HMP Thameside’s Autumn Literary Festival

Prison Reading Groups volunteer Maggie Gallagher reports on Thameside’s recent Literary Festival.
All photos appear courtesy of Neil Barclay.

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Author Clare Mackintosh, librarian Neil Barclay and PRG volunteer Maggie Gallagher

Not one for sitting around letting the grass grow under his feet, Neil Barclay, librarian at HMP Thameside, had no sooner finished organizing his library’s contribution to Black History Month in October than he was hyperactively off again with a new programme of author visits to round off the last three months of the year.

Many authors queued up to visit Thameside and share their thoughts, reveal their secrets and enlighten their audiences of prisoners, staff and volunteers. Among them were: Clare Mackintosh, ex-copper and author of I See You, her follow-up to blockbuster I Let You Go (a film version of which is currently under discussion in Hollywood); the fantastically popular crime writer Peter James (Love You Dead, 18 million copies sold); psychological thriller writer C L Taylor talking about her latest dark and twist-laden novel The Missing; and internet self-published sensation Mark Edwards with his chart-topping Follow You Home chiller. Another big name was Ann Cleeves, whose novel Cold Earth was discussed with the group. Cleeve has written over 30 books, many of which have been made into television programmes, notably the Vera series for ITV and Shetland for BBC.

Not all books were crime or thriller though. Two authors coincidentally featured Japan as a location for at least half of their books. The first was Jackie Copleton, who told a gripping tale partly set in the aftermath of the atom-bombing of Nagasaki and the second, Sarah Moss, writer of Signs for Lost Children, had the protagonist’s husband visit Japan as it opened up to western influences in the late nineteenth century, fall in love with the country, and almost not return. Her discussion of the experience of the western male visitor to Japan in those times was simply fascinating.

Each session generated enthusiastic audiences, floods of questions, engaging responses and lengthy queues at the end to get copies of books signed. Clearly author visits at the prison get top billing with the prisoners, and Neil intends to continue them over the coming year, making the library as ever the bustling, lively, beating heart of HMP Thameside.

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Wellcome Book Prize nominee Sarah Moss

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