A Curious Joy Forever

cabinet of curiosities
A classic Cabinet of Curiosities. We can’t guarantee a crocodile skull in ours.

If the sun’s out and there’s a garden to sit in, my Keatsian friend Mike Sims and I like nothing better than putting together an afternoon of readings from Keats’ poems and letters for the delight of a Romantically-inclined audience. Our fifth annual ‘A Joy Forever‘ summer event is coming up at Keats House in Hampstead on 1 July. This year, our theme is The Cabinet of Curiosity – we’ll be creating an imaginary museum of the artifacts Keats owned, thought and wrote about, and captioning them with your best loved poems and writings.

‘a little claret-wine cool out of a cellar a mile deep – with a few or a good many ratafia cakes’ were ingredients in Keats’ recipe for a good life, as he wrote in a letter to his sister Fanny. We’ll provide the equivalents, and you can buy tickets here.

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Crowd Sourced Poems

I’ve been taking part in the Radio 3 Free Thinking Festival in Gateshead this month, compiling crowd-sourced poems. This one was made from the dreams of the Young Poets Network at the Poetry Society, and this one is a combination of Utopian ideals pulled from the Poembola by visitors to the Festival at the Sage.

#TheDarkisRead

susan cooper letterWell, that accidental Twitter book club was one of the most extraordinary gathering of the bookish tribes I have ever been involved with – thousands and thousands of people all over the world reading a 40 year old children’s novel and responding with music, palindromes, biscuits, sculptures and – most moving of all – parents’ accounts of sharing the book with a second generation of readers.

This is the note that Susan Cooper sent to Robert MacFarlane (she’s happy for it to be shared) and reading it, the nine year old me had to be revived with burning feathers.

Thank you so much to everyone who took part, especially to Rob for his boost to the initial idea, Keith who ran the accompanying #theartisrising sideline, Jon who soundtracked us and Canada-based The Dark is Rising Readathon for their support. Here’s the mention we got in The Guardian, and I’m doing an interview with Australian National Radio about the project next week, joining the Signs all the way round the world.

#TheDarkisReading: A Midwinter Reading Group

Hello to new visitors in search of #thedarkisreading, an unexpected Christmas delight. Read on!

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‘This night will be bad, and tomorrow will be beyond imagining…’ tweeted @RobGMacfarlane, posting a photo of a gift copy of Susan Cooper’s classic children’s novel The Dark Is Rising (1973).

‘A wonder!’ I replied ‘I reread it every Christmas too – maybe we should have a twitter book club on it this year … ‘

Thousands of retweets, messages and retweets later, here we are. This winter, join over a thousand other people in a worldwide real-time read of Susan Cooper’s seasonal fantasy.

We’ll start (as the novel does) on Midwinter Eve / 20th December, and run through until Twelfth Night / 5th-6th January (the day the novel ends).

How does it work?

Very simple. The group is joined by the hashtag #TheDarkIsReading (thank you @mattlibrarian for that stroke of genius). Conversations, reflections, contributions can be searched for under the hashtag, and new threads started using it. Just jump into any conversation you’d like to be part of, or start one yourself.

Each day, @RobGMacfarlane and @juliamarybird will also post at least one question or prompt from their Twitter accounts. Christmas excitements might mean that timings are not always precise!

You can read the novel in one spellbound sitting, or ration it out until 5th. Completely up to you.

As well as thinking through the novel’s landscapes, characters & language, we’d also love people to share their memories of reading TDIR, as well as other responses inspired by the novel.

What do I need to do to join?

Nothing apart from to have a copy of the book, a Twitter account, and be ready to read and respond, however you’d wish. It might make sense to follow @RobGMacfarlane & @juliamarybird, but the hashtag means you don’t have to do so to take part.

Do I need to read the other books in the sequence?

The Dark is Rising is the second in a sequence of five books, but it stands alone. You don’t need to have read Over Sea, Under Stone to make sense of TDIR.

 Can children join in?

Yes yes yes! One of the extraordinary powers of the novel is its ability to speak up and down the ages. As a rough guide for parents thinking of getting their children involved, Will Stanton – the novel’s young hero – turns eleven in the book’s course. The novel is eerie and unsettling, but not violent in any explicit way.

If you’d like a brief non-spoiler introduction to the novel and its powers, here’s something Rob wrote about what he calls ‘The eeriest novel I know‘.

A tiny bit of legal stuff: please be aware that Susan Cooper’s book (its text and all its illustrations) is copyrighted, so if you want to quote from the text or tweet pictures of covers and illustrations, you will need to credit the author / illustrator. If you’re creating your own artwork, please put your name to it, and if you are adapting other people’s artwork, please credit them. Any works using the title or characters or the words from the books may not be sold commercially.

Finally, just to clarify that this isn’t an official scheme like World Book Day or National Poetry Day, nor is there any profit-making aspect to it. It’s just an idea that’s taken on its own wild life, born of a passion on our parts – and thousands of other people’s – for a novel that has a huge power to drive deep into the imagination, and stay there.