Books · Jottings · Witterings

Readers’ Day – Winchester

Saturday 28 April saw me embarking on a little trip to Winchester, to Milner Hall, to a Readers’ Day.

The Readers Day was organised by the magazine newbooks which is a magazine for readers and reading groups. I have only been subscribing since issue 64 (current issue is 69) and it is great to read reviews from other readers, articles about interesting aspects of reading, what the staff of newbooks is reading as well as interviews with authors and so much more!

This venture was a first for them, and I hope they thought it was a success. It was a first for me, never having been on anything like that before and I thought it was a success even more so when Winchester is not actually too far from where I am.

In the interest of saving petrol, worrying about parking the car and the cost and the one way system in Winchester I thought I would go by train. Done my research about times of trains and cost, and decided that to keep costs down I would walk to the station. No problem there apart from one thing – rain and plenty of it. Rather than ask my parents to help (I set off quite early – which I did not think was fair on them) off I drove to the station, parked the car and went in search of paying for a ticket for the car as well as myself. You have to go into the car park, park, get out and lock your car, head into the station to buy the parking ticket and then complete the reverse. I hoped that no traffic wardens were lurking about, probably not in that weather!

So task completed, ticket bought to Winchester, off I went to wait for the train. Kindle in hand, I did smile at the other three people waiting on the platform, all reading. Books or kindles but all reading! A good omen for the day perhaps?

One change to make at Southampton, and I got completely disorientated. I was facing the wrong way whilst travelling on the train. I needed to change platforms, but I could not get into my head that I wanted to be getting on a train going to Waterloo, which to me as a driver was going in the opposite way to where I wanted to be going. Asking a railway worker who looked at me rather scathing and said I need Platform One, and turned her back and when I said is this Platform One, she merely replied no it is Four.

I found Platform One, and I diverted to the conveniences which I have to confess were very clean and well-kept. Distant memories of rather unpleasant toilets come to mind when travelling on trains when I was a child. Anyway, back on the train and still facing the wrong way, travelling backwards. I got out at Winchester, still disorientated, came out the wrong door, could not understand the map I had printed off and the rain coming down, I went down the wrong road. In the end I popped in their Discovery Centre (posh name for a library) and they pointed me in the direction of where I wanted to be Milner Hall

A real tucked away little place, which you would probably miss especially when the weather is against you. But go through the archway and

I will let the plaque outside to tell you all about Milner Hall.

Once I got there, settled myself collected my name sticker and information. I grabbed a coffee and chocolate cake which was a great way to begin a day. I will say it ended with tea and lovely scones as well! I was good though and took my own lunch, so I could remain in control of my eating and not just head for the nearest eating place and eat the easiest and quick thing.

Instant observations about the event; there were around 80 people, of which only about 8 were men! A great age range and also people had come from as far afield as Scotland, Sheffield and Norfolk for the day. I perhaps foolishly thought they would all be relatively local like myself. There were some and I only bumped into them at the station on the way home! It was a bit squashed in the hall, same room for the seating, refreshments, the stage for the discussion and the shop and book swap.

So what did we do – there were three authors attending the event all published by Orion – Veronica Henry, Katherine McMahon and R.J.Ellory (links will take you to their website). Three very different authors and they with Guy Pringle (publisher of newbooks) asked them questions which had been sent in and discussed the process of writing, subject matter and genre to name a few covered subjects.

When the reminder email came through about the event, there was the option to ask some questions and so I emailed back three, not for anyone in particular but across the board. Flatteringly Guy mentioned me and my questions on the off chance that the discussion did not go anywhere. My questions were not needed, but in case you want to know what I asked, not really profound but…..

1. What books would they recommend to read?
2. What novels have they really tried to read but just cannot get into and therefore remain sadly unread?
3. Is there a genre of novel that you wish you could write about but currently don’t?

Up first was Katherine, I had only read one of her previous novels. The Crimson Rooms and loved it and learned from her when getting another of her books signed The Alchemist’s Daughter that there is to be a sequel to Crimson Rooms and also that her mum thought The Alchemist’s Daughter was a bit racy! It was interesting to hear how she comes up with the idea, the genre and how actually although actual people feature in her novels e.g. Florence Nightingale in The Rose of Sebastopol it is merely in a passing reference not to give voice to those people. I do love historical fiction.

Following her was R.J. Ellory the one author I had not read any of. All I can say is once this man starts talking it seems very difficult to get him to stop. Not because of what he is saying is utter rubbish. But because he was articulate and made so many valid points I wish I could remember them now to share with you! The one that sticks in my mind is the fact that many people are not sure whether he is female or male just from the name. I am hoping that I have cleared that one up here! The other was why he based his books in America, when he is clearly very British. His thoughts on American and Americans made me chuckle and I did laugh at the person who was so desperate to show him this building which was built in 1901 and was over a hundred years old. The American decreed that this was amazing. Oh to shatter their illusions of the many buildings in this country.

I purchased one book at random, and he kindly signed it for me and actually made the time to question my surname and ask its background. I look forward to reading his book and certainly learning more about his writing. He was a very popular choice of author for many of the audience. I would dearly love to hear him talk again. I was tipped off by a fellow reader whilst there to check out his videos on YouTube.

The third author, Veronica Henry, I have read a number of her books and also follow and chat with her on Twitter. I was excited to meet Veronica, who recognised my name from Twitter, thank goodness not by the picture (This will only make sense to those on Twitter) and signed one of her novels for me.  Veronica has also been a scriptwriter and I asked whether there was a point when the novel writing and the scriptwriting got confused. The answer was no, but actually with novel writing you are in complete control of everything, you have to bring it all alive for the reader. Scriptwriting is putting words into the characters mouths, the rest of the atmosphere for want of a better word is created by the lighting, the setting, etc. It is all someone else’s concept. At least with reading, all the images are in my head and I can set up the lighting and the atmosphere as the words come off the pages!

It was interesting to learn that such authors as Veronica never get mentioned in the newspaper reviews which is a shame (although I think newspaper reviews consider themselves to be a cut above what has apparently been called mum-lit) so I am certainly recommending her novels, and I really do not care which genre they fit into and whether the newspapers mention them or not.  Cracking good reads and I look forward to her latest.

Much talk was about kindles and ebooks, it is a sign of the times I suppose. Antony Keates is the marketing director at Orion and gave us some interesting facts about ebooks; for example it actually takes longer to publish an ebook and costs more than an actual book. And that Sony started with ebooks in around 1992, but it is in recent years that the phenomenon has taken off.

When asked how many people had an eReader , I would say probably about 65 people put their hands up (myself included). Very interesting to see and the inital feeling I got was that it was more for convenience than anything else i.e. travelling and the thought of lugging great big books around. In fact Katherine McMahon was reading Middlemarch and found it easier on her eReader.

The secondary question to that was, how many of those with eReaders still purchased paper books. A very enthusiastic myself included, hand raising said that nearly all of those with eReaders still purchased paper books. Only one or two were now solely confined to their eReaders. One point was raised was the way as an English language we say ebooks and actual books, as one lady pointed out they are all books it is just the format in which we read them is different. No doubt that is a debate which will go on – if I have used actual books, I am referring to paper books.

So despite sales of ebooks rising, paper books declining and independent book shops closing what does the future hold? Who can say, although Anthony made an interesting parallel point; first there was vinyl records, we progressed to cassette tapes, which were over taken by the cd, that are fading away because of downloads, and now what is the biggest seller, vinyl records? Makes you think doesn’t it?

So with a brief respite for lunch, unfortunately weather was still not great, a quick wonder in some of the shops, I had forgotten how much I like Winchester, a coffee and cookie in a coffee shop to warm up. I returned to the hall for the afternoon session which was about the magazine itself, its conception to where it is now, about reviews and Alison who coordinates it all and about the French retreat which sounds idyllic and if it was at a time when I could get off work, I would love to go.

It was an interesting day, with a lovely goodie bag to take home with a couple of books, in which I ended up swapping one of them on the train station with a fellow attendee because she had read it, so I got VIII by H.M. Castor and Watchman by Ian Rankin (which I was pleased about as never read any Rankin). From the book swap, I got The Confession of Katherine Howard by Suzannah Dunn and I did have another one in my hand but I was convinced I already had it at home so I put it back (I did not I since discovered). Some lovely cards and a readers journal made for a pleasant poking about in the bag whilst waiting for the train home.

There I got talking to two ladies, who live relatively near me and we swapped thoughts on the day (besides books) as well as some recommendations for future events – West Meon Festival of Books (I have since book for three of the events) and the Guildford Book Festival Readers Day in October which I am going to try and go to.

The train journey back home was far less traumatic, I think I was so tired I just let it all wash over me. I was grateful for the car at the station as the thought of walking home in the wet and rather damp atmosphere did not fill my heart with joy. I thoroughly enjoyed the day and was really inspired and stimulated, it has given me great thought, especially as I have not been exactly challenged at work and that I know one thing, I absolutely love reading!

6 thoughts on “Readers’ Day – Winchester

  1. It sounds like it was a great day out. I hate having to change trains, getting on the wrong train is something I dread. Winchester is a long way to go from Scotland but the Readers’ Day would have been a good excuse to have a break down there. It’s on my list of places to visit.

  2. It sounds like you had a great day, despite getting a bit lost on your way there! I’ll have to check out that magazine, so thanks for mentioning it 🙂

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