Written by Ella Dove for Prima Magazine, July 2020. Photo of Clare Mackintosh by Astrid di Crollalanza. Download the article here.
Did you know that reading for just 30 minutes a week can make you feel happier? That's why Prima is partnering with The Reading Agency to help get the nation into books. Here's how you can join in...
There's no doubt about it - reading improves your life. Books bring us joy and comfort, especially in challenging times. Reading is known to boost our mental health, too - regular readers report fewer feelings of stress and low mood than non-readers.
So, when we heard that today in England, nearly half of young people aged 16 to 24 and a third of adults do not read in their free time, we wanted to do something. That's why we have teamed up with top charity The Reading Agency to show everyone the benefits that books can bring.
Join a book club...
Sharing your thoughts on a book you've loved (or even loathed!) with others can help you get even more out of reading, and being a member of a book club is a great way to widen your reading habits. If you're not part of one, and unsure if there is one in your area, The Reading Agency's book group community, Reading Groups For Everyone, can help. Simply go online to readinggroups.org/groups and type in your postcode to find one near you.
...or set up your own!
If you can't find a suitable group, why not start your own? You could ask family, friends, or colleagues to see if anyone would like to join a new one. Here are The Reading Agency's top tips:
- The ideal group size is between eight and 10; this is large enough for varied opinions and small enough to make sure everyone can have their say.
- Monthly meetings work well because it gives everyone a chance to read the book, but they're regular enough to keep people engaged.
- Libraries, bookshops, cafes and even your local pub are all ideal venues for hosting your group, as well as advertising for new members.
- You can choose books by taking turns, lucky dip or voting.
Connect from afar
Thanks to modern technology, you can be part of a book club without leaving the sofa! If meeting in person isn't an option, there are numerous virtual groups out there where you can connect with like-minded people from the comfort of your home.
- The Reading Agency has online discussion groups available for all readers and genres, including genre-specific forums, women-only and English as a second language. Visit readinggroups.org/groups/virtual-groups to find out more.
- Goodreads is an online community of book lovers, where you can read and share reviews, find reading inspiration and chat to others. Visit goodreads.com.
- If you are setting up your own virtual group, Facebook is a great way to start. You can either make the group public for anyone to see, or private so people have to request to join. Be sure to register your new group on Reading Groups For Everyone (readinggroups.org) so that new members can easily find you - and then get reading!
Quick Reads needs your help!
Quick Reads are short and engaging books, ideal for both less confident readers and those who are short on time. Easily accessible and written by bestselling authors, they are perfect for anyone. However, Quick Reads is now facing an uncertain future. In our March issue, we revealed how author Jojo Moyes generously offered to fund Quick Reads for three years. When this donation runs out in 2021, The Reading Agency hopes others will be inspired to support this important initiative.
Quick Reads books cost just £1 and can be bought through bookshops and online retailers such as Amazon, as well as being available in libraries. By buying one, you are pledging your support and helping The Reading Agency provide accessible books to those who need them most. To find out more about Quick Reads, visit readingagency.org.uk/adults/quick-guides/quick-reads.
'It's an honour to be involved'
Former police detective Clare Mackintosh is one of this year's Quick Reads authors. Clare, 43, has written five bestselling books, which have been translated into more than 35 languages.
"I first discovered Quick Reads when I was on maternity leave with newborn twins. Struggling with lack of sleep and post-natal depression, I couldn't concentrate. One day, I found a Quick Read in the library - Happy Families by Adele Parks. It felt so good to finally finish a book. It was a massive honour to write a Quick Read this year.
I love that the scheme introduces bestselling authors to people in a really accessible way. My 12-year-old daughter, Evie, has autism and learning difficulties, and finds reading really hard work. It's become increasingly difficult to find books that are straightforward without being patronising - but Quick Reads strikes this balance brilliantly.
My Quick Read is called The Donor. The inspiration came from a video I saw of an organ recipient on her wedding day. The mother of the man who had donated his heart places her hand on the bride's chest and feels her son's heart beating. The image moved me to tears. However, as a thriller writer, I couldn't help but think about a darker story that might emerge...
Before becoming a full-time author, I was in the police for 12 years. I worked my way up to detective level, and I loved my job. However, in 2011, when I took a glowing appraisal home to show my husband, Rob, he said, 'I don't recognise this woman.' I realised I had used all the best bits of myself at work and given my family the leftovers. Two years earlier, I had lost my baby son, Alex. His twin brother, Josh, who's now 13, survived, and 15 months later I had another set of twins, Evie and George. I was so lucky to have three wonderful children - but I was working such long hours I was barely seeing them. Something needed to change.
I took a two-year career break to see if I could make a living from writing - and I never went back. I had wanted to be a novelist in my early teens, but no one in my family worked in the arts, so I hadn't realised it was a job. Two months before I was due to return to the police, I signed a two-book publishing deal. My first novel, I Let You Go, came out in 2014 - and to date, it has sold over a million copies. It completely changed my life.
Being a detective is similar to being an author. Your job is to talk to people and piece narrative threads together to make a compelling case for court. That's what I do now - except my audience is readers, rather than a judge and jury.
My top tip for writers is to never finish a chapter. I always stop halfway through a scene or paragraph and jot down notes about what's coming next. When I sit down at my computer again, I can find my stride more quickly."
The Donor by Clare Mackintosh is out now with Quick Reads. Her latest novel, After The End, is now available in paperback.