Monday, 29 April 2013

World Book Night 2013

It's Tuesday 23rd April and it's World Book Night. Finally!

Having collected the box of books from...

...Cardiff Central Library a week ago.

I’d been looking at the pile of neatly stacked books every day!


I applied to be a World Book Night Giver last year. My original plan was to celebrate the fact that after a long limiting chronic illness I was now more mobile. So I was going to catch a train and a bus to Caswell Bay in Gower and give out the books along the way and on the beach. Only recently has this trip become possible and is now my kind of 'commute for health', when able.

However, due to the measles epidemic in the Swansea area I decided to alter my plans. But actually the alteration turned out to be joyful for me and ended up involving a community I belong too.

My revised plan was to keep the element of being able to now travel more freely and catch a waterbus from Cardiff City Centre to Cardiff Bay

Tuesday is the night that I attend Off Centre, a weekly adult community drama group at Millennium Centre run by Jason Camilleri (assisted by Shaz and Beca Lewis). We recently did a production called Stori: A Retelling in collaboration with Grassroots Drama Group. So the essence of sharing stories tied in well. Grassroots meet on 24th so the rest of plan was to share the other World Book Night Books with both community groups.


World BookNight started in 2011. It is an initiative that sprang up from a want to have a similar celebration to World Book Day, which is mainly for children, but for adults. Jamie Byng MD of Canon gate put the idea on to action. World Book Night is supported by the BBC, Publishers Association, Booksellers Association, and The Reading Agency, amongst others.

It is a celebration of reading and books and I have been a Giver the past 2 years. 20, 000 volunteers are chosen to give 20 copies of one of the 20 Selected books. World Book Night also distributes half a million books directly to potential readers in prisons, care homes, hospitals, social housing and to the homeless. It is about encouraging reading amongst those who may not read regularly but also it is about reaching out to others in your community, connecting and sharing stories.


April 23rd was chosen by the organisers to celebrate World Book Night because it is a symbolic date for world literature. It is both the birth and death day of Shakespeare, as well as the death date of Cervantes, the great Spanish novelist. It is in their honour that UNESCO appointed it International Day of the Book. April 23rd also marks the city of Barcelona’s celebration of St Georges Day. St George is patron saint of Catalonia, as well as England, and traditionally Spanish men give ladies a rose and ladies return the favour with a book.


The book I chose to give out was Last Night Another Soldier by Andy McNab. I was drawn to this book for two reasons:


Firstly I saw that it was a Quick Read. Which means that it is a new book written by authors to encourage those who may have difficulty reading, those who just haven’t read in a long time or those who are too busy to read books. It is the first time that World Book Night has included a Quick Read. When I looked at the 20 titles I recognised very few because I haven’t read novels myself for about the past 18 years. 

In fact, I am one that Quick reads would be aiming at. Although in my teenage years and early 20’s I was an avid reader, when I became ill with a serious chronic illness, my ability to concentrate on text also disappeared. Many people with ME / CFS find that this is a symptom of their illness. So I just stopped reading anything of any length. I could manage magazines and found an outlet in poetry but novels were out. I have managed 3 novels the past 18 years and so I was keen to give Quick Reads a go to see if I would be able to manage to read it. 

I did and I enjoyed it, feeling a great sense of achievement in actually completing the book. The text was slightly bigger on the page which helped with absorption of the story and the chapters were a lot shorter. Also each word counted which meant the action was very direct and pulled you through.


My second reason for choosing Last Night Another Soldier was that although I hadn’t read it before, the story stood out for me. It seemed an important one to share and for people to learn about: 

“An incredibly gripping story about life on the front line in Afghanistan and what happens to four young soldiers” World Book Night

The story is mainly told first hand by one of the squaddies “David Briggs' and you feel completely present and immersed in the action.

Although I am no advocate of war, it is happening and I feel it is important for people to understand more about what soldiers go through. As it mentions in the book, many soldiers return and suffer Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and it can become very hard for them to integrate back in to society. The more that others have insight to the soldiers experience perhaps the easier it will become for us to relate and accept a situation when we come across returning veterans

Through my own health experiences unfortunately I have also suffered PTSD. When you have a traumatic experience, that is so far removed from what is considered daily life, it can be hard to deal with relative normality and others seeming lack of awareness. Often later when you find yourself in the 'normality', that was simply an oasis during the intense period, it can suddenly be overwhelming. It is then that symptoms of anxiety, depression and flashbacks can rear their head to the degree of completely destabilising your daily life.


Andy McNab was a soldier himself. He was a teenage delinquent who only began reading at aged 17 years. He was in the S.A.S., fought against the I.R.A. and served in the Gulf War commanding Bravo Two Zero. Since he has written many fictional and autobiographical books on his experience. He was awarded both the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Military Medal during his military careers. 

Currently he lectures to security and intelligence in the UK and USA and advises the Hollywood Film Industry on everything from covert procedure to training actors to behave like soldiers. He is currently an Ambassador for The Reading Agencies Six Book Challenge - a scheme for less confident readers.


Also each of the 20 selected books this year had a poem on the inside of the back cover chosen by the Josephine Hart Poetry FoundationRudyard Kipling’s Tommy was chosen for Last Night Another Soldier. Tommy being the name given to a soldier in the British Army in World War One, and sometimes now paratroopers.

Also at the end of the book there is a chapter of another book by the author. In this case Bravo Two Zero, which is Andy McNab’s autobiographically written experience of his time in the Gulf War. It is the Twentieth Anniversary of this book this year and he is speaking at the Hay Festival On Tuesday 28th May which, since reading his book, I have been inspired to buy a ticket for. This is another area which I also feel is important due to Gulf War Syndrome. My illness was preceded by a set of travel vaccinations and so know they can have devastating affects on the nervous system in some people.

And finally a chapter of a book to read next recommended by the author. Andy McNab's choice was Thunderball by Ian Fleming.


I jumped on the number 102 bus to town, walked to the mooring for Princess Katherine, one of the waterbuses that take passengers to and from Cardiff Bay.

I was running a bit later than planned as I had stopped for some lunch at Chapter (where I previously gave out Seamus Heaney with Incandescent and Touching the Void for World Book Night) and I ran in to an acquaintance, whom I ended up giving a book too. He told me that he knew of a couple of people who had served in the Gulf War. One of whom had returned with PTSD and the other who seemed to be doing better. This was the start of a few similar conversations I had throughout the day.

By the time I reached the Cardiff City Centre mooring the boat was on its way.

I spotted a family and asked them what kind of readers they were. The father said he read a lot, the wife said she read less than him and the little girl said she didn’t read much at all. I figured she was too young for the book but between them as a family they may like to share the book.

I then approached an elderly man who told me he was a avid reader. Thinking that I needed to try and find those who read less I asked the rest of the group standing what kind of readers they were. No one said much of anything. I realise now that most of them were tourists and thought I was selling something. One lady did say that she was travelling so would take a book.

I then got talking to the wife of the avid reader who had had an accident the day before in Kings Cross station and was using a walking frame to try and board the boat. Again she was struggling so much I offered her the book. I think she was quite down having had this accident. Being given the gift of a book really cheered her up.

I offered my final book, as I boarded to the boat, to the man who turned out to be the driver. We talked for some time as he told me of some one he knew who had served in the Gulf War and the first thing they were told was that if they needed anything they were to take it off the American Squaddies as they had a lot of provisions and a MacDonald’s and Pizza Hut. That reminded me of what I read in Last Night Another Soldier, about the American Soldiers provisions being much better than ours. The waterbus driver seemed entirely pleased at having the books as he said he only read when on holiday!

We then took a very peaceful glide down the River Taff...

seeing the underside of The Millennium Stadium

local history chap

seeing the old and the new communities

and finally entering Cardiff Bay!

I managed a quick few seconds of video.

Coming in to land I spotted the Doctor Who Experience...

and finally The Norwegian Church.

Once landed I felt quite exhausted, a side effect of ME.

So I treated myself to an ice cream at Cadwaladers, I felt like I was on holiday after the boat trip and the sun was shining. I then reverted to a good old cup of earl grey tea at Costa to warm me up.


Armed with 8 books, my next step was Off Centre

Jason allowed me some time at the start of the session to say a bit about World Book Night, the book I was giving and why. This provoked some discussion of traditions in other countries and an eagerness by some to become givers themselves. Later a fellow participant came up to me and explained she had been learning more about soldiers' experiences as she had met someone who had been one. I hope the book will help her.

A few of the participants came late and were really exited to be given a book. It felt good to be able to give people I meet weekly a book and share the stories around World Book Night.


The next day it was time for my final giving session at Grassroots Drama Group. I headed in to town for 4pm at what’s known as the Old Index Shop but on my arrival it was all locked up. Turns out drama needed to be cancelled last minute today but a few of the group met with me and Jason at Grass roots itself for me to give them the books.

A girl who also attends Grassroots sat in with us, came up at the end and mentioned she was joining the army. Hopefully reading the book will give her some insight. One of the staff also took a book and immediately passed it on to another Grassroots participant, in true World Book Night spirit! 

After a quick chat about the next play they would all be doing; SUS by Barrie Keefe, we went our separate ways. The guys are around the same age as those in the book so it will be interesting to hear what they thought of it. Again, I appreciated the opportunity to be able to give a book to people I had worked with.


In both cases it took a step of courage to admit I had been seriously ill and also had suffered from PTSD. No one within the groups had particularly known, apart from the organisers. But I figured it was best that I spoke openly about my connection to the book rather than hide it. Perhaps giving Last Night Another Soldier has allowed me to be more open within the community that I am involved. It can be difficult to show your own vulnerability to others when starting to re enter society after any difficult personal experience. So I am glad that my plans were changed as it helped me to connect further and give something to others I know in Cardiff.

*Thanks to all who agreed to be photographed. A few were given books who I did not photograph and many thanks for receiving your books too!

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Canton Snow Resort aka Thompson's Park

No ones going anywhere today

Thompson's Park looks idyllic until

out come the sledges

and the snowmen!