Is there life after Dickens? – Aoife Mannix on the future of Cityread London
June 6, 2012
When Charles Dickens died on June 9th, 1870, Victorian England lost its most popular writer. Such was the sense of public grief, it was insisted that he be buried with full honours in the Poets Corner of Westminster Abbey. This, in spite of the fact, that Dickens himself had asked to be buried “in an inexpensive, unostentatious, and strictly private manner” in Rochester cathedral. Perhaps given the still extraordinary popularity of his books 200 years after his birth, Dickens would forgive this blatant disregard for his last wishes. At least I feel fairly confident that he would have approved of the huge numbers of Londoners who celebrated his bicentenary in April by reading Oliver Twist with Cityread London 2012. Not only did people read the book, they attended in their droves the hundreds of events across all 33 boroughs that captured how relevant Dickens still is in the 21st century.
From film screenings to hip hop workshops, exhibitions to pub crawls, there was an event for anyone who wanted to engage with the great man’s fascination with London. For those young enough to be discovering Dickens for the very first time, there was rhyme time, storytelling, colouring competitions, toy making and even comic strip workshops. Londoners could not only listen to talks by experts but also walk the streets as Dickens saw them, trace their own Victorian roots, and have a go at creating their own characters and stories inspired by some of the most famous novels in the world.
Dickens loved giving public readings himself and he wanted to reach as large an audience as possible. One that included the characters he wrote about, not just the upper classes but also ordinary people from all walks of life. I bet if Dickens were alive today, he would be an outspoken champion of our public libraries. I think he’d have been really impressed to see how London’s libraries celebrated his life and work with such enthusiasm and imagination. Cityread London 2012 brought together a massively diverse range of Londoners in a vast array of events, both live and on line. I found it really exciting and inspiring to be part of it. So what do we do now it’s all over?
Find another book to get obsessed with of course! I’ve just finished being a workshop leader at the British Library’s Our Place conference. This was a conference for teachers interested in creative writing, both for their students and for themselves. Sometimes teachers are so busy giving to their students that they’ve very little time for their own creative development. Yet when it comes to writing, I would argue there’s no better way to inspire others than to have a go yourself. How else can you properly understand all the anxiety and pleasure that goes into committing your own thoughts to paper? We were using the Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands exhibition as inspiration for writing about place. It made me realise how many writers have been utterly obsessed with London, in all its chaos and glory, and how they’ve used the city and its people to create some of the greatest stories ever told.
I’m not allowed reveal just yet what the next Cityread London book will be but it promises to be as thought provoking, challenging and exciting as Oliver Twist. Just to prove there is life after Dickens, I will continue to be blogging about reading, writing and London over the rest of 2012 and in the run up to the next Cityread London campaign in 2013. So I would love to hear your thoughts on literature in the capital, any events that are going on and any recommendations for books that you feel capture the spirit of this great city (comment below and/or on our facebook page). And many thanks to all those who helped make Cityread London 2012 such a huge success!