Harrogate International Festival launch the Reader’s Afternoon Tea

Share your reading passions

Share your reading passions - Credit: Getty Images/Ingram Publishing

Share your reading passions with writers and other readers at the new Readers’ Afternoon Tea, says Sharon Canavar

When juggling a thousand different priorities, working ridiculous hours and surviving on the amount of sleep that my daughter thinks I should be allowed, it is reading that can put my tired brain to rest. From an early age reading took me away from my perfectly nice but sometimes humdrum childhood. Be it at an early favourite of The Magic Faraway Tree, battered red hardbacks from Enid Blyton to Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys.

Reading under the covers after lights out was an ongoing battle with my parents, as I explored different worlds and exciting lives, whether flicking back and forth in the ‘choose your own adventure’ series to hiding Judy Blume from my mother when I reached my teenage years.

The reading didn’t stop as I started my career and in the days before e-books and with a daily four-hour commute, I often had a book on the go and a spare in my bag just in case I faced the terrifying prospect of finishing a book before the end of the journey. Never in all those adventures did I imagine I would have books on tap or have the privilege of meeting so many best-selling authors, let alone as part of my job. Here at the Harrogate International Festivals we host over 300 authors per year through our three great literature festivals, but these wonderful, busy literature weekends are only one element of why we at the Festivals believe reading is so important.

As an early avid reader, it is terrifying to read statistics that state one in four children cannot read well by the time they leave primary school, and only one in five parents find time to read to their children. It is proven that reading for pleasure is more important than either wealth or social class as an indicator of success at school, but when only 40 percent of England’s 10 year-olds have a positive attitude to reading and 46 percent of 10 to 16 year-olds don’t read for pleasure, these statistics start to be a real concern for an arts charity with literature at the heart of our annual programmes.

This year we welcome Ann Cleeves as our Programming Chair for the Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival. She’s worked with me since the crime festival was established in 2003, very firmly putting readers at the heart of our Festival and she’s been championing them ever since. This summer we are delighted to be working with Opening the Book, who actually invented the phrase Reader in Residence, on a new innovation - the Reader’s Afternoon Tea. Join us for tea and cake, Harrogate-style and share your reading passions in the company of other readers and writers. Talk books, talk crime and talk writers in this fun and friendly Festival curtain-raiser.

Ann was our very first Reader in Residence before the Festivals had even considered the benefits of literacy outreach and she has helped create a phenomenal legacy for our organisation. Thanks to Ann’s forward thinking approach, we now have an annual Big Read that covers the north of England. What’s more the Festival has created relationships with schools across the district with our Children’s Festival and special projects like Kids, Spies and Private Eyes,and has now excitedly yielded our latest partnership with Lend Me Your Literacy (LMYL), allowing us to deliver a year-round digital Crime Festival and online community through our You’re Booked website.

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The festival hosts free reading events across the North, has donated over 10,000 books to new and emerging readers and wants to share the passion of reading. We want to shout from the rooftops that reading is a gift that we want to give. Let us take you to new destinations, explore different times and discover interesting characters.

In her speech to launch the 2015 Crime Festival programme, Ann Cleeves said: ‘When I was a small child I discovered the word “wanderlust”. I’d never travelled but I knew that I wanted to and that wanderlust was what I suffered from. Since then most of my travelling has been done vicariously through books.’n

Sharon Canavar is chief executive of Harrogate International Festivals