At the invitation of the indefatigable and inspired Dot Cameron, Reader Development Librarian at Gateshead Council I go to Blaydon Library to talk to thirty odd readers – two reading groups and one community group - to talk about my books, writing and the important role of reading in the lives of people with sight impairment.
Dot carefully explains that they always used the term ‘reading’ although most of these readers encounter written literature through audiotapes, CDs, MP3 players and Braille editions. Luckily all my novels are on tape or CD so are available to these readers.
The sheer task of gathering these groups together is challenging and we sweat a bit as one group is delayed in their bus by a traffic stop.
But now we are gathered. They are mostly silver hairs and the oldest it 93. But age doesn’t matter here - the comments and questions are as sharp as any I have had from any audience. But clearly they anticipate a good show and give close attention.
As I say later to Dot, it is a challenging gig. It’s a different task to interact here where non-verbal clues and cues to meaning are not available. I find myself being more dramatic (melodramatic?) in tone and regretting my redundant flailing arms and rolling eyes.
Nevertheless these very interesting people indicate their interest in all kinds of ways and are a very satisfying audience. The questions are great and their interest is evident. Many of them have read and liked my novels. It’s odd to think that the landscapes I have painted, the dramas I have enacted in my novels have been almost entirely appreciated through hearing the words rather than seeing them.
Most of them have lost their sight in latter years but Ann Ruddick is different. She is a lynchpin of AIRS which, under the auspices of Gateshead Council's library service, offers a free regular talking newspaper service to local residents, accessible library and information services, and a range of transcription services to local and national information providers.
Last year Ann was awarded an MBE for her voluntary service to visually-impaired people. Ann, originally a teacher by profession, now focuses her considerable energies on voluntary work with people with sight impairment. She is very much in charge at these meeting – talking to people, helping them take their seats, worrying about the late-comers, making sure people are getting their cup of tea and helping to clear afterwards. She has previously been busy on the phone checking up on people who could come and arranging transport. She works on email with a specially adapted system.
This is all achieved with the help of her beautiful dog Pippa, as Ann herself was blind from birth. She explains to me the difference between herself and some of the people here who become blind later in life. ‘They have their memory of the look of things to guide them. It’s different for me.’
There is a lot of laughter and insightful discussion. We talk about the importance of the actresses who read these whole unabridged editions of my novels – both for me as a writer and for them as readers. I tell them the story of Anne Dover, very fine actress, who has read some of my novels and manages the range of accents and the light and darks shades of the narrative with consummate skill. Last year Anne contacted me to sound-source some Hungarian words and phrases in Sandie Shaw and The Millionth Marvell Cooker. Then she emailed me to say she had found someone, now back in Hungary, to whom she could talk. She is a stickler for detail. This was very much appreciated by this particular group.
(In January Anne will be recording the CD for The Woman Who Drew Buildings. There are Polish words to think about there…)
My favourite comment of the day is from the nice man who says. ‘I read The Long Journey Home and as I read it I thought it was so real that this writer must have been there in Singapore and experienced these things, or she is a brilliant re searcher. I think now it must be the latter…’
I love it! We writers are very needy…
Dot Cameron emails me the next day that they have had phone calls saying how much people enjoyed the session. Hooray!
Thank you Dot for inviting me. As always I learned a lot.