Glenn Patterson: Why reading is not only a great resource - but invaluable during these recent times

Northern Ireland’s Glenn Patterson reveals why reading is not only a ‘‘great resource - but invaluable during these recent times’’ ahead of World Book Night on April 23.

Friday, 26th March 2021, 4:44 pm
East-Belfast author Glenn Patterson is pictured with Damian Smyth, Head of Literature and Drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland has joined forces with The MAC and Libraries NI for World Book Night 2021 on Friday, April 23 and is encouraging book lovers of all ages to join in this special UK-wide celebration of stories, books and reading.

To mark the occasion, The Arts Council and The MAC, through the generosity of The Reading Agency, will be gifting 160 free copies of Belfast author Glenn Patterson’s latest novel, Where Are We Now? to community groups, book clubs and members of the public.

In addition, Libraries NI will have copies of the book available in its branches across Northern Ireland for readers to borrow through its Book and Collect service.

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World Book Night

One of 22 books chosen to be part of this year’s official World Book Night reading list, Where Are we Now? is a moving, funny and topical story about lost love and growing older, set against a backdrop of modern day Belfast.

Indeed, whilst Belfast-born Patterson’s Where Are We Now?, is the charismatic author’s 11th novel and staggering 15th book, the launch was, like so many things in the arts and literature sector in recent times, unfortunately delayed ‘in-person’ until further notice as it coincided with the beginning of the global pandemic.

‘‘I don’t think I have ever published a book in such extraordinary circumstances,’’ Patterson reveals, as he describes taking the decision to cancel the planned launch-night, which was set to take place just a week before the official national lockdown began in March 2020.

‘‘One year on, the paperback version is about to be released on April 1, and it is lovely to be selected as part of World Book Night.

The MAC

‘‘It feels as if someone has just pressed ‘start’ again on the novel after such a strange year.’’

Patterson, who co-wrote ‘Good Vibrations’ the film alongside the stage version with Colin Carberry, also reveals the play was due to come back to The Lyric Theatre, Belfast last summer before going onto The Abbey Theatre, Dublin and then to New York.

‘‘We saw that put on hold and then pushed back - and eventually postponed until further notice,’’ Patterson explains.

‘‘This is happening to writers, to artists, to freelancers right across the board. What happened with the launch of Where Are We Now? is only one tiny part of a huge mosaic of people whose livelihoods have been affected.’’

Arts Council of Northern Ireland

However, Patterson has been heartened by people rediscovering the joys of reading: ‘‘We have all been in a serial lockdown and a lot of people have turned to reading - whether they are picking up a physical book or listening on their devices.

‘‘I love books, the physical object, the sound of it, I love picking them up. But however you are doing it - if you are engaging in a book - it is to be applauded. People are discovering it is not only a great pleasure, but beyond that, an invaluable resource in these uncertain times.’’

Indeed, Patterson urges people not to forget reading when restrictions are eased: ‘‘Let’s keep it up when the doors reopen. Remember what you started up when you were in the house and if you can get along to an event and support local writing, do it.

‘‘One of the great things about World Book Night is that they work with local reading groups and libraries.

“Like most people, one of my earliest memories of books was going to the library as a child and the treat of that, walking in and seeing the rows upon rows of books. It is such an extraordinary thing to remember when you first encountered books and it is vital to re-engage with reading.’’

Indeed, as a proud father of two daughters, Glenn vividly recalls seeing his first-born engaging with books for the first time: ‘‘I remember my daughters, my first-born especially, picking up a book and chewing the ends of it, turning it around and working out ‘‘how does a book work?’’ he recalls fondly.

‘‘It is about becoming familiar and comfortable with books and not feeling intimidated in any way by them.’’

Speaking of Where Are We Now?, Glenn explains: ‘‘It is a novel that is very much of the present moment in Belfast.

‘‘The title is from one of David Bowie’s last singles and I remember at the time seeing the video for that song, remembering his time in Berlin in the 1970’s which was a really important period in his career. He was looking back, and feeling like a man slightly out of time. As we grow older, we see our city growing and changing around us - I was struck by that.

‘‘Sometimes change happens in a way that makes you stop and take stock and look around you. The character in this book, Herbie, is hitting a stage in his life where a lot of the things he thought defined who he was; his marriage, his work, his role as a parent; everything has changed. He is looking back and reflecting on his life.

‘‘My father died around the time I was starting to write this book in 2017 and it was one of those moments where you have a reason to pause and reflect.’’

Damian Smyth, Head of Literature at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, commented: ‘‘World Book Night is open to everyone and is all about celebrating the joy of reading. In a year like no other, so many of us over the last 12 months have reconnected with books and stories, finding precious moments to escape through the page into other places and times.

‘‘All of the books chosen for this year’s reading list are based around the theme of ‘Books To Make You Smile’ and we are very pleased to see a book from Glenn Patterson – one of our most celebrated contemporary writers - included on this year’s list. We will be working with The MAC and Libraries NI over the coming weeks to distribute 160 free copies to readers across Northern Ireland and would encourage everyone to get involved in this year’s Reading Hour at 7pm on April 23 and the free activities that will be happening online.’’

The Arts Council, The MAC and Libraries NI are offering 10 JPIMedia NI readers the chance to win a copy of Glenn Patterson’s novel, Where Are We Now?. To enter, simply answer the following question.

Competition

Q: On what night will this year’s World Book Night take place?

Email your answer to [email protected]

The competition is open now and will close on Saturday, April 10. Winners will be selected at random and contacted by email on Tuesday, April 13. For more information and full terms and conditions go to www.artscouncil-ni.org/news/world-book-night-2021.