Melvyn Bragg, Antonia Fraser, Kamila Shamsie, Rory Stewart, Tom Wells and Timberlake Wertenbaker, contributors to The Pleasure of Reading, discuss their reading experiences and the books that have inspired them.

Watch the full-length interviews here.

The Pleasure of Reading is published in aid of Give a Book. Find out more.



By |February 5th, 2016|

There is a long and noble history of literary adaptation in the theatre where even the greatest playwrights often craft innovative reworkings of existing stories. Take Shakespeare—Romeo and Juliet has a source in Ovid’s Metamorphosis, the tale of ‘star-crossed’ lovers Pyramus and Thisbe. In A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the play within the play the rude mechanicals retell the same story to different effect. And then there’s West Side Story, book by Arthur Laurents, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, which refinds that same tale of star-crossed lovers—names, stories, set-ups all given new, bold and original life. In contemporary theatre writers such as Dennis Kelly (Matilda) and David Greig (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) have created imaginative stage adaptations of Roald Dahl’s much loved stories, which have gone on to be immensely popular West End shows. And Christopher Hampton’s adaptation of the searing Liaisons Dangereuses by Laclos is currently electrifying audiences at the Donmar Warehouse.

Reading a novel is a personal experience with a unique relationship between the words and our own imaginations, while adaptations express the story in a new form that can be collectively shared and enjoyed. One theatre company that is currently embracing stage adaptations is English Touring Theatre, a major theatre production company founded in 1993 by director Stephen Unwin. Now led by director Rachel Tackley and executive producer Jane Claire ETT works with leading artists to produce an eclectic mix of new and classic work for audiences throughout the UK and overseas. ETT is the only touring company subsidised to produce work in larger theatres in England.

This spring ETT are co-producing a stage adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s much loved novel Brideshead Revisited, directed by Damien Crudden, artistic director of Theatre Royal, York. Set in 1943 to the backdrop of the English countryside, Charles Ryder confronts memories of his first youthful encounter with Brideshead Manor and with its assortment of eccentric inhabitants.

Evelyn Waugh, Aged 26, from the portrait by Henry Lamb in the collection of Lord Moyne. Cr: Little, Brown & Co. Memo-hardcopy: 38304

Evelyn Waugh, Aged 26, from the portrait by Henry Lamb in the collection of Lord Moyne.
Cr: Little, Brown & Co.
Memo-hardcopy: 38304

Brideshead Revisited

With a plethora of plays and notable adaptations under her belt who better to tackle another classic such as Brideshead than Bryony Lavery? Among her plays such as The Believers (Frantic) Beautiful Burnout (National Theatre Scotland), Bryony’s adaptations include: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island (National Theatre); A Christmas Carol (Birmingham Rep/Leeds Theatre Trust) and 101 Dalmatians (Chichester Festival Theatre) to name but a few.

At the heart of adaptation is the adaptor’s ability to bring back to life the very essence of a story and any fond memories that go with it. Bryony Lavery enthuses that adapting is by no means an easy feat but it is labour of love. She says: “To adapt a book for the stage: first… fall in love with it. With your critical faculties intact (and how easy is that when you’re in love?)”. Indeed there is something quite magical that happens when theatre and literature collide, creating for the audience both new and shared experiences.

To find out more about ETT & Brideshead Revisited visit:

What has this got to do with Give a Book? Why, ETT have generously supported us by giving us books. Thank you ETT, and for material for this blog.



By |January 17th, 2016|

Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library

Dolly Parton launched the Imagination Library in 1995, in her home county in East Tennessee. The aim, says its website, “was to foster a love of reading among her county’s preschool children and their families” by sending them a book every month.

Dolly “wanted children to be excited about books and to feel the magic that books can create … Moreover, she could ensure that every child would have books, regardless of their family’s income.”


The scheme has been run by a few councils in the UK –  but now it’s reached London for the first time, thanks to Southwark council.

As the Southwark website explains, this now means that every child born in the area “is eligible to join our free book scheme. Your baby will receive a book in the post every single month until their fifth birthday. There is absolutely no cost to you.” Council leader Peter John said: “With many families still feeling the pinch it has never been so important to ensure that children have access to books so they can learn and develop as much possible in their early years.

“Our libraries already run some wonderful sessions for the under-five age group, with a huge range of books available for parents to read with their children, but it’s fantastic that this scheme will also allow children and families to start building up a library of their very own.”

As Dolly says,“The magic is inside you. There ain’t no crystal ball.”

Give a Book is looking forward to working with the Imagination Library in the future.

By |January 17th, 2016|

In conversation with Prison Reading Groups

Give a Book was pleased to talk to Prison Reading Group founders Jenny Hartley and Sarah Turvey about their work.

What made them start? They were colleagues at the University of Roehampton and in Jenny Hartley’s 2001 The Reading Groups Book  contributed to by Sarah, there was a survey of UK reading groups. Jenny’s brother-in-law was a prison chaplain and they wondered if anyone had set up reading groups in prison before. They investigated but the trail came to a dead end. Jenny started a group in HMP Coldingley– it took place in the chapel with the help of the librarian. There’d  been 6 months of letters and emails and she managed to get some money for books. Then Sarah started one in HMP Bullingdon. The group in Coldingley stopped and started again under a new librarian. Then they started a group at HMP Send. HMP Wandsworth followed. The groups were well supported by librarians. Jenny & Sarah found little pots of money for individual groups, the Millenium Fund supported one at Bullingdon. At Wandsworth, financed by the borough, they were able to start a 2003 group in the Vulnerable Persons’ Unit. The key to a successful group is to have someone on the inside and to have the support of the librarian. They have started staff groups too but these are practically difficult because of shifts so it’s more often the administrative staff coming rather than uniform. But at Grendon there are 6 Reading Groups across 2 sites which includes a staff group to which the governor comes.


The volunteer facilitators are all sorts—retired chief executives, teachers and other professionals, artists, graduates, sometimes from Roehampton where ST & JH are based, sometimes volunteers come through the librarians and sometimes there are writers in residence at the prisons. PRG always give the volunteers their head to allow them to make it work in their own way– the groups are flexible. JH & ST both said that the inventiveness and commitment of the volunteers is one of the great pleasures of doing this. The training is to come to a group and then volunteers have responsibility and agency.

How do they work? At the start, the facilitator, Sarah, Jenny or a volunteer, takes in a bag of books—chosen from recent paperbacks, films, a classic, say, Of Mice and Men or To Kill a Mockingbird. As the group gets going they become more adventurous. The main principle for members is choice—in a place where there is not much opportunity for choice the reading group groups always choose their next book- sometimes by vote, or by taking it in turn or general consensus. “Part of what being a reader is about taking a punt on a book” PRG said. Choice gives ownership of the process.

ST was once really concerned about one choice Even the Dogs by Jon McGregor but was surprised at the critical distance of the group. “The experience taught me not to interfere,” she told us.

Is there a most popular book? Members have often had bruising experiences at school so they often like to read books they might have read there such as Animal Farm—it’s good to come back to them. They have nothing to lose by starting: they come to one group and see all the different benefits—discussion, listening, negotiating….

A reading group does so many things, it helps form an alternative sense of self, one that is socialised and not alienated. A member can say ‘I’m a reader’, can talk about it to others and feel connected. This applies to their families and to wider culture as well.

Anecdotally, PRG confirms that groups help people develop confidence perhaps to find an education that they might’ve dropped out of. They also plug gaps for the higher level learners and at the other end of the reading scale with emergent readers,who might be taking up  Turning Pages , a group can help stamina and confidence.

PRGs help someone to open the door, for them and for us.

Napoleon reading

Napoleon reading


In an ideal world PRGs would be as embedded in the prison as AA and be one of its services. Everyone should be aware of it, have it on the landscape of the uniform staff as well as the librarian. Staff shortages of course make it all the more difficult.

What’s the best experience? It’s always unpredictable, PRG says. You never know what you’re going to get or if anyone will turn up, you never know how a group will respond, they endlessly wrong foot you. Reading Rebecca, once, ST doubted it would fly but then a member said “That girl, I was with her all the way.” The surprise was wonderful. “There is a determination to find something in it which always brings me up short.”

Favourite books? It’s always the one you’ve just read. Sarah mightily enjoyed the new Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread. Jenny has re-read Eminent Victorians by Lytton Strachey and hadn’t realised just how funny it was.

You can read the report on their work here. Give a Book is delighted to support PRG, who now run 45 prison reading groups across 35 prisons, ranging from Full Sutton in Yorkshire to Albany on the Isle of Wight.

By |December 31st, 2015|

Happy New Year


By |December 14th, 2015|

Books for detainees in police custody

We recently had calls from 2 policemen, one based in London and one in Bristol. Both were concerned. A recent visit by an Independent Custody Visitor had identified a lack of appropriate reading materials especially for young people in custody. Said Sergeant Jon Hill from Bristol:

“If detainees, especially juveniles, have access to age appropriate reading material whilst their cases are processed, then this can make a real difference. Being on your own in a room for up to 24 hours can at best be boring and at worst frightening, especially for a child, so providing them with a distraction in the form of a book could really alter a young person’s experience of custody.”

In London, Steve Whitmore, was asked recently by a male detainee, whom he had arrested, if he could have a book while he was being detained in one of the holding cells at Brixton Custody Suite. The supplies were either inadequate or unavailable and it brought home to Steve how the most basic of needs, reading a book, which could offer comfort and reassurance in the most troubling of times were not being adequately provided. Give a Book is doing what we do best…giving them books.


Consolation_of_philosophy_1385_boethius_imagesBoethius was a 6th Century AD Roman philosopher. He wrote The Consolation of Philosophy while in prison awaiting trial. It was translated into Old English by King Alfred and later by Chaucer. It was one of the most influential books in European Culture.



By |December 13th, 2015|

Ashburnham Community School library

Earlier this year we were put in touch with Ashburnham Community Primary School. We met Clare Taylor, Senior Teacher, who said that the one thing that would really transform the life of the school would be to have a library. Clare told us that Reading for Pleasure was something that they were working really hard to imbed within the curriculum. They were on a rapid journey to move from ‘Requiring Improvement’ to ‘Outstanding’, but wanted to give something to the children for all the hard work that they were putting into their learning.

For space they had a bit of corridor, for books just a few old and uninviting ones.

Thanks to our brilliant supporters we were able to help not only build a new library through wonderful FG Library, to restock the non-fiction library thanks to Jubilee Books, but also introduced the school to their local Schools Library Service to help organise the books they had.

(Photos by Gareth Bevan Photography for Beanstalk.)

Clare said: The library is now a haven that the children thoroughly enjoy using. The children are now able to sit with friends and enjoy reading. They also look forward to visiting now and want to show visitors to it.

So here we introduce to the world the new Ash Library, the beating heart of a now Outstanding school.

The new library is an inviting place for all the children and a wonderful space for small groups to read together. The ‘snuggle pod’ is a particular favourite of the children, as they love cozying up in their with a friend and a book. Amanda Douglas. Y4 teacher

The new library is a breath of fresh air for our school! It is impossible not to notice just how inspired the children are to spend time there now… They love choosing books and I often see them finding a quiet spot to read. Thank you for the transformation! Sophie DeMenthon. Yr5 teacher

I like it because it is fun, much more modern and more organised. Issac Yr 4

It’s new, it’s nice and it has new cushions and it is a relaxing space. Youseph Yr 4

As soon as the new Library was completed at Ashburnham, the children in Year 6 took full ownership of it and revelled in the opportunity to use and enjoy it. Every day, children ask me if they can go to the library with such excitement, either to choose a new book (from the immaculately ordered shelves) or to read quietly in it. I have noticed a great improvement in children taking pride in their Reading Records as a result, since their choice of books has widened so much. We cannot thank Miss Taylor enough for all she has done!” Miss Blackshaw, Y 6 Class Teacher

I love reading now, as we have a space that is clean and organised and many new books to enjoy!  
Amine Y6

The library has invigorated my child’s passion for reading, so thank you!

Parent of Y4 child