They're mad in Bolton - mad for literature, it seems. There they are up in what you might think were the wilds of the north of Manchester and they have this vibrant theatre and a university with an English department that has been running well-attended readings for the public.
Last night I was privileged to have been asked to be one of the readers, and John and I set out after dark to drive up the motorway. A week ago we'd driven at a similar time of day on the same bit of motorway, so we knew we'd be stuck in traffic, though as we went to the car through driving rain and huge swirling leaves, we thought we were being ridiculous leaving one and a half hours for a journey that should take only 30 minutes. Huh. It was after one hour and ten minutes in a rain-swept traffic queue on the blackness of the motorway that we pulled up outside the Octagon Theatre where the reading was to take place. It had actually stopped raining, but I honestly didn't think anyone would have turned out in such conditions to hear me and poet Tony Roberts read. How wrong could I be? People were already gathering when I got up into the room, and in the end the room was practically full, with not only university students but members of the public. All of them writers, it turned out, all of them madly into literature, all really keen to talk in the interval, and many of whom, bless them, eagerly bought books. (Pics below.)
It was a lovely evening.I loved being back in Bolton where I once taught for a while at the university, I loved Tony's reading - he and I swapped books, my Balancing for his Outsiders, which I am going to relish - I loved chatting to the audience members, and it was exceptionally nice to be introduced by poet and professor Jon Glover - who produced a copy of the original edition of The Birth Machine and showed it to the audience, and got me to sign it!
Sadly at the end we learned that the readings, which have continued uninterrupted for the past thirty years or so, have been affected by the cuts and are suspended for the moment. A very great shame, as they clearly provide a service to this literature-hungry community - I talked to Thomas, an A-level student very keen to be a writer, and to a 53-year old man who has done an Access course in English and is going on to do a degree. It is hoped, though, that the readings will start again in the new year.
Thank you so much to Lauretta Evans and Jon Glover of the university who hosted the reading, to the Octagon, to Sweetens Bookshop who sold the books, and to the great audience.
And we swept back down the nearly-empty motorway in 30 minutes flat!
Le Mans Crescent in the wet, snapped from the Octagon Hospitality Suite where the reading took place:
The audience gathers:
Jon Glover introduces us:
Talking in the interval to A-level student Thomas:
The book piles going down:
The question and answer session: