Confessions of a Book Addict
Pam McIlroy runs the Broadway Book Club, which meets on the last Thursday of every month at the Broadway Cinema. If you love reading books, but have never been sure whether a book club is for you, then read on.
You’re a self-confessed book addict. When did you first start reading?
My mum taught me to read from an early age. By the time I was two I could recite the alphabet backwards. As we never had much money when I was a kid, and we didn’t live close to a library, I would often re-read the books that I had, and read anything else I could find – labels, packets, signs, magazines, newspapers, bibles and dictionaries.
Having asthma helped develop my reading addiction, as there were not many other activities that I could do. I was never interested in dolls, but give me pens, paper and books and I was happy.
How did your reading progress from here?
We moved to Nottingham when I was about 11 (I was born in Northern Ireland). The highlight of that move was discovering my new home was a few doors away from a library.
I read the entire children’s section within a few months, then liberated my step-dad’s tickets to work my way through the adult section.
I couldn’t wait to grow up and earn my own money so I could afford to mainline my reading habit.
What sort of books do you read?
I read widely, both fact and fiction. I love books that that challenge me and make my heart beat a little bit faster. Books that make me grip the pages, thinking ‘yes, yes, that’s exactly it!’, or ‘wow, that is such a beautifully constructed sentence’, while the rest of my brain analyses its structure.
I’ve got to the stage where I can generally work out the strategy of a novel fairly quickly within a few chapters; sometimes I can even work it out in the first one, and it is very rare that a book will surprise me.This does not spoil my enjoyment of the books that I read; as I tend to judge a book on the quality of the writing, whether or not I’ve enjoyed the journey that it has taken me on, and if the author has achieved what they set out to do.
You now have a considerable online presence. How did that come about?
It was actually that start of my journey towards starting the Broadway Book Club. I joined Twitter out of curiosity in 2009. I decided to call myself Pamreader and, although I knew no one on Twitter at the time, began to engage with people from all walks of life, especially writers.
Then I created my book blog – www.pamreader.blogspot.com – and began highlighting and reviewing books, with a focus on debut authors. Discovering a new voice that has unique point of view has always excited me.
When did you realise that your blog was generating interest from the publishing profession?
I’ll never forget the excitement of seeing an extract from one of my reviews (on the Guide2Nottingham website) on a publisher’s website for the first time. It was for The Spider Truces by Tom Connolly on the Myriad Editions’ website.
This year I was quoted for the first time in a novel, in the outstanding Into The Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes. That was an amazing moment for me, as I never expected it.
You tweet very consistently. How have you developed your use of this form of social networking?
Around the same time it also occurred to me that authors might find being inside a reader’s head useful. This gave me the idea for live tweeting my reactions as I read a book.
I created the hashtag – #TAIR – for these sessions (Thoughts As I Read). The feedback I’ve had from authors and Twitter followers since doing this has been wonderful, and it’s always a huge buzz when someone tweets that they cannot resist my #TAIR feed any longer and have downloaded the book.
So when did you decide to create a book club?
In January 2011, The Walk Cafe in Nottingham sent me a direct message on Twitter to ask me if I would like to host a book club for them. I’d been thinking for a while that I wanted to start a book club that highlighted debut and local authors, and this gave me the perfect opportunity to do it.
About 20 people turned up to the first meeting. I remember being unbelievably nervous as I stood up in front of them and spoke about the plans for the club. But I needn’t have worried as everyone was receptive and enthusiastic.
Why did you move to the Broadway?
In August 2011, The Walk Cafe came under new management and the book club had to find a new home. I contacted the Broadway Cinema in Nottingham and asked them if they could accommodate us, and they said yes.
Since then the book club has gone from strength to strength.
For those who’ve never been to one, how does a book club work?
Every book club is different. The rules of our book club are:
1) Read the book.
2) If you hate the book you don’t have to finish reading it. Reading should be a pleasure.
3) Share your impressions of each month’s book, good or bad.
4) Be open to other points of view.
5) Recommend books for the monthly vote, and take part in the vote.
6) If you don’t want to buy the book borrow it from your local library.
7) Talk about other books you’ve read (readers are always looking for new books to read).
The Broadway book club is more than just about reading books isn’t it?
Yes. Through my contacts on Twitter, and networking at literary events, I invite authors to come and talk to the club.
The first was local author Mark Charan Newton, who wrote The Legends of the Red Sun series published by Pan Macmillan. I invited Mark to come and talk to the group about why many adults don’t read fantasy. Mark was fantastic. His talk provoked a wonderful discussion and encouraged many members to read fantasy.
I run the book club via the blog, Twitter and Facebook. I have an email list of over 50 book club members now, and we have a core group of book club regulars that come each month.
The Broadway has offered me the use of three different rooms depending on the size of the group, which will be useful should all 50+ members turn up one day! We’ve also hooked up with Waterstones Nottingham, who has offered members free event tickets, and we are listed on Reading Groups for Everyone.
What sort of people come to the book club?
People come from all walks of life. It doesn’t matter what you do or who you are, what matters is that you love to read and are open to reading books that may be out of your comfort zone.
I like to guide readers towards books that they would never even think of considering. It is always a magical moment when they are surprised to have enjoyed reading them.
We have such a laugh when we discuss books, as contrasting points of view are generally delivered with a sense of humour. Sometimes this has changed people’s point of view from negative to positive, and sometimes it hasn’t, and that’s okay.
The one thing to bear in mind is that everyone is different and not everyone will love a book just because you do.
What would you say about the success of the book club?
I feel unbelievably lucky to have such a great venue to host the book club in, and to have a wonderful group of people as members. They are vocal, thoughtful, thought- provoking, entertaining, passionate, creative, enthusiastic, and simply a joy to be with.
What would you say about the role reading has played in your life?
Learning to read was the best thing I ever did because it has had such a positive impact on my life. It has been a gift that has just kept on giving.
A last piece advice on choosing books to read?
Reading is all about trial and error, trying books by a variety of authors in order to discover what you truly love. For example, I had forgotten how much I loved the graphic format until I read Billy, Me & You by Nicola Streeten. That stunning memoir of grief and recovery made me fall in love with that format all over again, and I’ve bought a lot since as Page 45 in Nottingham will confirm.