writing process work?

Well, nothing like ending on a biggie!

I know that there is this whole Planner vs Pantster thing, but I’m honestly a bit of both. I don’t have a strict plan but I do rough a lot of the story out and know where it’s going. I often rough out dialogue and even pace out some of the scenes to be sure that they will work. I keep a timeline of events, and a whole mass of post-its with ideas that have popped into my head.

A writing day tends to start with me doing my emails and clearing the mental clutter that might rattle around in my head and stop me from concentrating. I do a bit of social networking and read the papers online in this time too, and drink tea. All of this is often done from bed with a biscuit accompaniment as I find this is a good time for consume something for energy (that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.) I get to my desk by ten (which is not tricky as it’s only on the other side of the bedroom) and I get on with my work.

My desk is in a funny little wardrobe so that I can a) shut it all away at night without having to tidy it up and b)not stare out of the window. I live overlooking a street where something is always happening so it’s not wise to be facing it. When I’m stuck on something I’ll go for a walk, or I’ll get a good long chunk of vital Staring Into Space time in. I do think that a good amount of daydreaming is essential to plot development and so I feel no guilt about sitting in front of a nice breeze watching clouds and trees.

I try not to write past eight in the evening, but that’s not always possible if my characters (or deadlines) decide otherwise. I’m just a puppet in their hands and so if they are really nagging me then it is just easier to give them the attention they require rather than fight them.

I do write seven days a week, 365 a year. I’m quite bad at taking days off but I’m working on it!

Ok, as the last train of the Blog Tour chuffs out of the station with a lonesome whistle and an enigmatic whirl of steam we jump quickly on board and look forward to the next destination.

I’m passing my Blog Tour ticket on to one of my favourite writers and illustrators – the completely fantastic Thomas Taylor. Visit his blog and he’ll tell you all about himself, and his latest projects, including (and I’m so excited about this that I can hardly say it…) a collaboration with Marcus Sedgwick. Click on the Scarlett Hart link to find out more.


I am aware that I should be blogging more and so have decided (somewhat foolishly) to take up the challenge of posting every day throughout November.
I apologise in advance for the rambling course this may take but I hope to have something interesting or entertaining to say now and again.
Wish me luck!

I give up………

And so I blog……

I have long since resisted this, largely due to the blogs that pop up that drive me to wish I was illiterate, but decided that I should take my place in the blogging world.  It remains to be seen if I have anything worth reading or if it distracts too much from my real writing.

I was inspired to take this route because my real writing is not funny but (as many facebook friends know) I am often drawn to outbursts of sarcasm and this seems a better vent for them than my usual 100 charater outbursts.  This is another thing that remains to be seen.

That said……… goes and you can be the judge of my verbal venting.