Cityread celebrates 5 years of ‘Writing London’

Posted on May 16, 2016 in News, tagged with Gillian Slovo, Ten Days

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On Saturday 7 May 2016, Cityread London celebrated its 5th anniversary with an event at The British Library, which united all four living writers whose books have been Cityread’s choices to date: Sebastian Faulks, Louisa Young, Ben Aaronovitch and Gillian Slovo. Chaired by novelist Kamila Shamsie and organised in partnership with the Royal Society of Literature, the closing event of Cityread London 2016 had as its theme ‘Writing London’. The following blog post was kindly written by Tim Robertson, Director of the RSL, and gives an insight into some of the matters discussed that day.

In Gillian Slovo’s Ten Days – this year’s Cityread novel – the residents of a deprived London council estate get caught up in events that involve the Metropolitan Police Commissioner and the Prime Minister. In Dickens’ Oliver Twist – the book chosen for the first Cityread campaign in 2012 – the orphan from the workhouse becomes bound up with characters ranging from the slum criminal Fagin to the wealthy Mr Brownlow.

These are just two examples of a recurring theme in the literature of our capital city – the way that the fates of the poorest and wealthiest Londoners are bound up together. And this is typical of London itself – a few square miles of packed urban living, where social housing sits nextdoor to executive apartment blocks, where millionaires share the streets and parks with the homeless and the unemployed.

Of course, London’s social classes remain powerfully separated by inequalities of money and power. But there is at least one space where all people are equal, and that is the arena of the imagination. Any initiative that encourages reading is to be commended, but what I particularly admire about Cityread is the way that it unites Londoners across social boundaries in a collective experience of fiction. And it does so especially through libraries, which continue to be one of the few public spaces that truly bring together people from across the social spectrum –  another reason why libraries are such a precious resource to be protected from cuts in funding.

So, I’m thrilled that the Royal Society of Literature was able to help celebrate Cityread’s 5th birthday with an event at the British Library, not least because London is a city which often needs reminding of its own social diversity. There is no better reminder of reality than a well-written work of literature, especially when read in collaboration with others.

And Ten Days is a terrific read – it had me on the edge of my seat.