A post from our Service Development Manager, Angela Goreham – about what RBKC Libraries have to offer.
R Research for a project that interests you B Booking a PC, a place at an event K Knowledge as we all need this C Connect (to others in the community and the wide world)
L Lending items for your pleasure or information I Information that will help you with your day to day or forward planning B Baby activities and information to help new parents R Reading – a core skill and past time in any format A Access us at any time and from anywhere R Resources – varied and plentiful, in different formats to suit different needs
Y Young and old – we’re here for everyone
Are you 1 in 840,344? Or maybe you are 1 in 515,004? They’re odd numbers you might say, but the first one is the number of times the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea’s libraries were visited between April 2017 and March 2018 and the second is how many items were borrowed during the same period – how many did you account for?
104 people from our local communities supported the Library Service by volunteering with us and over 40,000 people came to one of the events that we held.
They are huge numbers but we always want to beat our previous year’s figures so please come along to one of our libraries, find out what we can do for you and you can help us pass last year’s numbers.
There are six libraries within the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea – find out more about them and what we offer by either visiting us in person or our website or you can call us on 020 7361 3010.
This is guest blog post from Liz Ison. She works for The Reader and looks after the Book Break reading groups that run in Kensington and Chelsea . Over to Liz to tell us more…
Do you love stories, poems and great literature?
Would you like to find out what shared reading is?
Did you know that there are many shared reading groups going on in your local neighbourhood running every week?
Meet The Reader, an organisation that is passionate about the power of reading together.
We at The Reader are the pioneers of Shared Reading. The volunteer Reader Leaders who run our weekly groups, bring people together to read great literature aloud.
Groups are open to all, readers and non-readers alike. Come along and listen to stories and poems read aloud. It’s an opportunity to read and talk together in a friendly and relaxing environment. Free refreshments provided!
Our shared reading groups have been running locally for many years bringing shared reading to the residents of Kensington and Chelsea. We work in libraries, community centres and other organisations spreading the joy of shared reading.
Here are what our group members have to say about shared reading:
“I’ve felt really happy since the session with you —bought myself some flowers the next day…and went for a long walk while listening to music— all in one day. Our happy thoughts trigger happy chemicals in our brain.” Aysha
“An anchor during the week”
“It always makes me feel more fulfilled than the other days”
95 % look forward to the group as an important event in the week
84% think the reading session makes them feel better*
Here are some groups to try in our local libraries:
We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place later today (Monday 23 April), which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website
Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – this is the second part and the third and final part will follow next Monday. You can catch up with the first and second part here
We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…
A Berlin Love Song is about a travelling circus. What’s so alluring about circuses?
I love the circus. I’ve always found it romantic although I’m a great animal lover and I’m very glad we don’t use performing animals any more. Research into the circus in Germany was one of the most enjoyable parts of my research for the book. It was light relief from the Auschwitz research and what it was like to be bombed and how it felt to be in a tank during a horrific battle. There was so much I had to read that was upsetting, so learning about how to fly the trapeze and ride horses bareback was something of a relief. I actually watched the most amazing film about the Flying Codonas called Swing High that you can see on You Tube so I have actually seen Alfredo Codona perform his triple somersault. I also saw him perform it in the film Vaudeville where the Codonas were doubles for the actors. I watched this particular sequence over and over again when I was trying to describe what it looked like and what it felt like to be up in the dome of the Wintergaten Theatre in Berlin about to swing out over the audience below. I also thoroughly enjoyed researching Fredy Knie, the owner of the Swiss Circus where my characters find employment during the war. His circus really did appear at the Wintergarten during the winter of 1942/43 when the Wintergarten was bombed. He really was in his twenties at the time and one of the most famous horse trainers in Europe. He had a reputation for kindness to animals and that’s why he got on so well with Lili and her family. I hope I’ve done his blessed memory justice in my fictitious portrayal of him.
When I was a girl I loved the song: Gypsies Tramps and Thieves by Cher. I used to lie in bed at night listening to it on my record player and imagining the life of a travelling show. If you look at the beginning of the chapter in A Berlin Love Song called Circus Petalo you might hear strains of this great song:
I was born in the wagon of a travellin’ show
My momma used to dance for the money they’d throw
Papa would do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel
Sell a couple bottles of doctor good
Gypsies, tramps and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us gypsies, tramps and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down …
My chapter entitled Circus Petalo begins: I was born in a wagon in the middle of a show, amid the smell of canvas and sawdust, greasepaint and cheap perfume …
What were the hardest aspects of creating this book? What were the most satisfying?
The hardest thing about creating this book was the amount of really gruelling research I had to do – research that kept me awake at nights and sometimes made me despair of human nature. Man’s inhumanity to man and what seemingly ‘normal’ people are capable of doing to each other is always horrifying and sometimes I felt I couldn’t read another word about the subject. My visit to Auschwitz was harrowing, especially as I had by that time read so much about the camp that my imagination was running riot.
Then when I started writing, I had the very difficult task of how to express this horror and suffering in a story that on the one hand shone a light on this ghastly subject but was also uplifting and hopeful. Because during my research into the Holocaust I also came across so many stories of heroism, true selflessness and hope in that darkest of times, that I felt I wanted to share with my readers. Working out how to combine together the two aspects of this heartbreaking time in a narrative, without belittling the one and over-romanticizing the other, was a real challenge for me. I hope I’ve succeeded. I hope it not only raises awareness about a topic I feel has often been overlooked, the Romani Genocide, but also expresses my own world view – that it is and has to be possible to find hope, wonder and love in the midst of despair, degradation and hatred.
The most satisfying and enjoyable parts of writing this book were possibly recreating the folk Romani tales. I read lots of wonderful Romani folk tales but none of them seemed to fit exactly into my story so I set about using authentic ones but amalgamating and rewriting them for my own story. I didn’t feel bad about this because the nature of folk tales is that people pass them on with their own embellishments for their own reasons. Folk tales often reflect the concerns of a particular people at a particular time and so mine, whilst firmly rooted in the Romani tradition, have my own stamp on them. I really loved writing them. I also very much enjoyed writing the dialogue, particularly amongst the Hartmann children. I suppose as a mother of 4 young adults myself I have listened to countless family ‘disagreements’! I know how young people talk to each other and how merciless they can sometimes be in their teasing of each other – sometimes cruel. Writers usually have to use their imagination to create unknown worlds but I didn’t have to look much further than my own kitchen table for a rich source of dialogue for the Hartmann children!
We hope you enjoyed our interview with Sarah, and hope to see you at the event this evening. Do book a place – it’s free- via the link at the top.
We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place next Monday 23 April, which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website
Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – this is the second part and the third and final part will follow next Monday. You can catch up with the first part here
We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…
How did you go about doing your historical research?
I’m meticulous about historical research. I try to be as historically accurate as I can. I’m very aware that sometimes a novel might be the only literature a reader will read about a subject, so I feel I have a certain obligation not to mislead. Of course, you can always say that a novelist isn’t a history teacher and if the reader wants to know about history they should read a history book – but I know lots of people who enjoy historical novels who wouldn’t read non-fiction.
I try to do as much research as I can. It helps me to create that ‘authentic voice’ that is so important to me. There are lots of excellent diaries and contemporaneous accounts written by Germans. I also read German newspapers from the time to see what was being reported and what sort of propaganda was out there. In addition to diaries and memoirs there is a mountain of black and white photographs and newsreel to watch, so finding out about clothes and how the streets of Berlin looked, for example, was not a problem. Sadly, there are also many pitiful photographs of Auschwitz. I visited Auschwitz more than once to see it for myself, but there are plenty of contemporaneous photographs too. Through this research, I was able to piece together in my own mind what Auschwitz must have looked like. When I was researching the Romanies I read as many accounts as I could find by Romanies who had been in Auschwitz and managed to escape or survive there to the end of the war. There are not many of these, but those I found I read avidly. I also bought a book when I was visiting Auschwitz – part of a series called Voices of Memory. It’s full of accounts by Romanies of what it was like to be incarcerated there.
I always go about my research in the same way. I start by simply reading. I read and read around the subject and as I do the plot begins to form in my imagination. I read serious history books about the period and memoirs written by real characters from the past. Gradually my characters start to emerge from the mist and then I create ‘character boards’ – A3 pieces of card with photographs and little bits of imagined dialogue, descriptions of how my characters might look, what they might have worn, and what their personalities might be like. I write reams of notes from books about all sorts of subjects which might or might not be relevant in the end. I have big A4 notebooks I buy from Rymans divided up with coloured dividers and I label each section. So for example, for A Berlin Love Song, I had sections entitled: Hitler Youth, the Hartmann family home, Air Raids, Music, Propaganda, Religion etc. I had a separate A4 note book for the war years, each year 1939 – 1945 having its own section. I then researched weather for every day of every year of the war. You can obtain weather reports for years gone by. The internet is wonderful! So, every day in my story has the correct weather and for the bombings the correct phases of the moon, and every bomb mentioned was dropped at the right time in the correct weather conditions. When writing about the bombing of Berlin, I listened to a really harrowing recording I found on YouTube of an Allied bombing raid, actually recorded in the cockpit of a Lancaster bomber as it flew from England to drop its bombs over Berlin. I found it terrifying, chilling, nauseating … words can’t describe how I felt as I listened to it. War is so terrible. It affected me for days.
Some of the accounts you must have read in order to illustrate what the characters in the book went through in the prison camps must have been very difficult to read. How did you cope with this?
It was very difficult. Sometimes I felt so sickened by what I read that I felt I couldn’t carry on with the research, especially when I came to the detailed research about Auschwitz. I suppose the way I coped with it was always to try to find the good people amidst the despair and horror of it all – the Jewish prisoner doctors who worked tirelessly to help their fellow prisoners and the few SS who tried to help people get on the transports out of the camp. Alongside the many accounts of inhumanity and degradation that I read, there were many stories of bravery and selflessness to counterbalance the despair that I sometimes felt. I tried to concentrate on the uplifting and nourishing stories of people who risked their lives to protect others, rather than on the stories of inhumanity. Many, many people collaborated with the Nazis, but there were also many in Germany who actively assisted victims by purchasing food for households to whom shops were closed, providing false identity papers for those at risk of arrest, and sheltering those who evaded capture. I hope that A Berlin Love Song ends with a message of hope.
Nazi Propaganda posters encouraging young people to join the Hitler Youth
Did you have the opportunity to speak with members of Hitler Youth and Romani survivors?
My father had a close friend, Pastor Knott, a German Lutheran pastor who he met after the war. My father got to know him when they were working together in Coventry on a post-war reconciliation project. Pastor Knott had been forced to join the Hitler Youth as a boy. His family were anti-Nazi but it was the law in Germany at that time that you had to join up. Your parents could be sent to concentration camps if you didn’t and children who didn’t join could be sent to orphanages. Pastor Knott spoke a lot about this when I was younger and I remember him well. When I was writing A Berlin Love Song I wished he’d still been alive for me to ask questions, but I did find a wonderful TV programme online about the HY and there were lots of old men talking about life in the HY, so I listened carefully to their interviews and took notes, and some of my dialogue and descriptions were inspired by these interviews.
I also read all the first-hand accounts of the war by Romanies that I could find, but I couldn’t find any living ones to speak to. The problem is that people who were teenagers in the war are now very old or will have already died. Also, I’d have needed to find them in Germany and I couldn’t manage that. However, I did find about 4 hours of recorded interviews with Dina Gottliebova, the Czech Jewish artist who worked in the Zigeunerlager – the Gypsy Family camp in Auschwitz. She was forced to paint portraits of the Roma for Dr Mengele for his book on genetic research. She was an old lady in the recordings but she spoke so vividly about her memories of the Roma and the Romanies she had known and painted that they came alive in my imagination. She was the most amazing, lovely, generous hearted woman, and the relationship she had with Lili in the novel was inspired by these interviews that I watched.
I also knew two Auschwitz survivors very well indeed. The mother of my best friend at university was a Polish Catholic intellectual who’d been in the Resistance and had come to England after the war. She was terribly badly affected by her experiences in Auschwitz. She suffered from serious depression for the rest of her life. Our next-door neighbours when I was a child growing up had also experienced life in a concentration camp. They were German Jewish refugees and Mr Adler had been in Auschwitz too. They were great friends of my parents. He was a very skilled dentist. It had a profound effect on me as a child – seeing a proud professional man with his own business cry when he talked about his experiences during the war.
We’ll be back next Monday with part III, and please do book your free place for our event with Sarah, link at the top.
For April, I’ve chosen the poignant ‘Birdcage Walk’ by Helen Dunmore. As we are celebrating female authors, I felt it was appropriate to choose a novel that explores how a female writer from the eighteenth century could be completely forgotten by history.
‘Birdcage Walk’ is set in Bristol during the outbreak of the French Revolution. The main character is Lizzie Fawkes, a young woman conflicted by the ideals instilled in her by her radical, writer mother and her sense of duty to her husband. We witness how all the characters are affected by the revolution in Europe. Lizzie’s feminist mother and her friends welcome the change that the revolution promises. But for Lizzie’s husband, a property developer, the uncertainty the revolution creates means disaster.
I thought the plot was brilliantly unpredictable and all the characters were complex and well rounded. I felt the prologue added an interesting perspective as before we even meet any of the protagonists, we learn that their story will be almost entirely lost to history.
My favourite aspect of ‘Birdcage Walk’ is how personal it feels, as despite being historical fiction it gives an intimate view of one family’s life.
We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place on Monday 23 April, which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website
Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – the first part is today and the second and third will follow on the next two Mondays. We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…
The fate of the Romani people in WW2 has been called the ‘forgotten holocaust’. Why do you think it’s important that we don’t forget what happened to them?
Many people have little or no knowledge that the Roma were targeted by the Nazi regime on racial grounds and that up to half a million Roma died during the Second World War. Despite the welcome opening of the beautiful memorial in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in 2013, today the Romani community remains one of the most disliked and least tolerated minorities in Europe. And alarmingly, anti-Romani hostility is on the increase, aggravated by growing far-right extremism. The Roma are still scapegoats, frequently victims of prejudice and racially motivated attacks, hate speech and hate crime, and facing discrimination in nearly every country where they live. I believe that now more than ever we must stand up against prejudice and hatred when we see them in our own communities. The Holocaust all happened a long time ago, and yet millions of men, women and children have been murdered since in genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. In today’s world, racial abuse and hate crime is still very much in the news so it is more important than ever, as the people who witnessed the Holocaust during WW2 are growing older and dying, to keep the memory alive of what can happen when prejudice and hatred are left unchallenged.
A Berlin Love Song also reflects on what happened to normal German families at the time and the difficulties they faced. Was it important to include this perspective?
Since A Berlin Love Song is set entirely in Germany and about Germans, I felt it was essential to make sure that the story was told exclusively from the German point of view. I was very careful not to read anything about the home front in England to make sure that my characters had an authentic German feel. There is so much written about the home front in England that it would have been very easy for me to rely on those sorts of books, but I was very careful not to be tempted. It wasn’t too difficult as there are lots of diaries and memoirs written by Germans who lived through the war years and many of them are published in translation. I have schoolgirl German but I was very relieved I could read most of them in English. I did have to tangle with a couple of books in German that I couldn’t find in translation and it was very time consuming. I was also very careful to try to write without the benefit of hindsight. The challenge of writing historical fiction is that the characters cannot know what happens next even though the writer does, and you need to bear this in mind when you are writing, so that events from the war years feel contemporary and authentic, and that conversations and people’s reactions to events feel right for the time.
We’ll be back next Monday with part II, and please do book your free place for our event with Sarah, link at the top.
Katherine Arden is the author of the Winternight trilogy, three books based on fairy tales set in snowy, medieval Russia. She will be at Brompton Library on Thursday 5 April and she will read from her new book, The Girl in The Tower and answer questions about her stories.
Today, Thursday 8 March is International Women’s Day; a date to inspire and celebrate women around the world, a celebration that began for over a century ago. It started with the campaign for better pay and voting rights and this is particularly pertinent this year as 2018 marks 100 years since women were first given the vote.
To celebrate, we will be reviewing one book a month written by inspirational female authors.
We’ll start things off with the electrifying ‘The Power’ by Naomi Alderman.
Like a lot of great plots, ‘The Power’ is based on a “what if?” idea. What if women suddenly had the power to cause incredible pain with the flick of their fingers? This is exactly what happens in this novel and we get to witness how this changes everything on a global scale.
Although we are shown the impact on the entire world, the book focuses on four main characters. There’s Roxy, the teenager from a criminal background who discovers the extent of her new found ability, and there’s Margot, ambitious for more political power. Then there’s Allie, who walks away from her troubled childhood to become the leader of a new religion. And there’s Tunde, a young male reporter who witnesses the dramatic global events unfold.
I loved how much this book toyed with my emotions, as one minute I was euphoric and the next horrified. It is impossible to read this without reflecting on how its themes of power and the abuse of power affect the world today. This will appeal to fans of Margaret Atwood and anyone ready to view the world differently.
On the second Monday of every month, our graphic novel reading group meets at Brompton Library.
The group is run by David at Brompton Library, and he spoke to three of its members to find out what they like about the group and their favourite graphic novels.
What is it about the reading group that you enjoy?
In this my first year , what impressed me was the range of the graphic novel form. I started reading comic books as a kid and then came back in the 1990s by discovering the subculture with its fairs and cons, trying out books like Joe Sacco’s Palestine and manga like Akira. The diversity I discovered through the group is reflected in members’ choice of works and how we discuss them. Other readers’ focus on imagery has certainly advanced my appreciation of how to discuss sequential art.
What has been your favourite graphic novel that you’ve read?
My joint favourite works this year were both mentioned in the group: Democracy by
Alecos Papadotos, Abraham Kawa and Annie DiDonna, which is historical fiction, and Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, a teenage novel.
Democracy tells the story of one turning point in the history of ancient Athens. It satisfies both as a story and as an introduction to the subject. It has an art of strong colours with an edge of blackness but it’s no lecture. Ghost World is a narrower canvas with smaller panels and is the tale of a friendship in a small town – two girls growing up and growing apart. It seems that as well as mind-challenging futures, like Ghost in the Shell, a ‘graphic’ can tell a simple story like this with all its resonance in pictures and character. Reading it on the tube seemed more involving than sheer prose, even though it’s not fantasy as such.
Lastly, my time in the group has convinced me that the ‘graphic’ still has great possibilities which haven’t yet been fully explored.
Ghost in the Shell
What is it about the reading group that you enjoy?
I’ve really enjoyed being a club member for exactly that reason; it’s helped introduce me to great reads that I would have never have investigated on my own, as well as giving me access to comics I’ve wanted to read for a long time. Plus, it’s been really fun getting to know the other members too. Before I joined, I was apprehensive about not being accepted, as I didn’t have much knowledge about certain comics. But now, I really look forward to and enjoy spending at least an hour a week discussing our thoughts on the comics we’ve read together, especially because we’re all from very different comic-reading backgrounds so everyone can have very different perspectives and opinions.
I was also happily surprised at just how many graphic novels and manga titles the library has to offer. I can really recommend a lot of the available manga, but one in particular that we read with the group was, 20th Century Boys written and illustrated by Naoki Urasawa; This was a series I had really wanted to read for a while. It’s an incredibly gripping conspiracy drama with cleverly thought out engaging characters and a cliff-hanger ending with every volume so it was great to get the opportunity to read a lot into the series using the library’s copies.
All in all, joining the group has been one of the simplest, most rewarding things I’ve done in 2017, and I really recommend to anyone interested in comics or graphic novels, to join us in 2018!!
What has been your favourite graphic novel that you’ve read?
My favourite read this year has been Transmetropolitan written by Warren Ellis and co-created and designed by Darick Robertson. I usually read manga/Japanese comics, and joined the library’s graphic novel group to expand my reading into more western-style comics. Transmetropolitain is a great mix of weird, surreal, pseudo-political, futuristic sci-fi that I really enjoy. I think it has a great script, strong and funny characters and fabulous artwork to give depth to the whole universe, and I probably never would have discovered it without the group.
What is it about the reading group that you enjoy?
What I like about attending the reading group is that we get read things I wouldn’t necessarily want to read myself, but it allows me to hear from from other perspectives what resonates with them about the books. Because there is no standard format for comics in terms of art style or presentation, people tend to gravitate to different elements of a graphic novel, and it’s nice being able to see what types of art have the most impact on people. I like that a couple members of the group are also interested in other social events related to comics and it’s a good opportunity to learn more about what wider comics events are happening around London, and who is involved. It’s a great starting point to open you up about the possibility of involving yourself with other comics events.
What has been your favourite graphic novel that you’ve read?
My favourite graphic novel that we read at the library’s reading group this year was Miracleman by ‘the original writer’ aka Alan Moore. The story really drew me in as it explored some ideas I didn’t expect to see come up. I could see the beginnings of how Alan Moore would approach deconstructing the concept of the superhero and the world they live; an idea that he would take even further in Watchmen. But honestly I felt that of the two books, Miracleman was the easier to digest. It was more of a personal journey and transformation of one guy discovering what it means to be a superhero in the real world. Delving into the toll that the title of ‘supehero’ would take on you and the ones around you. Including the sacrifice of one’s humanity, and being forced to ascend into something more. Which came with its own questions of how the world would regard such a being. I read ahead onto the further volumes and appreciated how the story evolved into something grander each time. It focused on the progressively wider circle of influence Miracleman had on people in life, the world around him, and the possible utopian or dystopian futures he could bring about.
Many, many thanks to Mike, Lara and Tari for sharing their thoughts with us. They’ll next meet on Monday 12 February at 6.30pm and they’ll be discussing The Flintstones by Mark Russell. Like to get involved? Email email@example.com for more info.
We are very excited to announce that in April author, Katherine Arden will visit Brompton Library. Katherine is the author of The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower, the first two books in the Winternight trilogy. She will read from the third book in the trilogy, The Winter of the Witch, which is due to be published in August this year. The trilogy is inspired by the fairy tales and folklore of medieval Russia that Katherine read while living there, and set in its snowy landscape.
To celebrate her visit, we will be reading the first two Winternight novels during February and March. Join us on Thursday 8 February when we will be discussing The Bear and the Nightingale which has been described as haunting, lyrical and a beautiful deep-winter story full of magic and monsters.
In a village at the edge of the wilderness of northern Russia, where the winds blow cold and the snow falls many months of the year, an elderly servant tells stories of sorcery, folklore and the Winter King to the children of the family, tales of old magic frowned upon by the church.
But for the young, wild Vasya, these are far more than just stories. She alone can see the house spirits that guard her home, and sense the growing forces of dark magic in the woods…
‘Frost-demons have no interest in mortal girls wed to mortal men. In the stories, they only come for the wild maiden.’
These books are suitable for children aged 14 years plus. Katherine says:
“My absolute favorite thing to hear from a reader: ‘I read your book and then I gave it to my daughter.’”
To get your copy, please visit Brompton Library, or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get a copy sent to your local library.
If you’d like to attend the special reading group meeting in February, please book a place via Eventbrite
Edited to add – the next meeting of this special reading group will be on Thursday 8 March where they’ll discuss the second book in Katherine’s trilogy, ‘The Girl in Tower’. For more info or to book your free place, please visit Eventbrite