Friday, February 24, 2017

Silver Sound 24 February 2017: Dyslexia-Friendly Books

Today’s guests were Bristol crime thriller writer Helen Abbott (who writes as A A Abbott) and Alistair Sims, owner of the independent book shop, Books on the Hill in Clevedon, who talked about dyslexia-friendly books for adults.   

Helen has recently published two of her crime thrillers in dyslexia-friendly formats – The Bride’s Trail and The Vodka Trail. Helen explained that 10% of us have dyslexia and yet up until now no one has published dyslexia-friendly books for adults.   

Helen was inspired to produce her novels in a dyslexia-friendly format by Alistair Sims, who is himself dyslexic. People travel from miles around to buy dyslexia-friendly books for children and young adults from Books on the Hill, and Alistair is keen to see them printed for adults too. He’s also able to advise adult dyslexic readers and parents of dyslexic children on finding suitable reading material. In fact, whether you’re dyslexic or not, Alistair is happy to provide reading recommendations whatever your preferred genre – from fantasy to historical fiction to the classics…  

And dyslexia is no barrier to becoming a writer! Alistair is about to publish a collection of dark fantasy short stories. Other famous writing dyslexics include Jules Verne, Lewis Carroll and Octavia Estelle Butler. Actors Henry Winkler and Anthony Hopkins are also dyslexic, as was Picasso – and Einstein.  

As for what makes a dyslexia-friendly book, font design, font size, and the colour of the paper make a big difference, but so too does sentence structure. It does seem, however, that it is not difficult to produce dyslexia-friendly books, so perhaps it’s something in which independent authors like Helen can lead the way.

If you’d like to know what makes a dyslexia-friendly book, the British Dyslexia Association has produced a Style Guide, which also includes information on making websites accessible. You can find the Style Guide here.

Incidentally, I featured the music of The Kinks today – as I’m off to see Sunny Afternoon, the award-winning show about The Kinks’ rise to fame, soon – it’s on at the Bristol Hippodrome, 7 to 11 March!

Books on the Hill in Clevedon's website is here (and if you are dyslexic or have a query about dyslexia you can get in touch with Alistair through the website).

For more information on dyslexia see the British Dyslexia Association’s website

You can listen to a podcast of the show here (10 am to 11 am):-

Silver Sound is broadcast by BCfm Radio 93.2 fm between 10 am and mid day on Thursdays and Fridays. I’ll be back on the show on 31 March 2017 with another fabulous guest!

Friday, January 27, 2017

Silver Sound 27 January 2017: Where’s My Money?

Today’s guest was Bristol writer Mike Manson. Mike has written a number of non-fiction books about Bristol, including Riot! The Bristol Bridge Massacre of 1793;  Bristol Beyond the Bridge: The Turbulent Story of Redcliffe, Temple and St Thomas from the Middle Ages to Today, and most recently Vice and Virtue: Discovering the Story of Old Market, Bristol.

It was while researching Bristol’s history that Mike realised he wanted to take the stories further, and that to do so he needed to write fiction. His first novel, Where’s My Money, is set around Bristol’s Nelson Street dole office in the 1970s. It was one of the books selected for the BBC television programme The Books That Made Britain.

Mike’s second novel is Rules of the Road, a quirky coming of age tale set in 1975 about two young men’s journey across Europe to Greece looking for love and adventure. The book looks back to the days before Rough Guides, and to research it Mike and his wife travelled from Montpelier railway station in Bristol to Albania – without a map or guide book.  

Bristol is very different to what it was when Mike first came here in the 1970s and on the show we talked about some of those changes. Mike also told us about the smallest literary festival in the world – ShedFest. ShedFest has been running for a couple of years now and takes place in the shed in Mike’s garden. A ShedFest anthology has been published, and now there are plans to move the festival out to a local restaurant and invite members of the public along.

You can find out more about Mike and his books at

You can listen to the show here (10 am to 11 am)

Silver Sound is broadcast by BCfm 93.2 fm between 10 am and mid day on Thursdays and Fridays. I’ll be back on the show on 24 February 2017 with another fabulous guest!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Rebellion Against Tyrants: Suffragette Graffiti in Holloway Prison

The closure of Holloway Prison in July 2016 prompted many people to remember some of the women imprisoned there since it opened in 1852, amongst them militant suffragettes. Some of the most well known were Women’s Social and Political Union leaders Emmeline Pankhurst and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence; Ethel Smyth, who composed the suffragette anthem, The March of the Women; and Emily Wilding Davison, who died after running in front of the King’s horse at the 1913 Derby. Many of these women went on hunger strike in support of their claim for political prisoner status, and were forcibly fed.

Although the hunger strike was the most extreme, there were many other ways in which suffragette prisoners could defy the prison regime. They talked in spite of the silence rules; sang suffragette songs; and refused to do the work, such as making men’s shirts, allotted to them. And like prisoners before and since, they scrawled messages on the prison walls.

Discovering graffiti by a suffragette who had previously been in a cell lifted the spirits of women who came after them. In 1909, after smashing the windows in her cell, Emily Wilding Davison (1872–1913) was moved to a cell which had been occupied by Bristol suffragette Lillian Dove Willcox (1875–1963). Here she found the words “Dum spiro spero” on the walls: While I breathe, I hope. Emily Wilding Davison later wrote, “In the dark punishment cell, to my delight, I found on my wall Mrs Dove-Willcox’s name and ‘Dum spiro spero’. I added mine and ‘Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God’.”

Suffragette Vera Wentworth (1890–1957) was a London shop assistant and trade unionist. In 1909 she was the WSPU organiser in Plymouth. She was an active militant who was arrested many times for breaking windows and heckling politicians, serving prison sentences in Exeter as well as Holloway. Vera Wentworth also campaigned in Bristol: in March 1909, she accosted Liberal MP Augustine Birrell at Temple Meads railway station to ask him when the Government would give women the vote. She was arrested in Bristol on 12 November 1909 during disturbances associated with the visit of Winston Churchill to the city, when she broke windows at the Liberal Club. She went on hunger strike in Horfield prison and was forcibly fed.

In 1908 she and other women were arrested when they attempted to approach the House of Commons in a delivery van. Vera was sentenced to six weeks in prison. She was sent to  Holloway, where she was kept in prison for an extra day for carving “Votes for Women” on the wall of her cell. She told the Governor of Holloway “that in years to come, when Holloway is in disuse and is one of the sights of London, visitors will be shown the inscription, and women, then with the glory of the vote, will shudder and thank providence that they did not live in these days”.

Sadly, this cannot be. Holloway prison was rebuilt between 1971 and 1985, and the suffragette graffiti, if it still existed at that time, was lost for ever. So too was the turreted gateway from which released suffragettes used to emerge to a heroine’s welcome: parades, music, banners and flags. But though that Holloway has gone, we can still be thankful that the days when women were thrown in prison and tortured with the forcible feeding tube and gag simply for demanding the right to vote, have gone. 

Find out more about Vera Wentworth, Lillian Dove Willcox and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence in the Suffragette Spotlight On...Archive at

Reclaim Holloway: The government is planning to sell Holloway to private developers. The publicly-owned site’s estimated redevelopment value could reach £2.5 billion. The Reclaim Holloway project has been set up to campaign for the site to be used instead for council housing and community projects. Find out more about the campaign at