40 years of reading

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Forty Years of Reading

First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Ilkley Literature Festival. Copyright Š Ilkley Literature Festival www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk The members of Ilkley 40 Years of Reading Group and Leeds Black Elders have asserted their rights under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988 to be identified as the authors of this work. All rights reserved. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study, research, criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, electrical, chemical, mechanical, optical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the copyright owner. ISBN 978-0-9572349-3-2 Design: Richard Honey at dg3 Print: AB Print Group

AN ABUNDANCE OF RICHES Forty Years of Reading

By members of Leeds Black Elders and Ilkley 40 Years of Reading Group Edited by Glynis Charlton and Katy Massey




In 2013 Ilkley Literature Festival asked freelance writers Glynis Charlton and Katy Massey to work with two locally based groups to explore how four decades of books and reading had affected their lives. Glynis Charlton worked with long standing Festival goers in Ilkley and Katy Massey with members of Leeds Black Elders in Chapeltown, Leeds.

Our thanks to them and to all the other individuals who gave their time and energy to contribute to this project. This book is the result of their work over the past six months.

Hassan Hatim Alphia Levy

Robin Martin Sally Wolfe

Clinton Cameron


Connie Bedworth Brian and Maureen Lawrence Jean Laycock Bob Rowe Maura Fisher-Peake





3 Forty Years of Reading

Forty Years of Reading

Odessa Stoute

Sue Hunter



Moses Griffin






4 8 12 16 20 24 28

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“I flew here. It cost £85, which was a fortune then. It took 3 days. I lived in Chapeltown at 144 Chapeltown Road. I just thought I’d come for two or three years and go home. I worked on the plantations at home, sugar cane and cotton. Before I came here, I went to Florida. In those days the young men used to go to West Tampa, Florida picking oranges and grapefruit. I went over for 11 months, but I had to leave after the job ended.

I first worked at Skelton Grange Power Station, near Hunslet. I was working with asbestos, lagging the pipes – nobody knew then that it was dangerous. I still have a bit of it on my lungs..

I didn’t do that long, because they said: ‘You have to work nights’. I said, ‘Where I come from, they sleep nights!’ But they said: ‘Give it a try.’ But when I went in to work, I fell asleep. They said to me: ‘Well, I’m sorry, you’ll have to go.’”

Ikley and Leeds Forty Years Ago

Forty Years of Reading

those days, that’s why the houses are so black. Coal merchants got their coal by horse and cart from the deliveries into Ilkley station. The railway lines went through where M&S is now and there was a cast iron bridge across Brook Street.”

money! Right away, the others them see the wage I’m getting, everybody started to come down!


Ilkley in the 1970s

“In those days, Ilkley was run down. The whole of the railway station was in a bad state of repair, with a taxi drivers’ hut on the forecourt and a wooden flower hut, no bus station. The station yard, where the buses now turn, was a coal yard. Everyone was burning coal in

Before I got here I thought the wages were good. I first worked at Skelton Grange Power Station, near Hunslet. I was working with asbestos, lagging the pipes – nobody knew then that it was dangerous. I still have a bit of it on my lungs. For me, that was a good place, because everywhere in the winter is cold, but there it was warm. So, the first wage I got here was £16 a week. That was a lot of

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Ilkley Literature Festival was founded in 1973. The late Paddy Rowe was the organisation’s first part time secretary and stayed with the Festival for many years. She was joined in 1974 by June Haworth. Paddy’s husband Bob recalls those early times and a very different Ilkley:

Moses Griffin from Leeds Black Elders remembers a very different Leeds when he came to England from St Kitts and Nevis in the 1960s:

Moses Griffin

Paddy Rowe Back in Ilkley, Paddy Rowe was also facing a difficult work situation. As her husband Bob says: “When Paddy worked for the Festival, she was a bit of a Girl Friday. This was before mobile phones, bank cards and computers, of course. There was no permanent Festival office, mostly because there was never any certainty about whether it would continue the next year. So they had to negotiate offices wherever they could get them, and this meant there were some horrible ones.

Another year, the Festival office was in Kings Hall, which was a scraggy old place in those days. Then there was another one along the back of The Yard, up above the old stables. It was still cold – that was always a problem wherever the Festival team went. They had no phone, so messages had to be sent elsewhere. It was like Fred Carno’s circus – but they had terrific enthusiasm.”

L to r: Maura Fisher-Peake, June Oldham, Paddy Rowe in the Festival office, early 1980s

Having volunteered for the Festival from the beginning, Maura FisherPeake joined the staff team in 1981 as a much needed administrator. She recalls suddenly being asked to make six pairs of curtains for the office above the stables, a space donated by Madame Avis, a well known local figure: “Well, I mean, what with rushing around all over the place and being

a young mum, I didn’t have time to make six pairs of curtains, so I went to a friend of mine and said ‘can you make me six pairs of curtains?’ and she did! It was f-reeezing in that office, absolutely freezing. You only worked a few hours, then you came away, had something hot to eat, and went back in again. Then of course you had to go off at half three and pick up the kids.”

Forty years on, Ilkley is the biggest literature festival in the North of England. It stages over 250 events across a hectic 17 days in the first two weeks of October each year for an audience of 26,000 people. The line-up includes headline events with famous writers, poets and thinkers; discussions, poetry readings, master classes, events for children and young people; literary walks, an exhibition at the Manor House Museum and a lively free Festival Fringe. The annual Festival is complemented by a year-round programme of workshops and projects with schools and community groups in inner city Leeds and Bradford; regular ‘one-off’ events; a weekly group for young writers aged 12–18 and an annual Young Writers’ Summer School.

7 Ilkley and Leeds Forty Years Ago

Ilkley and Leeds Forty Years Ago

One was in the railway station, in an old porters’ room with a leaky roof, so Paddy and June had to circumnavigate the puddles. But every morning the railway staff lit a big fire in there for them.

Street performance in 1970s Ilkley © Margaret Gathercole

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Jean Laycock, who also helped during the early years, fitting the work around her teaching commitments, continues to be a loyal supporter and has been a Friend of the Festival since the scheme was introduced: “When the Festival started it was the only one in the north of England. I remember them saying when we had a meeting ‘we’ll be the first one outside that one in the south.’”

Books at an early Festival © Margaret Gathercole




Ever since the first Festival in 1973, which included a special Puffin Club children’s tea party and an event with children’s author John Rowe Townsend, events and projects for children have been an important part of what Ilkley Literature Festival does.

Far less enjoyable was her first encounter with Dickens: “Some great aunt gave me Our Mutual Friend when I was about eight. I thought ‘Ooh, it’s a great fat book – how yummy!’ Imagine – Our Mutual Friend for an eight year old!” Clinton Cameron recalls how he helped to develop his children’s reading habits:

Puffin Club tea party at the 1973 Festival © Margaret Gathercole

I would read anything I could get my hands on.

Robin Martin recalls his love of books as a lad: “I would read anything I could get my hands on. My brother signed up for a book club, so I remember reading A Town Like Alice when I was about eleven.”

As an adult, Robin has also read all the Harry Potter series. However, little matches his love of Lord of the Rings, first read as a boy: “I’ve read it five times and seen the film three times. I just adore being in that world. Tolkein created an alternative England … I think he got the essence of Englishness.”

Storyteller Taffy Thomas at the 2009 Festival © Paul Floyd Blake

Sue Hunter, a Festival steward and audience member, would “rather like to live in one of those Hobbit homes.” When it comes to reading, she has never been deterred: “When I was a girl, the librarian told my mother what books I’d been taking out. She didn’t approve of my reading in the first place, so … Well, that just made me even more determined. My Dad had bookcase

upon bookcase of G A Henty books – Custer’s Last Stand and what not – and I used to love those.” Sue also remembers enjoying Lord of the Flies: “I could imagine a load of nasty little boys descending to be like that, to be honest. It brings the bad out in everybody, they’ve got to survive.”

“I’d take them to the library at Compton Road in Harehills. And I rushed home from work in the evenings to read to them. I’d just read them whatever book I was reading at the time from T. S. Eliot to Stevie Smith, especially her poem Not Waving But Drowning.” As a parent, Sue did the same: “It’s a great pleasure to read aloud with small children, but larger children also regard this as a treat. When I was a single mum we’d sometimes have bedtime reading aloud sessions – even poetry – and we’d share much loved books and poems.

9 A Journey Into Childhood

Forty Years of Reading

These days, the Festival stages a Children’s and Young People’s weekend during the Festival featuring lots of exciting things to do and authors to meet, which is visited by 2,000 children and parents.

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Children enjoying an event at the 2012 Festival © Paul Floyd Blake

Sally Wolfe

When I took my children on holiday I used to give them a book each – one side plain, one side ruled – so they could write or draw their experiences. I still enjoy looking through some of these.”

“I’ve always loved its week of birthdays – ‘Monday’s Child is fair of face’ and so on – and I still refer to it if someone has a baby and I’m sending them a card.” As a former librarian, Sally was familiar with the debate about Enid Blyton and political correctness: “but children don’t give a hoot … they just want a good story.”

Jean Laycock remembers some of the many writers who have appeared at the Children’s Festival, particularly Alan Garner, whose books she used as a teacher: “He was a very clever man. He wrote a book called The Owl Service, based on the Welsh Mabinogion, which I only used with my bright 13 year olds. Later on, he wrote one called Red Shift and came to speak about it.

Sally Wolfe

Robin wholeheartedly agrees:

I took my son, who was then 16 or 17, and when we arrived there were lots and lots of mums with little kids, because they’d heard he was a children’s writer, and he gave a talk that would have done credit to an Oxford academic! In the middle of it, he suddenly said ‘I once had a letter from a woman in Leeds saying she couldn’t understand what I’d written’ and this woman sitting next to me said quietly to me “I wrote that letter!”

A good story is something that makes them think …

Top: Jean Laycock in foreground laughing © Paul Floyd Blake Bottom: Odessa Stoute and Moses Griffin

“ ”

Mother Goose: an early favourite for Sally Woolfe

11 A Journey Into Childhood

A Journey Into Childhood

“A good story is something that makes them think, makes them reflect and takes them out of their daily lives. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, for example – they’re cracking stories, so children can read the books and take the stories literally, but they also very cleverly get you discussing what a soul is.”

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For Sally Wolfe, a Festival steward of many years’ standing, Mother Goose was an early favourite:




“At school in Jamaica we were taken through the local reading books with characters like Mother Hen, Percy the Chick, then on to some of the local rhymes by people like Tom Redcam, with things like Wilfred the Weevil, who was terribly evil. I owe my interest in literature to a teacher called Miss Leslie who stalked me throughout my primary school career. Every year, when I changed classes, she would follow me. I could never shake her off. She was very hard on me.” The Festival knows just how much children value the chance to meet authors and try their hand at writing something themselves. Development worker Dawn Cameron collaborates with a wide range of schools, including ones

Clinton Cameron

in inner city Leeds and Bradford, bringing authors into school, setting up workshops and enabling older students to create their own author events for their feeder primary schools. And schools across Yorkshire are encouraged to bring groups of students to hear authors who are speaking in the main programme at the Festival: Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Benjamin Zephaniah, leading scientists, novelists, historians and economists – they’ve heard them all. As Clinton Cameron says about his own childhood: “The best part of all this was when Miss Leslie introduced Shakespeare. We would have been probably about 11 or 12 years old. Each year, the school would have a concert in December. One year we were due to tackle The Merchant of Venice. I was far too shy to be given a part and if I was given one, I would do all I could to get out of it.

“Nevertheless, I always learned all the parts, and could recite any part of the play the school was

producing from scratch. Even now, all these years later, I can remember the excitement of Mark Anthony’s speech and Portia’s court speech.”

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Forty Years of Reading

I owe my interest in literature to Miss Leslie who stalked me throughout my primary school career. Every year, when I would change classes, she would follow me.

It goes without saying that books play a vital role in school. Clinton looks back on his introduction to them:

turning up barefoot when everyone else would be dressed in their shoes and best clothes.

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Clinton Cameron

For one thing, I would never attend the concert because we lived some 3 miles away from the school and would have had to walk all the way there and back in one evening. But, above everything else, I didn’t have any shoes, and wouldn’t dream of

Sue’s Shakespearian experience, on the other hand, was quite the opposite:

L to r: Sue Hunter, Robin Martin and Sally Wolfe

We were taken through Charles Dickens, sitting under a willow tree in 90 degree heat, trying and failing to imagine scenes from A Christmas Carol.

Before the advent of the internet, encyclopaedias were seen as a solid and reliable font of knowledge and were often a popular school prize. Sally recalls:

“In the 1970s one of my earliest jobs as a librarian was to go out into schools to encourage children to read. I met one head teacher in a primary school, who said: ‘We’ve got some books, they’re in a cabinet in my office, I’ll go and find the key.’ I was appalled. The only books in that primary school were in a locked cabinet and even then they were all encyclopaedias etc. – there was no fiction.” Robin remembers the encyclopaedia from his childhood:

Encyclopaedias featured in Sue’s house too: “Whenever my brother misbehaved it was the discipline in our house to be sent upstairs. So my brother would be sent up to his room and there he read all of the Arthur Mee encyclopaedias.” At school, Sue loved fiction … a little too much:

Bernadine Evaristo leads a workshop at a recent Festival

“I used to get into trouble because I was always reading ahead, because the story was so exciting, so when it was time for me to read I didn’t know where we were meant to be.” For Sally, tracking her reading through the decades shows just how little fiction she read in earlier years: “In the 1970s I was living with a flatmate, wearing suedette and listening to Beethoven and The Beatles. By the ‘80s, I was wearing thick stockings, flat shoes and pushing a pram. Jazz came along, plus Rachmaninov – it was all very exciting and dramatic. For years I was so snowed under with academic reading and text books, always reading for a purpose, studying for my Masters and

my librarianship and bringing up children. I don’t think I ever fully read a text book properly – I learned to scan them with my mind. So now, fiction is a real indulgence.”

15 A Journey Into Education

A Journey Into Education

“We had an Odhams Encyclopaedia in our house. My dad bought the first volume from a travelling salesman. It was quite a thing for him to do, because he never read himself, but he wanted me to do better at school. Then I think the company went bust, so we never got any more.”

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“School just absolutely killed Shakespeare for me. It was always meant to be performed, not to sit there and just read it out of a book. Now, if I’m ever anywhere near Stratford, I’ll always happily go and see a Shakespeare something-orother.”

Clinton remembers being taken through Charles Dickens: “… sitting under a willow tree in 90 degree heat, trying and failing to imagine scenes from A Christmas Carol.”




Some of Sue’s books have a particular kind of smell: “I think that was probably because of my three months at sea on my way back to Dubai.” She also loves the smell of her copy of Ten Twentieth Century Poets, published in the 1960s, which “smells all zold-booky.” In the great books versus Kindles debate, Sue is very clear: “I don’t keep up with all these gadgets. I like books. They’re tactile.

Sue Hunter’s copy of Ten Twentieth Century Poets

Maura loves both: “We’re going to Swansea to see the grandchildren soon and at the moment I’ve just started this great fat book, Sushi for Beginners, which is just so thick that one wouldn’t want to have to carry it on the train. So I’m just going to get a version on my Kindle. I do tend to use it only for travelling, but I think it’s wonderful to have. Or while you’re waiting in hospitals or whatever, you know, just to have it stuffed in your handbag.”

Re-reading also brings memories back for Sue:

Sue is not put off:

“I often have a strong association between books and music. I can’t read Madame Bovary without hearing Pastoral, because as I was reading it I was listening to that again and again and again because I just loved it, so the two for me are just inextricably linked.”

“I enjoyed Simon Schama’s book, Landscape and Memories, which is about 700 pages and extremely well bound, even though it’s in paperback. I was dipping into it to see what he’d got to say. ”

Books that are not written on can seem to be very buttoned up …

Annotating books For some readers of the physical book, personal annotations can be very special. Take Robin’s secondhand copy of Yeats: “It’s covered with somebody else’s scribbles all over it and I get just about as much pleasure from reading those scribbles as I do the actual text.” Sue’s copy of Ten Twentieth Century Poets is rich with annotations: “It’s full of scribbles absolutely everywhere. I found it really tough to analyse poetry when I was at school, but when I look back and read this book now, there’s some absolutely beautiful stuff,

including the Robert Frost poem Mending Walls. So now that I don’t have to think about the analysis, I’m loving it.” Sally feels that: “Sometimes books that are not written on can seem to be very buttoned up, especially reference books – they’re meant to be used. My Delia’s Christmas comes out every year and it’s embarrassingly grubby with all the crumbs and everything. With reference books, I think you do choose the version you think you can get along with better, so the choice itself says something about you.”

“ ”

17 A Journey Into the Physical World of Books

Forty Years of Reading

I don’t keep up with all these gadgets. I like books. They’re tactile. It’s delicious. It’s everything that’s good in life. You grow up with books as a physical thing. Curling up with a book is completely different from curling up with a screen.

“When I first discerned books I loved them for their smell. I would spend hours flipping through these religious tomes with dense, closetyped text and containing the odd black and white illustration of odd looking people. I loved the smell of the ink in new books and would sniff them. Much of what inspired or fascinated me was the music of words and the search for a kind of truth.”

It’s delicious. It’s everything that’s good in life. You grow up with books as a physical thing. Curling up with a book is completely different from curling up with a screen.”

“Today, books seem to be on the verge of becoming obsolete, so no more fascination with the smell of printing ink. I got a Kindle for Christmas and I’ve just about managed to set it up. It’s very good, being so portable and light, but it’s not a book. I haven’t yet worked out how to dip in and browse the way I do with a book. I love returning to books I’ve read before and just re-reading passages that bring back memories of things I was doing when I first read the book. I hope I never lose the ability and the facility to read. There is still nothing quite like getting lost in a good book.”

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Clinton remembers:

Clinton is undecided:

Sue Hunter’s heavily annotated copy of Ten Twentieth Century Poets

For readers resisting the Kindle, there are times when the size of the book calls for drastic action, as Sue says:

“What we do when we go on trips is we get the Rough Guide, although Lonely Planet seems to be more easily buyable, so we can have a background read. Another thing I do is to find literature that’s about the place that we’re going to.”

I came to Leeds, I was introduced to the public library and that changed my life.

Sally has a very organised approach to it all, which she says is ‘the librarian coming out in her again’:

Top: Sue Hunter’s well-thumbed Lonely Planet guide Bottom: Sally Wolfe’s Teach Yourself Norwegian, Sue Hunter’s Middle East guide and Robin Martin’s Greece and Yugoslavia on $5 A Day

Sheepscar Library interior: Adult Lending Library. By kind permission of Leeds Library and Information Services, www.leodis.net

Sheepscar Library Clinton clearly remembers his first visit to the public library: “I was 20 when I came to Leeds and was introduced to the Leeds Public Library and that changed my life. I was working less than five minutes away from Sheepscar Library. I was amazed at the abundance of riches available for free – all you had to do was remember to take back the books and renew them after two weeks. Like a child in a sweet factory, I had no idea where to start. My strategy was to turn right

through the door, start with the first shelf and work my way around the room. As it happened that section was non-fiction and started with the letter ‘P’. So I started reading all the books I could find on psychiatry and psychology – Freud, Karen Horney and others. But as I’ve grown older, I have turned more and more to fiction. Taking in American novelists such as William Faulkner and Philip Roth, and finding Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 to be one of the best

works of fiction in the last 50 years. I have also enjoyed Primo Levi, Dostoyevsky and British novelist Paul Scott, who wrote The Raj Trilogy. However, I’ve never got around to reading many classics like Pride and Prejudice. I have found many things in these books, but ‘truth’ evaded me. However, I would like to think that, although I didn’t find truth, I found something more valuable: I’ve come to terms with the limits of what I’ll ever know.”

19 A Journey Into the Physical World of Books

A Journey Into the Physical World of Books

“We have a couple of rows of books on travel in one of the bookcases in our house and then underneath, in the cupboard, in those big polythene things, there’s all the ephemera that we picked up on our last trip to France or whatever. They’re all A-Z. So that’s my first port of call when I’m looking for something on travel and we also have a collection of OS maps. if there’s nothing on the bookshelf or in the cupboard underneath, then I go to the library, if I was completely stuck then probably, 24 hrs before the flight, I’d rush into Waterstones and buy something..”

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“I did a lot of travelling so have amassed a huge number of different Lonely Planets, which is the one book I will happily cannibalise before a trip, so I only take the sections I need. Most of my Lonely Planets are therefore held together with elastic bands to keep the relevant sections together. I always bring back a book from my travels too, with all the beautiful colours. If somebody comes round and we get talking about the place, then it comes off the shelf.”

Robin is another fan of guide books:




You open Yeats to any page, any poem, you read aloud to yourself, give the lyrics meaning, rhyme and reason; first for the beauty of the text, then second for the meaning.

Robin Martin’s copy of W. B. Yeats

“I want to read a book which opens me up emotionally, which makes me laugh or cry or brings me both, so Random Acts of Heroic Love is a must. Bleak tragedy and despair, odd moments of comedy, faith in the future and that all will one day be well. Perseverance against all odds. This will nurture me and help me to keep carrying on, to have faith in being rescued if that is my destiny, or to accept non rescue and to make a new and worthwhile life for myself if there is to be no rescue.”

“Between 10 o’clock and 10.30 in the morning I read the Bible, but sometimes I read the Jehovah’s Witness Bible, or sometimes I read the Koran. Out of the Bible, Psalm 27 is my favourite. “When I was 23 I got pregnant with my first daughter, Norma, and I had to pack in my work at the hospital. When Norma was three months old she got ill. She shook, her face was twisted and her eyes turned back in her head. I rushed to the doctor with her and told him: ‘I think she’s got meningitis.’ And the doctor said: ‘Oh, no Mrs Levy. It’s just because you worked in the hospital that you think that. She’s teething.’ And he gave me some Bonjella. I’ve still got it. That was on the Wednesday, and by the weekend she was much worse. Eventually, my husband said: ‘Can’t you see she’s dying?’ This was Monday and I took her straight to the hospital. They told me it was meningitis. And they told me what I already knew: that she was dying. I put on a mask and a gown and I took her little hand, and I prayed:

21 Alphia Levy and her Bible

Dear God in heaven. You know how much I wanted this baby. And now you’re taking her back. If you leave her with me now, you can take her after Christmas. And the nurses got the priest, and the priest came, and he said: ‘She’s going back to where she came from.’ I don’t know what happened next, I didn’t fall asleep, but I went somewhere. There was a big massive gate and a giant man sitting on a bench. And there was a tree with silver leaves. And when he saw me he came walking towards me,

and either side of him there were beautiful flowers, so beautiful you have never seen them on this earth. I came to, still holding my daughter’s hand, and I declaimed: ‘She’s going to be alright. I said: ‘I have walked with Jesus, and she’s going to be alright.’ By Friday she was out of the incubator and propped up. So that is why I read the Bible and why Psalm 27 is my favourite: The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?”

A Journey Into Spirituality

Forty Years of Reading

“I was living in rented accommodation, working out my life. Divorced, single, a bit lonely, off to the pub for good times, jazz and conversation. I had this copy of Yeats that I got for 20p that I liked dipping into when I came home and I would read until midnight. It heightened my lyrical experience, because it was insightful and also musical. You open Yeats to any page, any poem, you read aloud to yourself, give the lyrics meaning, rhyme and reason; first for the beauty of the text, then second for the meaning. I don’t think I worked out my life, but I did find a validation of my own attitudes, beliefs, hopes, despairs, intelligence, thoughts, sense of self by Yeats and by many others – Dylan Thomas, Mervyn Peake, TH White – all humane.”

Sue, whilst ‘not particularly religious’, shares Robin’s love of insight through books. She reflects on what she would take to a desert island:

For Mrs Levy, meaning – and strength – comes from a very different source:

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Robin says insightfulness runs as a thread through all his past 40 years of reading. WB Yeats was an early influence, helping him to find meaning during the ‘70s:

Alphia Levy

Hassan Hatim For Hassam too, a book gave him strength:

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“The teachings of the Koran helped me to get through, but I don’t have one special copy of it, because I lost everything.

In 1997, at half past three in the morning, I heard my Dad shouting to me, my Mum and my brothers and sisters: ‘Wake up, wake up!’ We had guards who worked for us and he put us in one room with them. Within an hour we started to hear gunfire, shouting and screaming. Eventually, my Dad came and told us: ‘Just go! Run!’

Hassan Hatim

We ran out of the house, barefoot. My father stayed. We split up but as the eldest of my family I carried my Mum, who was then about 60, on my back. Every house had been destroyed. All we could see was fire and smoke. We hid in the woods and must have been attacked, because the next thing I knew I woke up in a Red Cross hospital in a refugee camp near Darfur. I asked: “Where is my Mum, where is my family?”

I didn’t find out what had happened to my mother, my sisters, my brothers or my father. I still don’t know. My family had had everything. When I woke up in the refugee camp, on what felt to me like the next day, I had nothing. After terrifying experiences in another refugee camp from which I escaped, a dangerous, illegal boat trip to Italy and three months walking across Europe, I arrived in France in 1999.

On 15 November 1999, I managed to pay the smugglers to open a lorry at the port and let us in. I got into a refrigerated lorry heading for England. Six of us got into the lorry and it was dark and very, very cold. We had no coats. We survived because the smugglers covered us in tin foil so we didn’t show up on the heat-sensitive cameras used to scan the lorries and find stowaways. Eventually, we knew we were in the UK and we shouted and screamed so much that the driver finally heard us and let us out. I was eventually given leave to stay. I came to Leeds to be near one of my cousins and I met Positive Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers who helped me a lot. I started to study and eventually got an MSc in Community Development Transformation. British people have been very kind to me, so generous and so friendly. Here, I got my self-respect back.”

“It was given to me 1st April 1945, by Christchurch Parish Church in Barbados. I was a Sunday school girl, and at Christmas Time and Easter Time we would get presents. It was my present for good attendance. My name then was Odessa Pilgrim, because Pilgrim was my parents’ name. I used to always keep this Bible on top of my dressing table. In September 1955 at six o’clock in the morning, a huge storm got up and we had to run out of our house. It was a shingle house, so we had to find somewhere to shelter. We looked for what we called a wall house, or a house made of brick, and sheltered with friends. When we came back, our house was shattered. We raked up as much as we could, our furniture was smashed and we picked out a few clothes to save. But under the tree in front of the house this Bible was laying. The outside got wet, that’s why it looks so shabby, but the inside survived almost untouched. I cried: ‘My Bible, my Bible’ and I hugged it to my chest.

Odessa Stoute’s Bible

Ever since then, wherever I went I took it. And so, when I come to England, I brought it here. I am going to leave it to my granddaughter, Ariel, when I go.” Like Mrs Levy, Moses has a favourite Psalm: “I read this small Bible, which was given to me, but I know a lot of it off by heart. My favourite Psalm is number 23: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters, he restoreth my soul. I grew up in St Kitts and Nevis and I came here in 1960 because my two brothers came. The Bible is the same where ever you are in the world.”

23 A Journey Into Spirituality

A Journey Into Spirituality

I am a Muslim from Sudan and came here when I was in my early thirties. My parents had a business, our house had 13 bedrooms and we had seven servants. I had two brothers and two sisters. We went to Syria, Egypt and Saudi on holiday. We had a car. We went fishing. It was a very good standard of living. Though the civil war had been going on for a long time we didn’t think it would get to our part of the country.

Mrs Stoute’s copy of the King James Bible is particularly precious to her:

An Abundance of Riches

I spent two months in the Sangatte refugee camp near Calais. Here, there was no food for us. In this place we were not human, we were animals. We went every night to eat out of the bins behind the local restaurants. People hear these things, or see them on television and don’t believe these things happen. I’m here to tell them that they do.





Poet W. H. Auden (on the right) at the 1973 Festival with the Bishop of Bradford

He wasn’t a well man and he emerged through a curtain at the Kings Hall, holding a load of books that he plonked onto the floor, muttered his way through and disappeared back through the curtain again ….”

Brian Lawrence was Chair of the Festival in the 1990s. He recalls W. H. Auden inaugurating the Festival on 23 April 1973: “He wasn’t a well man and he emerged through a curtain at the Kings Hall, holding a load of books that he plonked onto the floor, muttered his way through and disappeared back through the curtain again ….”

“Miss Leslie was passionate about William Wordsworth. She drummed the works of Wordsworth into our heads, writing the poems out on the blackboard. We were expected to learn them by heart. I found that I could soon remember the poems and loved the music of the language.” Robin reflects: “I think poetry gets to the real essence of something in a way that fiction doesn’t necessarily have to. I’m not sure about the longer poems though, the ones with a great long narrative, like Wordsworth’s The Prelude. Is that one all about the essence? I’m not sure. I only really remember one bit of it, the famous bit that everyone seems to remember, about him being out on a boat on a lake, with all these mountains looming above him.”

Sue had a pleasant surprise in relation to poetry when reading Vikram Seth. In the same way Festival audience members often say how much they enjoy going to events they know nothing about, or to see authors whose books they haven’t read: “Everything I’ve ever read by Seth I’ve always enjoyed, so I saw this book by him called Golden Gate, described in the blurb as something like ‘a witty story of 20-somethings looking for love, pleasure and the

25 Louise Bennett – ‘Miss Lou’, 1919-2006

meaning of life.’ I bought it, without even looking inside, and when I got it back home I discovered it was in verse … I hated page one and two, then by page three I was able to completely ignore that and I really liked it. I think he’s a brilliant writer anyway, and it didn’t detract at all from that. However, if I’d known earlier on that it was all in verse, I would never have bought it.”

Clinton remembers how: “The ‘Bard of Jamaica,’ the wellknown poet Louise Bennett, visited our school on one rainy afternoon, inspired us with her performance and tried to get us to write verse.” On another occasion: “We were introduced to Robert Burns and learned his ballads, tried to get our tongues around his lowland Scottish syllables.”

A Journey Into Language

Forty Years of Reading

“We curtained off that end bit, but there was no sound proofing, and downstairs there’d be a lunch going on. So there was all the noise of the cups and people talking and then there were people upstairs going “sshhh!” and then the others would get annoyed because they’d just come in for a lunch or whatever, so it was all very tricky.”

Clinton developed an early relationship with the language of Wordsworth:

An Abundance of Riches

An Abundance of Riches

Maura recalls the Festival’s early experiment with lunchtime poetry readings in the Winter Gardens:

Miss Leslie was passionate about William Wordsworth. She drummed the works of Wordsworth into our heads, writing the poems out on the blackboard. We were expected to learn them by heart. I found that I could soon remember the poems and loved the music of the language….”.

The Festival has a strong tradition of supporting works in, and translated from, other languages across the world. In 1981, for example, Magnus Magnusson gave a lecture on Icelandic poetry in translation.

Maura Fisher-Peake

“A friend of mine bought me a copy of No and Me by Delphine de Vigan in the original at a car boot sale. I never had time to read it, but then it came up for book group. So, because I didn’t have very long, I read it in English first then in French afterwards. As ever, if you read something in English, you don’t always like the translation.

Sally Wolfe Sally observes: “It seems to me there are certain books that we keep because the book has a connotation with our lives, which isn’t directly related to it.” She recalls one in particular: “I went off to Norway for the summer of 1970 and found myself working on a farm. The Norwegian language was all about hay and fields, so I tried to teach myself the words that I thought were going to come up in conversation with the farming family. They weren’t very talkative. However, I found myself being sort of adopted

by the local vet and his wife and children, because they felt that I wasn’t getting a reflection of true life in Norway by working on this farm, so they invited me for meals and things. There are handwritten lists still tucked inside my little copy of Teach Yourself Norwegian, where I’ve written the Norwegian word and the English Translation and then the date in the margin. I’d obviously given myself 20 words a day or something to learn. That little book made a great impact on my summer. Books guide you through life.”

27 A Journey Into Language

A Journey Into Language

In 1975 Ted Hughes appeared at the Festival, reading from his new work, Cave Birds, a sequence inspired by drawings by his friend, Leonard Baskin. With the drawings projected behind him, he read The Crow.

Sue enjoys reading in various languages, including French:

There have been some books in French that I’ve given up on. A few years back I bought a series, written by some guy on life how it used to be as a farmer, where it was full of things like hay and straw and everything. Well, I have enough difficulty telling them apart in English – so I just read that with a dictionary, which was not fun, but, once I’d got into it a bit, the way it read was lovely.”

An Abundance of Riches

An Abundance of Riches 26

Ted Hughes at the Festival in 1975 © Margaret Gathercole

Since then the Festival has hosted work by visiting writers in Russian, Swahili, Urdu, Farsi, Dutch, Xhosa, German, Welsh, Somali , Spanish, Zulu, Punjabi, Gujerati, Arabic and every year the Festival hosts an annual multi lingual Mushaira, or gathering of poets, which brings together some of the best poets

from the South Asian and white communities in the North reading in mother tongue and English.

Maura remembers it clearly: “I was standing at the back. He was just like a crow, all in black … and the hair and the voice …” It was certainly an eventful evening. Jean recalls: “It was a terrific night. It was so creepy … then this voice rang out and suddenly a woman had to be carried outside!”

Sally Hunter’s copy of Teach Yourself Norwegian with her notes Festival Mushaira, 2010 © Paul Floyd Blake




“O’Brien was a strong antiRepublican, who was on an IRA hit list. His appearance at the Festival set off a huge police alert. The senior police wanted to know every detail and they placed a security guard on duty at the Craiglands throughout.”

“In the Seventies I was all high heels and mini skirts. I got married, had babies. The only book I was reading that wasn’t to do with psychology and my Open University course was Dr Spock.”


Several years later, in 1981, Ilkley members of Amnesty International staged the Festival’s first ever Fringe event, a rehearsed reading of a play about the inquest into the suspicious death of the leading anti apartheid activisit, Steve Biko .

Programme cover from the UK production of the Steve Biko Inquest

Much loved books from the Ilkley group

Moses Griffin and Alphia Levy

The late 1960s and early 1970s were the height of the Black Liberation struggles in America. I became a voracious reader of books by Richard Wright and James Baldwin, who was a very influential figure at the time, with books like Go Tell It on the Mountain, Tell Me How Long the Train’s Been Gone, The Fire Next Time and Notes of a Native Son. Jean Paul Sartre’s work, especially Portrait of the AntiSemite, had a very strong influence on the people who wrote about the Black Liberation struggle.

I also read Franz Fanon’s The Wretched of the Earth, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man, and the autobiography and speeches of Malcolm X. This was probably when my seeking after truth was most active. My reading during that period influenced everything I did in subsequent years. It raised my political awareness and I became an active member of a number of political groups.” It wasn’t until 1984 that James Berry, John Agard and Grace Nichols

became the first writers of African Caribbean heritage to appear at the Festival – with News for Babylon. But from then on work by Black and Asian writers has been a key part of the Festival’s programme and artistic drive, something which has had an important impact on the lives of Festival audiences.

A Journey Beyond Borders

Forty Years of Reading

In the Seventies I was all high heels and mini skirts. I got married, had babies. The only book I was reading that wasn’t to do with psychology and my Open University course was Dr Spock.

Meanwhile, Sue had embarked on her Open University degree:

“In my late teens, some Americans donated a library which was full of what I even then thought was American propaganda, with books on John Foster Dulles’s Brink of War strategy and other American policies.

An Abundance of Riches

An Abundance of Riches 28

Through the ‘70s and ‘80s politics was an important Festival theme. Bob Rowe recalls the evening in 1975 when noted Irish writer and politician Connor Cruise O’Brien gave the Ilkley Lecture:

Clinton was still gripped by reading and had passed beyond his discovery of Micky Spillane and private investigator Mike Hammer:

Odessa Stoute

Sue remembers:

Just 12 years before the Festival began, Mrs Stoute arrived in England from the Caribbean. She is not only a reader but a writer:

But I never knew one soul. She thought that I would know them because we were all black people.

“I want to give my granddaughter, Ariel, a book that I helped to write over 20 years ago. It’s called When Our Ship Comes In and I tell some of my history in it. I want her to have it so that she knows our story.

The Tuesday, my husband, he said to me ‘Dessa, don’t leave home. Stay here.’ Anyhow, the morning came, and everybody just leave me in this house by myself. And I thought: ‘I can’t stay here, I don’t know what is what’. So I got dressed and took myself back down to the Labour Exchange and told them I wanted that job. I can picture it right now, after all those years. Montague Burton’s factory had a guard at the entrance, a man in uniform. So I went to this

Odessa Stoute appeared on the cover of When Our Ship Comes In

guy, and told him I’d come for a job, and he took me upstairs to see a lady. This lady was the manager of the whole factory. I can remember the clothes I had on. A nice pin-stripe blouse, ‘cause I never up to this moment bought something ready-made, I always sewed my own clothes. I was sitting in a chair and she said to me: ‘Stand up. So you made this costume?’ Costume she called it. I thought a costume was something you buried somebody in. But, I just come a couple of days, and I never heard these words before. So I said: ‘Yes’. And she said: ‘From now on you’ve got a job, and you will be a

“I was reading lots of business textbooks, plus lots of cross-cultural books, as my thesis was on cross-

She’s so up-to-date and fashionable this woman, and she’s asking me all these questions. Such as, if I cut by a pattern? But I never cut by pattern. If you bring me the yards of cloth, I measure you. And I got my fashion book. You pick a style, and I cut it by that style. I don’t know anything about using a pattern. That’s how we were trained. So, she signed me up and told me: ‘I’m going to put you with a nice lady and she will look after you.’ And she was a nice lady, called Mrs Adams. She made sure she looked after me. She was a white lady and I was the only black one. I didn’t know it then, but there was no black person at Burton’s who was a machinist. We were pressers or we pulled the basting stitches out of the fabric. But no black woman – and it was nearly all women there – had been a machinist, and there were hundreds of machinists. I was the first one.”

Over the last decade, each year the Festival has invited noted writers from abroad to Ilkley. The list is long and illustrious: Ashmat Dangor, Aslam Kamal, Richard Ford, Wally Serota, Donna Tartt, Michael Ondaatje, Maya Angelou, Gariiye, Chimanda Ngozi Adiche … Robin particularly enjoys Chimanda Ngozi Adiche’s work:

Maya Angelou speaking at the Festival in 2005

In the 1990s, the decade that saw Nelson Mandela finally freed from prison, the Festival hosted the Russian poet Irina Ratushinskaya, Dr Shabbi Akhtar on ‘The Muslim Imagination,’ and a ‘World Writers’ tour with leading authors from Cairo, Nigeria, Calcutta and the USA.

cultural issues. I joined several book groups and read books that were easily available in both Arabic and English. It was fascinating to have ‘East meets West’ discussions and to share different viewpoints based on our very different cultures.

“She wrote Half of a Yellow Sun, which is absolutely brilliant, and some wonderful short stories, each one of them a gem. She divides her time between Nigeria and the USA and a lot of her short stories are about going from one to the other. There’s a wonderful short story of hers set in Africa, which is a conference of novelists and it has a female heroine. It’s clearly extremely autobiographical, but very witty, very funny. It’s very perceptive about cultural differences – that’s what put me onto her.”

31 A Journey Beyond Borders

A Journey Beyond Borders

I left home on 16th September 1961 and I reached Leeds on the Saturday … On the Monday my brother in law he took me down to the Labour Exchange to sign on. And I told them that I was a dressmaker by trade, and they told me I would get a job straight away.

“I went to see Donald Woods in 1988 and took along my impressionable teenage daughter. He was talking about the wrongs of apartheid. It was a great discussion and we both had a really good discussion about apartheid afterwards which we might not have had otherwise.”

By the ‘Noughties’ I was still in Dubai, but working in a more cosmopolitan environment, with students of over 80 different nationalities. I was still enjoying several book groups, reading books by Arabic and Iranian authors, and anything travel related or with an exotic background, as well as contemporary novels.”

An Abundance of Riches

An Abundance of Riches 30

machinist. We have a lot of your kind of people working here. You will know them.’

At the same time, cultural differences were playing a major role in Sue’s life. By the 1990s she was a single mum living in Dubai, working two jobs to make ends meet, then studying for her MBA:

Connie Bedworth Connie, who has been a Festival steward for many years, remembers one Festival in particular:

There were exhibitions to accompany the reading events and Mohani was exhibiting his art work with Balraj Khanna at the Manor House Museum and Gallery. His pictures were for sale, but the one I fell in love with cost something

like £80. It was a lot of money to me then – today you could add a nought to that. I didn’t buy it and I’ve always regretted it. But at his event I found his reading so powerful that I wanted to buy this book. He was signing his books after the event, so I queued up. When I got to the front, I told him about the picture and, as well as signing his name, he did this drawing for me. I’ve treasured it ever since.”

An Abundance of Riches

An Abundance of Riches

“It was so much smaller then, but in 1986 the whole festival focussed on Indian writers who wrote in English. Some of them even came all the way from India. This was the first festival I went to and it led me to buy some of the books I found out about and read them. This particular book, Through Brown Eyes by Prafulla Mahanti, is all about

him arriving in Britain in July 1960 as a qualified architect. He came to Leeds where he studied town planning, and it describes his shock at the racial prejudice and loneliness he experienced.


33 Forty Years of Reading

A Journey Beyond Borders

Odessa Stoute and Hassan Hatim at Leeds Black Elders


Connie Bedworth with her copy of Through Brown Eyes

The picture Prafulla Mahanti drew for Connie

Audrey Johnson, and other staff and members of Leeds Black Elders who were so welcoming to us.

Dawn Cameron, llkley Literature Festival, Development and Outreach Worker.

Connie Bedworth who attended the LBE sessions as a volunteer and was a great support.

Laura Beddows, Ilkley Literature, Festival Administrator.

All photos not otherwise credited, except Steve Biko poster: © Glynis Charlton and Katie Massey.


Clinton Cameron

9 The Grove, Ilkley LS29 9LW tel 01943 601210 email admin@ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk www.ilkleyliteraturefestival.org.uk www.facebook.com/ilkleyliteraturefestival @ilkleylitfest #ilf40 Registered In England and Wales Company No: 1061343. Ilkley Literature Festival is a registered charity. Charity No: 501801.