Sunday, 29 January 2012

Next Saturday is National Libraries Day

Saturday 4th February is National Libraries Day. Set up last year in response to threat to libraries around the UK, it aims to be a nationwide celebration of libraries, librarians and library staff across all sectors. If you’d like to take part, you can click on the link above to find out about events near you. Or you can buy or borrow, The Library Book, published especially for National Libraries Day, in which twenty-three writers, from Alan Bennett to Zadie Smith, describe libraries real or imagined, why they matter and to whom.

More Libraries in Upheaval

The situation for libraries in the UK is changing so fast that the Library Cat column in the February edition of Words with Jam was out of date almost before the final proofs had gone to the printers. So here is a flying update.
Celebrations in Gloucestershire, when a judicial review ruled in favour of the protestors are starting to look as if they might have been premature. The council has published new plans, emphasising concern for equality. (The grounds given for ruling the original closures unlawful were that the council had failed to give due regard to issues of equality.) Seven libraries and five mobiles under threat compared to ten and six last year, but the library budget is to be halved over two years.
Thirty-one library authorities now have at least one library run by volunteers, without a professional librarian on the staff. We have also now had the first ‘community’ library to propose charging for membership. Bexley Village Library in London has been taken over by the charity Greener Bexley, who are offering additional benefits to those users who are prepared to pay for privilege.
Suffolk is going ahead with the idea of setting up a charitable trust to run its libraries. Several others are considering following suit, among them Ealing, Durham, Warrington and Greenwich. But there seem to be hints that the tax relief for such trusts will soon be lost.
One such not-for-profit group looking to move library provision is GLL, which currently operates leisure centres in the south-east and may be poised to take over libraries in Greenwich, Croydon and Wandsworth. But the prospect of libraries in the UK being outsourced to private profit-making companies may have receded. The American company LSSI, which had stated that it wanted to take over 15% of UK libraries within five years, has backed off, telling the Independent, “we're still waiting to see if the UK is ready yet for the idea of library privatisation.”
Essex and Kent councils are employing an American debt collection company, Unique Management Services, to collect unpaid fines for library books. Kent estimates that is has £100k in unpaid fines, and Essex £650k. But the individual amounts recovered are likely to be tiny: the largest fine incurred in Kent last year was £25.
The Parliamentary Select Committee on Culture Media and Sport finished collecting written evidence for its enquiry into Library Closures on 12th January, and we are now waiting to hear who will be called to give verbal evidence before the committee.
Meanwhile, the response from Secretary of State Jeremy Hunt and Minister Ed Vaisey remains a deafening silence.
On Tuesday 13th March, library campaigners from around the UK are due to lobby Parliament to protest at cuts to services around the country and the continuing uncertainty over the government’s role in defending them. They are calling on everyone who loves libraries to join them at Central Hall, Westminster (1 Wimpole Street) at 12 noon.

Sunday, 22 January 2012

22 Britannia Road - Our 1st anniversary podcast!

This is our first anniversary. Yay! The podcast has been going for a whole year. And our anniversary podcast comes from an old friend of the magazine, Amanda Hodgkinson. She reads the opening chapter of her book, 22 Britannia Road.

At the end of the Second World War, Silvana and eight-year-old Aurek board the ship that will take them from Poland to England. After living wild in the forests for years, carrying a terrible secret, all Silvana knows is that she and Aurek are survivors. Everything else is lost. Waiting in Ipswich is Silvana’s husband Janusz, who has not seen his wife and son for six years. He has found his family a house and works hard planting a proper English garden to welcome them. But the six years apart have changed them all. To make a real home, Silvana and Janusz will have to come to terms with what happened during the war, accept that each is different and allow their beloved but wild son Aurek to be who he truly is.

When 22 Britannia Road came out in hardback last year, it was chosen as one of Waterstone's 11 best debut novels of 2011. The paperback edition is coming out on 2nd February, and we are delighted to announce that it has been named as the Orange New Writers Book of the Month for February.

You can listen to the podcast at If you like what you hear, please don't forget to click to let us know!

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Bookcrossing at the Starbooks Occupation Library

A couple of months ago, I wrote about the Starbooks Occupation Library at Occupy London’s now threatened camp outside St Paul’s Cathedral.
Housed under the same canvas as the Tent City University, which runs lectures, music gigs and poetry readings, the library’s atmosphere is cheerful and welcoming and the selection of books is eclectic. “No porn and no Barbara Cartland,” the middle aged man in charge told me. “Apart from that we’ll take anything.”
The library operates strictly on an honour system. Those who borrow books are trusted to either return them or replace them with another donation. Or for a small donation, you can buy a book. While I’m there a teacher makes a donation for an old copy of Teach Yourself Speaking and Debating. “I work with a group of young boys,” she says. “This is just the sort of thing I need to help build their confidence.”
On my first visit, I had no books to leave at the library, but a week or so later, I went back with two that I had registered on Bookcrossing. I had a feeling that a book set free here could end up having quite a tale to tell. And I was right. This morning, to my delight, I received the following notice, passed on by the Bookcrossing Alert Robot:
I found this book [The Women’s Room] at Occupy London's Library and was told that I could take it home with me if I wished. I had hoped to bring it back to Occupy Boston, but encampment was shut down the very day I flew home (to Boston). Now it's in Massachusetts with me, and I'll take it up to Saratoga Springs New York in a few days where I plan to pass it on.
Can’t wait for the next instalment!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Joseph Škvorecký, Czech Writer and Publisher

One month after the death of Vaclav Havel, his fellow dissident writer and publisher, Joseph Škvorecký, has also died. Škvorecký fled to Canada after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia and set up 68 Publishers which, for the next twenty years published dissident Czech and Slovak writing banned in his own country.

Last year, WWJ published a review of his novel, The Cowards. It's republished here, as a tribute to a fabulous writer who should be much more widely read.

We were all sitting over at the Port Arthur and Benno said, ‘Well, it looks like the revolution’s been postponed for a while.’
‘Yes,’ I said and stuck the reed in my mouth. ‘For technical reasons, right?’

I happened to have been searching out Czech literature written behind the Iron Curtain recently, which is how I stumbled across The Cowards.

Set in the final week of the Second World War, The Cowards tells the story of Danny, saxophonist in the best jazz band in Czechoslovakia. Danny has grown up in the small town of Kostalek, near the border with Germany. For most of the war, the town has been under Nazi occupation. But now the occupying forces are on their way out, the SS are retreating from the Eastern Front, the Red Army is advancing and everyone in the town is talking about Revolution.

Danny quite fancies the idea of being a revolutionary hero – provided it means he can persuade the elusive Irena to go to bed with him. The reality is something else again. Conscription, tedious military drills, pointless patrols – all this just gets in the way of making music.

Throughout the book, Danny fantasises about the girl he will meet in Prague, the one who will make him forget even Irena – something which lends a touching note to Škvorecký’s dedication, ‘To the Girl I Met in Prague’.

The book is a wonderful evocation of what it is like to be a teenager - self-obsessed, image conscious, writhing with hormones and muddled ideals. When all that comes hard up against the brutal realities of War, it’s as if Holden Caulfield has walked into the pages of Catch 22.

Jeanne Nĕmcova’s translation cleverly captures the way these kids have modelled themselves on the films and music of Britain and America. When the British POW’s leave on the train, Danny is half aware that his hopes are leaving with them – but we know better than he what his future holds.

Written in 1948, when Škvorecký was 24, The Cowards was published ten years later, when it was immediately banned by the Communist authorities, who couldn’t tolerate Danny’s irreverent attitude to the sacred concept of Revolution. Škvorecký left Czechoslovakia after the Warsaw Pact invasion in 1968 and settled in Canada. There he set up 68 Publishers, which continued to publish banned Czech and Slovak literature until the Velvet Revolution in 1989.

Funny, moving and brutally real, this is a book that deserves to be much better known in the West.

Catriona Troth

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Small Fish

Our first podcast of 2012 is the opening chapter of Pete Morin's fabulous legal thriller, Diary of a Small Fish, read by the author.

When Paul Forte is indicted by a federal grand jury, everyone suspects prosecutor Bernard (don’t call him “Bernie”) Kilroy has more on his mind than justice. Then the FBI agent in charge of Paul’s case gives him a clue to the mystery: Kilroy is bent on settling an old family score, and he’s not above breaking the law to do it.

Paul is already dealing with the death of his parents and divorce from a woman he still loves. Now, with the support of an alluring grand juror, Paul must expose the vindictive prosecutor’s own corruption before the jury renders a verdict on his Osso Buco.

Who ever knew playing golf could be a federal offence...?

Diary of a Small Fish is published in paperback and as an ebook.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

If in Doubt, Invent Your Own - your chance to win a printed copy of WWJ AND invent new meanings to words

- a new initiative from the makers of Words with Jam

How many words do we have at our disposal? The OED lists over 500,000, not including scientific terms and most teenage expressions. In comparison, German has a vocabulary of less than 200,000 and the French only half that, even when you include words they stole from us, like le weekend, le snacque-barre and le hit-parade. So, yeah, we like totally rule.

But the thing with words is that there are never enough of the bloody things, and we continually find ourselves using hand-gestures, sulking and mindless violence to get our points across instead. So, are you fed up with being grunted at by husbands, continually hearing “fine” and “nothing” from your wives and nursing your swollen and bleeding knuckles after yet another alcohol-related pub-disagreement? Fret not, WWJ is here to help. We’re inventing new words that sum up those feelings of frustration you get when you can’t find the right way to express yourself, and ways to describe those day-to-day situations which are familiar but for which words just don’t exist. Here are some examples:

Bileptic (adj): relating to the ability to hold two widely differing mindsets at once, and to switch between them depending on the company you’re in. Nick Clegg is a famous sufferer of Bilepsy.

Dooky-noo (n): A medieval Barbie-type doll game for girls, based on the witch/ducking stool test. How to play: your daughter’s dooky-noo was thrown into the village pond by the local witchfinder-sergeant. If it floated, your daughter was burned alive. If it sank, your daughter was thrown into the pond after it. See also Kenny-noo for boys. Lutheran or heretic? Same principles apply, each sold separately.

Zonambric (adj): A technical term describing the hypocritical suspension of political correctness in certain circumstances. In last week’s episode of Gok Wan’s Fat Birds Catwalk Special, Gok Wan was heard to shriek “Ooooh get a load of those bangers, love. You go girlie!” In an obviously zonambric reaction, his comment was met with laughter and applause, but when football commentator Andy Gray made a similar comment to a Sky News weathergirl a few months ago, it resulted in his immediate suspension and later sacking.

So, over to you. Define meanings for the following words, please. The best entries will be printed in WWJ and a select few will win prizes including trips to see Jedward live, holidays in Albania and a free printed copy of this magazine! Your words will be judged by misanthrope and potty-mouth Perry Iles, whose bi-monthly WWJ columns are known to literally dozens, so please don’t hold back – expressions that encompass the wide swathe of vileness and cruelty that define the human spirit will receive an especially warm welcome:


And finally, we need your help in this verbal initiative. Please send us your words, and our resident expert will provide you with definitions of them. In this way, we will do our bit to improve the state of humanity as a whole, and the degree of literacy that exists within it. Your cultural future needs you!

Email them to us at with the subject 'Invent your own' or post them on our Facebook wall.