Skip to content

Reading with RISE in Durham

October 10, 2013

book-festivalHot on the heels of RISE in Manchester, we’re heading further North for our second visit to Durham, in partnership with Durham Book Festival.

As well as our usual programme of authors performing in the public festival and visiting audiences in secure environments, we also have a couple of special Reader-related events as part of the festival and its fringe.

Award winning poet Gillian Alnutt  will read from indwelling, her most recent publication at a festival event on 11th October, alongside fellow Northern poet Peter Bennett. Gillian will then visit HMP Low Newton on 14th October, whilst Peter will discuss his work with audiences at HMP Frankland on 16th October.Erwin-James

Writer Gavin Extence, who has enjoyed a breakthrough year with his debut novel, The Universe Versus Alex Woods, will also be visiting HMP Low Newton on Saturday 12th October, before leading a writing workshop and then discussing his work in the main festival programme.

Later in the month, HMP Frankland will be welcoming Dr Don Lavigne, classicist at Durham University.

On top of all this, we will be hosting a very special Durham Book Festival and RISE fringe event, with our patron Erwin James in conversation with The Reader Organisation’s founder and director Jane Davis on Monday 14th October, 6pm, Ustinov College. This free event is in association with the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University, and will focus on The Reader Organisation’s criminal justice work – find out more here.

Finally, Professor Philip Davis, editor of The Reader, and the Literary Agenda series will taking part in the Carnegie Challenge Debate, ‘Is Reading Good for Us?‘, at Durham Town Hall on 13th October.

It’s going to be a busy few weeks for RISE in Durham – we hope you can join us for these special events. For more information about the festival events, visit the Durham Book Festival website.



RISE returns to Manchester

October 9, 2013

By Damian Taylor, Reader-in-Residence, Greater Manchester West NHS Trust

After two wonderful events last year, which saw Jackie Kay visit HMP Styal and poet Inua Ellams read to young people at a secure unit in Prestwich Hospital, RISE is returning to Manchester.

On Thursday 10th October poet Adam O’Riordan will be visiting the Edenfield Unit at Prestwich Hospital to read and discuss his work and on Friday 18th, novelist Jane Rogers will be visiting HMP Styal to read from her novel The Testament of Jessie Lamb.

RISE (Reading in Secure Environments) is a pilot partnership between The Reader Organisation literature festivals throughout the UK. It aims to bring contemporary writers of excellence to audiences in a range of secure environments, from prisons to approved hostels, to secure mental health facilities.

Manchester-Literature-Festival-LogoAdam and Jane will also both be appearing at public events as part of the Manchester Literature Festival: on Wednesday 9th October, Adam will be reading a specially commissioned short story written while resident at the Midland Hotel and on Thursday 17th – Jane Rogers will be with Alison MacLeod, attempting to unlock the wizardry of two of the greatest short story writers of all time, Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Katherine Mansfield. For more information visit

If you’re attending any of these events, share your thoughts and experiences here on this blog or via Twitter: @thereaderorg.

Erwin James in conversation with Jane Davis

September 30, 2013

RISE: Erwin James in conversation with Jane Davis
Monday 14th October, 6pm (FREE)
Ustinov College, Durham University, Howlands Farm, South Road, Durham DH1 3DE

Erwin-JamesJoin Erwin James, Guardian journalist and former prisoner, at this special, in-conversation event with Founder and Director of The Reader Organisation Jane Davis, a fringe event of Durham Book Festival 2013 and RISE this October, in association with the School of Applied Social Sciences at Durham University.

Erwin will be talking about his life as a reader and a writer with Jane at this free event, where they’ll also be joined by two of The Reader Organisation’s Reader-in-Residences at criminal justice settings in Durham, Charlie Darby-Villis (HMP Low Newton) and Lynn Elsdon (HMP Frankland).

Erwin James began writing for The Guardian on criminal justice issues while a serving prisoner in 1998; to this day, he is a regular columnist and contributor. Two collections of his columns, A Life Inside, A Prisoner’s Notebook and The Home Stretch, From Prison to Parole, have been published. He credits his discovery and interest in reading and education while in prison with changing his life. As well as being a trustee for Prison Reform Trust and patron of charities including CREATE and Blue Sky, Erwin is also a patron for The Reader Organisation.
As a believer in the value of reading in prisons, Erwin has expressed his support for the RISE programme since its beginnings last year:
“I’m thrilled at the news of The Reader Organisation’s RISE programme. My first experience of reading as a shared experience happened when I was in prison and the poet Ken Smith came in to talk to a group of us about his work. I was ten years into a life sentence and was still trying to find my way. Ken invited us to read some of his poems and extracts from one of his books. We were all intensely inhibited at first, defensiveness being the default position to survive on a prison landing. None of us had ever done anything like it. But in the library that day Ken made us feel safe enough to let our defences down, and to engage with him and each other as the real people we were deep inside. The humanising impact of Ken’s visit lasted long after he left us. He probably never knew it but in the two hours he gave us he managed to remind us that though we were prisoners, we were people first – and that we had some value. The potential for RISE, I believe, is massive.”
Erwin also spoke about RISE, The Reader Organisation and his own experiences of reading in prison in one of his recent posts for The Guardian Books Blog.
All are welcome to attend this free and special event, which promises to be a deeply interesting evening.
For more information on Durham Book Festival 2013, see their website.

RISE: The Story So Far

July 25, 2013

Since launching in October 2012, the Reading in Secure Environments (RISE) project has collaborated with seven literature festivals across the UK to bring a number of contemporary writers of excellence to both public audiences and to readers in secure criminal justice and mental health settings.

Funded by the Arts Council, RISE has taken live literary experiences to people who could not otherwise experience them, connecting different audiences to great literature and one another – and has had great impacts on audiences, staff and authors involved, as recently explored at a special seminar at The Reader Organisation’s National Conference 2013, Shared Reading for Healthy Communities.

The first year of RISE has been charted in a film by filmmaker Julian Langham, who visited the RISE Liverpool events in May in conjunction with Writing on the Wall. The film details what RISE is about, the effect it has had on its audiences and features contributions from RISE authors including John Burnside, Jean Sprackland, Joe Dunthorne and Inua Ellams.

You can view the film below, and also on the RISE page on The Reader Organisation’s website.

RISE – Reading In Secure Environments from Julian Langham on Vimeo.

If you’ve been to any of the RISE events that have happened over the past year, you can share your experience with us here on the RISE blog, on the Share Your Comments page.

The Woman’s Prize at The Orchard Unit

June 25, 2013

Megg Hewlett, TRO project worker at West London Mental Health Trust, describes the visit earlier this month of Natasha Walter, Women’s Prize judge, to the Orchard unit:

The Orchard hospital at West London Mental Health Trust has a central atrium which functions much as any high street might in towns around the UK.  It has a cafe, library, gym, shop and in June it took on the role as venue for a London Literary Festival RISE event when Natasha Walter, author and judge for the 2013 Women’s Prize for Fiction, visited  to read extracts and discuss the short listed novels with those present, on the day before the announcement of the prize winner.

Over the previous six weeks some of us had been reading extracts from the six novels and making up our own minds as to the calibre of each of the books. In effect our reading over the six weeks has been a ‘taster’ allowing us a literary hors d’oeuvres of each novel, for the main course, if we decided to indulge, we’d need to take the novel home and consume privately.

Our whistlestop tasting menu of each shortlisted novel began with Zadie Smith’s NW, many of us familiar with the North West London depicted and immediately at home, we’ve met people like Natalie and Shar and recognised the dialogue and situation.  Hilary Mantel and Bring up the Bodies was next and we read the chilling account of Anne Boleyn coming to the realisation of what her destiny is to be. The last sentence in our extract had Anne saying  “I have only a little neck,”… “It will be the work of a moment.”  We were amused by Maria Semple’s Where’d You go, Bernadette, a quirky unconventional format of emails, letters, school and medical reports and other documentation which pieces together the story.  Kate Atkinson Life after Life gave us two possible versions of a life; the one where the doctor is delayed and the baby dies and the other in which the doctor arrives on time and she lives. The next week we follow a woman walking up a mountain as she heads towards an assignation to embark on an adulterous relationship in Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behaviour.  And finally, an extract from A M Holmes’ May We Be Forgiven – who we discover the next day is the winner

As Natasha reads from the novels there is deep concentration evident in the faces of many in the audience.  The acoustics in the venue are not unlike those in a high street and require us to be especially attentive to catch all that is read.  Effort is needed and it is made.  At one point a staff radio loudly disrupts the reading creating even more auditory disturbance to overcome.  I later hear that the staff member responsible for this radio was so engrossed in listening to the readings she was completely unaware it was her own radio creating the disturbance.

Natasha fields questions from the floor including the merits or otherwise of strong language in fiction, how to get started as a writer and the benefits or otherwise of writing about your own experience. At the close of the formal proceedings audience members flock around Natasha and engage her in conversation.  I hear discussion on topics as diverse as choosing books to read, writing authentic dialogue in fiction, writing street voices, accents, ethnicity, respect and assumptions in literature.

It’s a beautiful hot and sunny day.  The skies are the bluest blue, the doors are open to the courtyard and the service user band is about to play. As Natasha is finishing her conversations, people begin to move outside to listen to the band.


John Hegley at Reading Goal

June 21, 2013

A group of young men, lounging in the grey tracksuits of Her Majesty’s Youth Offender Institutes, wait in the chapel of HMP Reading for the strange, bespectacled man at the front to begin. Could this be a real-life poet? That mythical creature that they’ve heard about, even heard tales that one once lived in these very cells?

John Hegley immediately begins with an extreme enthusiasm, beginning to strum what is taken to be a little guitar, actually a mandolin, and introduced as ‘Steve’. He starts to half sing, half say a poem. These young men look on with bewilderment, bemusement, but soon, very soon they begin to relax into the absurdity of Hegley’s world. Before we know it the audience is being asked to contribute words to feed into the poem. Self-consciousness is put aside, these young men are no longer laughing at John and each other but with him, enjoying the ride.
John Hegley
The laughter disarms the audience. The silliness of the poems, their frivolity, hides a seriousness that suddenly bites when it comes up. Difference; disappointment; missing your friends and family; failed relationships; being able to say what you really think to your Dad; grief. All are glanced on while we rush headlong through this strange world of potatoes and dogs. There are moments of real poignancy amongst the laughter.

Myth and history remain close. Early on John describes his instrument as a Lyre, a poetic move that lets him explain the root of lyric and stake his claim of the title of lyrical poet. Later, in what I found to be the most moving part of the morning,John reads a poem about lighting a candle for his dead father. On finishing John realises that perhaps this audience’s knowledge of mythology isn’t wide enough to get all the references, and asks if anyone can help explain. Beautifully, a prison officer speaks up – this is the myth of Orpheus, and then retells it, succinctly, engagingly, excitedly, and all the young men listen in rapt attention. We have all been connected: to our memories of family; to history; and to each other, whether wearing grey or a uniform or the civy clothes of an outsider. We return our focus to our lyrical poet, and we don’t look back.

RISE is coming to London and Reading

May 27, 2013

It has been an exciting couple of months for RISE, with Lemn Sissay’s visit to HMP Hindley to read some of his work to young people, and award-winning poets John Burnside and Rita Ann Higgins reading from and discussing their work at Leaf.

And if the next couple of months are anything to go by, there’s no sign it’s going to slow down any time soon!


London Literature Festival

We may be nearing the end of May but there’s still tons more to be packed in, with RISE coming to London and Reading in a number of events through May and June.

There will be three RISE events taking place as part of the London Literature Festival, with all public events held at the Southbank Centre

28_lionel_shriver_2First up Lionel Shriver, American journalist and author of ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’, will be reading to groups in a secure environment before heading over to the Southbank Centre for a public event to discuss her new novel ‘Big Brother’ on the 28th of May.

Just one day later, on the 29th of May, Jon McGregor, award-winning author of ‘Even the Dogs’, will be doing a similar reading in a secure environment before appearing at a public event at the Southbank Centre with George Saunders, bestselling short-story writer, to discuss Saunders’ new collection ‘The Tenth of December’.index

And then, in a very special RISE event, Women’s Prize for Fiction 2013 Judge and author of ‘Living Dolls’ Natasha Walter will be reading extracts from the prize’s shortlist to patients in the Orchard unit at the West London Mental Health NHS Trust on the 4th of June. Readers at the Orchard unit have been reading extracts from the shortlisted novels in the past few weeks in their Get into Reading group, and are looking forward to meeting Natasha to see how their opinions of the novels match with hers. Later that same evening, the shortlisted authors will be reading at the Southbank Centre at a public event.

logo-reading-poetry-festivalBut that’s not all, on the 7th of June and before his appearance at the Reading Poetry Festival, John Hegley will visit HMP Reading to read from and talk about his poetry with people who take part in The Reader Organisation’s weekly Get into Reading groups.

For more information and to book your place at any of the public events that are part of the London Literary Festival, check out the Southbank Centre’s online listings, and to find out more and book your place for John Hegley’s public event, have a look on the Reading Poetry Festival’s website.