Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice

By Jason Flowers

Sheffield Hallam University student Jason Flowers encounters the novelist Nevil Shute for the first time. Nevil Shute was hugely popular with our original readers, all born in the mid-20th century, and it’s great to get a 21st century view.

Nevil Shute was a new author to me. My previous knowledge of his writing and literary career was merely an idea of the novels he penned and a small bit of trivia. Perhaps this is why I selected A Town Like Alice as my novel for this blog; the title itself seemed embedded in my brain but I had never read the book. I decided to read the novel as I would if I were reading it for pleasure and leave the introduction until I had finished the narrative to avoid spoilers. As such, I had no preconceptions of the book I was about to read. My first impressions of the writing style were positive. I found the way Shute established his characters clearly and set out a few characteristics for each engaging and reader-friendly. I did however note that that the book was very much of its time first noticing this as a quirk of a 21st-century reader seeing the First World War described as the 1914-1918 war. However, as the novel progresses these quirks of antiquity became somewhat more unpleasant as ethnicity was often used to diminish certain characters and a very pro-colonialism view was evident. The same is true about the novel’s treatment of women. Despite the main character being a quite extraordinary woman her accomplishments are met with wonder by most of the characters, not because of their merit but because they were performed by a woman. 

Aside from these elements that are not excused by the age of the book but can perhaps be understood, I was quite taken aback by the format of the novel. It struck me that the structure of the narrative was written perfectly to suit the medium of cinema. The opening chapter introduces our narrator and mode of viewing the tale, this narrator establishes his meeting with the story’s main character, said character then reveals the narrative’s problems to overcome via flashback, before we then see a resolution to the tale by the end. It therefore didn’t surprise me to see that the book was indeed made for cinema release six years after its publishing. Whilst impressed with the aptness of the book for adaptation it would be remiss to not comment on its merits as a piece of literature also. I have already mentioned the way that the book approaches ethnicity and gender jars a modern reader but on further research, the postcolonialism school of thought had its earliest roots in the ’60s but could be credited as late as 1978 with Edward Said’s Orientalism. So in viewing this novel as written significantly before issues such as postcolonialism were in the consciousness of the literary critics and the feminist theory was more concerned with the politics of female authorship than the treatment of women in prose, it is possible to view the problematic issues in this novel as a relic of an era without concerns for these issues. As such the book’s strengths lie in its characterization and relationships between characters. It speaks to the writing that we can witness a hopeless pilgrimage across Malaya and become accustomed to the frequent death of characters yet the death of Joe can still hit the reader so hard with its brutality.

Shute also imbues the novel with strong themes, perhaps the most significant being the resilience of humanity to the horrors that generation witnessed during the two world wars. The wartime experience clings to this book like a shadow and even once the war is over in the narrative the characters are still so intrinsically linked to it that their time during that period seems more significant to their identity than their actions in the present. Whilst reading I was drawn to thinking about the label that appeared often in the news lately with the passing of Sir Captain Tom Moore – the greatest generation –  and I think this book does compliment that description well. Although I think the book would suggest that it should rather be the greatest generations plural because we observe a shifting in generations between our narrator Strachan and our main character Jean. However both share similar experiences across their respective world wars and both show a huge admiration for the other.

As I finished the book I turned to the introduction I had earlier skipped and was surprised to discover that the trek across Malaya was in fact written based on the true story of a party of 80 European women forced to do the same journey. It offers an interesting reread of the journey these women undertook in the novel to understand that this unlikely plight was in fact based in regrettably true circumstances. With this final thought on the novel, I considered what the interviewees of Reading Sheffield might think of the work. I was not shocked that Nevil Shute appeared in a lot of the interviews and most had a very high opinion of his works in particular I noted that Chris F credited him as his favourite all-time author, and I think on the strength of that recommendation I’ll order Requiem for a Wren as my next read.

Nevil Shute

Jason’s Reading Journey

By Jason Flowers

This time it is the turn of Sheffield Hallam University student Jason Flowers to tell us about his reading journey.

The earliest books I can remember being read to me are still vividly alive in my memory. My mum read me the collected stories of Winnie the Pooh and we used to take the opportunity to race Pooh sticks at the local park whenever we could. According to my mum, it was easy to read to me because I was always interested and my imagination was captured by the whimsical. But my experience with reading had always been family-led. Experiences with reading at school always stuck me quite negatively since from a young age I was a quick reader. I was scolded at a parents’ evening in middle school because we were reading a book called Buddy in class but I had finished it early at home and on my request, my mum had got me the sequels from the library which I had also finished before we had completed the reading in class. Looking back at this experience now as an adult I suppose I may have been an early adopter of what we now call spoilers – I can understand why my teachers might have been frustrated at me telling all my classmates what happens two books down the line!

My reading journey started at the same time as the Harry Potter books were being written. They were definitely an encouragement to me being read to and taking over myself. My parents started reading the books to me at around five or six but I soon started reading it to them aloud and before long I wanted to read the stories all the time whilst my parents were busy so I read them on my own. Being able to grow up whilst those books were still being released was tremendously exciting and in general, the early 2000s was a great time for a young reader. My dad took me to see The Return of the King in 2003 and a lifelong infatuation with the works of Tolkien was born. All the fantasy elements of Harry Potter that I loved were present but even more intricate and bigger! The Lord of the Rings has been my favourite book since I was nine and I still read it at least once yearly now. As a child every time I reread it a little older the more I understood, the deeper the meaning and the more delicately woven the story seemed. By 12 I had conquered the Silmarillion for the first time and around ten years later I felt I finally understood it. My Dad witnessing how much taking me to see that film had influenced my reading and seeing that older more complex works seemed more suitable to me now started showing me the books he was interested in. As a very busy man who took barely 15 minutes for his lunch daily, my Dad liked books that followed in a series so he knew the characters already and didn’t have to establish a whole new set of personalities every time he picked up a book. So Dad started showing me Bernard Cornwall’s Sharpe series and Simon Scarrow’s Eagle of the Empire series. Both sets of books had a historical element and realism to the writing that wasn’t as present in my preferred fantasy genre but the more mature nature of the writing and the accompanying real-world events showed me the breadth and impact of writing and opened up chapters and chapters of books to read – as well as giving me a good grounding for the soon to come Game of Thrones hype.

By this time my favourite books had got me through middle school and the prospect of going to secondary school was looming. Reading had become my main hobby by this point and I already had a blossoming book collection. Despite being fortunate enough to be able to buy books every now and then I still relished the opportunity to visit the public library and the prospect of the secondary school having its own library was one of the few things I was looking forward to about moving on from middle school. As it turned out being a fairly standard comprehensive school the library was a bit of a let down, none the less I carried on reading at home and using the local library to read whatever I could get my hands on. As I started becoming interested in other things and started going out with friends a bit more my time spent reading dwindled – that was until when needing a Saturday job I was lucky enough to be employed by my Auntie Lin who just happened to run a few independent bookshops. Suddenly I spent most of my weekends surrounded by books and I had a bit of money coming in – so at the end of my shift I tended to buy a few books for the week between shifts. It must have been a pretty good deal for my auntie because she paid me and I spent that money in her shop! As I started getting back into reading a series by Terry Pratchett caught my attention; the Discworld novels are a set of loosely connected whimsical satires on various topics and were the perfect length for the train journeys to and from work – to this day I tend to carry at least one of the series in any bag I have with me. From working in the shops I started not just being a reader but also a collector and all my old favourites started making frequent additions to my bookshelves, nice copies of Tolkien and Rowling alongside my newly found Pratchett. In fact my journey to loving books had such a profound impact on my life that when as a mature student I decided I’d like to apply to university there was only ever one course that was going to tempt me because of my history with reading and as such I’m now a student of English Literature.

Gone with the Wind

By Emily Nichols

Here is a second post from our guest blogger Emily from Sheffield Hallam University. Emily took part in our Ideas into Action project with the university. Here she is writing about Gone with the Wind, a very popular novel in the mid-20th century, but viewed very differently today.

Before reading Gone with the Wind I did have many preconceptions regarding the novel and its storyline. I watched and enjoyed the film two years ago and bought a copy of the novel intending to read it eventually. This ease of access was part of why I chose to write about this text. Prior to reading the novel, I flicked through and read a few paragraphs to get a feel of the author’s writing style. I found the most racist sentiments I had yet seen in print, finding separately a black man’s ‘joyful contortions…as ludicrous as those of a mastiff’ (Mitchell, M. 1936. pp.742) to see one of his former owners again, and Scarlett thinking that she could not feel like a lady again ‘until black hands and not white took the cotton from Tara.’ (Mitchell, 1936. pp.578) Racism permeates the novel and is a main cause of modern criticism. One of my lasting impressions of the film is that the three black ‘servants’ featured had names you would expect of pets rather than people.

While writing, I will refer to the famous film which was adapted from Mitchell’s novel in 1939, only three years after the book was published and a reflection of its bestseller status – as you must know, even now a bestselling novel can expect to be adapted for cinema soon after publication. While these novels and adaptations are often forgotten, this has been far from the case for Gone with the Wind, the title is familiar to most in Western society, even without reading or watching the source media. The movie is considered a classic part of American culture.

The novel was very well received in its time, it was a bestseller, and won the Pulitzer Prize (“1937 Pulitzer Prizes”, 2021). Contemporary newspapers called it a ‘remarkable first novel’ (Adams, J.D. 1936). Most information on reception of the story by the public focusses on the film, and how it was received in America. Of course Gone with the Wind would be appreciated differently in America, in a time when the Civil War it is centred around had not left living memory and the children of former slaves were commonplace. The glorification of the antebellum South would be attractive to those who still held grudges against the North.

The African-American community protested the film and its treatment of slavery (Haskell M. 2010. pp. 213-214), which remains highly controversial, so it is reasonable to assume that their reaction to the book was similar. Ideally, I wanted to find how the Black British community of the 1930s responded to the book and film but information about either in 1930s Britain, and indeed the Black community in 1930s Britain, are both very difficult to find. I must assume that the novel was read somewhat widely in the UK, and that any Black readers had similar reactions to their counterparts in the USA, perhaps missing the personal family recollections of the truth of slavery whitewashed in the text.

Because finding information regarding the book in the contemporary UK was challenging, I went through the interviews on the Reading Sheffield website, searching the pages for Gone with the Wind, I found that several of the interviewees, mostly women, had read and enjoyed the novel. One stating ‘we all read that’ (Witten, R. 2012) and another ‘absolutely [adores]’ the film, ‘[watching] it every time it comes on television’ (Grover, M. 2012). Gone with the Wind was usually referred to by both interviewers and interviewees as a romance, and compared to Mills and Boon novels but this comparison was rejected by interviewees. It appeared to me that interviewees had read Gone with the Wind due to its popularity, receiving it as presents or from libraries. Some said that the novel had been referred to as rubbish and disapproved of by older adults. I could also conclude, from the repeated trajectory of the interviews regarding the novel, that Gone with the Wind was on the list of questions provided to interviewers, showing modern perception of its contemporary popularity.

Since its publication, Gone with the Wind has retained its place in popular culture, the novel sells well and screenings of the film are common. However, the racism so prevalent in the text has proven to turn many people away from the story. The worldwide resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 has caused the film to be distributed with a disclaimer concerning its portrayals of black people and slavery (Cranz, A. 2020). It is impossible to say that the story is not racist, with the painfully written dialect of black characters and white characters’ dialogue in plain English, persistently othering non-white individuals. Not to mention some passages from the third person narrator that could be published in KKK recruitment leaflets. The novel and film of Gone with the Wind are still very popular – according to the Great American Read, Gone with the Wind comes sixth in a list of America’s one hundred best loved novels (“Results | The Great American Read | PBS”, 2021). I could not find information concerning its readership within the modern black community. This lack of data to me suggesting a lack of popularity.

Having finished the novel, I can state unequivocally that I did not enjoy the book. Hardly any of the characters are likeable and those that are lost this quality for me when their horrific racism was remembered. The story is a well-constructed and compelling narrative, and I can understand why for many people it is so revered. To me it was overlong with the main romance between Scarlett and Rhett Butler at times disturbing. Mitchell makes some astute observations on the role of women in Southern society, how their only way to gain power and security is through marriage in a manner reminiscent of Jane Austen. To me, it is the racism and unlikeable, immature stupidity of the characters that made me so dislike this novel. Scarlett is obsessively in love with Ashley since she is a teenager, continuing until she is a sequentially married woman with multiple children. She does not realise her mistake until she has lost everything to her selfishness and to me this is hardly the tragedy it is often regarded as, more of a deserved comeuppance.


1937 Pulitzer Prizes. (2021). Retrieved 12 February 2021, from 1937 Pulitzer Prize Winners & Finalists – The Pulitzer Prizes

Adams, J.D. (1936, July 5th). A Fine Novel of the Civil War. The New York Times, pp. 1.

Cranz, A. (2020). After 84 Years, Gone with the Wind Finally Acknowledged as Racist as Shit. Retrieved 12 February 2021.

Grover, M. (2012, May 3). Gillian Applegate. In Readers’ Voices. Reading Sheffield.

Haskell, M. (2010). Frankly, My Dear: Gone with the Wind Revisited. Yale University Press: London.

Mitchell, M. (1936), Gone with the Wind. Macmillan: London

Results | The Great American Read | PBS. (2021). Retrieved 12 February 2021, from

Selznick, D. (Producer), & Fleming, V. (Director). (1939). Gone with the Wind [Motion Picture]. United States: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Taylor, H. (1989), Scarlett’s Women: Gone with the Wind and its Female Fans. Virago Press: London.

Witten, R. (2012, July 25). Edna B. In Readers’ Voices. Reading Sheffield.

My Reading Journey

By Emily Nichols

Emily, our latest guest blogger from Sheffield Hallam University, has written her reading journey.

I have always lived in Sheffield, as have my parents and most of my grandparents. I attended primary school, secondary school and sixth-form in Sheffield and am now studying my second year of English Literature at Sheffield Hallam University.

I could read quite fluently since the age of four – a love of reading is common in my family and part of my affinity to it was certainly fostered by my parents and grandmothers. My Grandma has a favourite story of me at two and a half sat with a book which I constantly made her read to me, saying the story to myself and even turning the pages at the right moment because I had memorised it.

There’s always been books around, my Mum bought me a full set of Beatrix Potter when I was three or four and I read those for years. We found them at car-boot sales but had to get some of the less popular ones through eBay. One of my personal reading rules is that when I read a series I read all of it. In my room I’ve got two full bookcases and about three hundred and fifty books.

Many of my books have always come from charity shops but in the last few years I’ve made more use of Waterstones and Amazon. I’ve not used a non-school library since I was a child because I like to own the books I read. This is in contrast to most of the Reading Sheffield interviewees who did not have such disposable income and mostly used libraries. I do not believe charity shops were as much of a thing in the mid-20th century as they are today.

I started reading Harry Potter when I was five, receiving the seventh book for my sixth birthday and devouring it in two days. My Dad remembers me having all the books open on my bed to cross-reference; I don’t.

After Harry Potter I was given The Hobbit, they intended to let me read The Lord of the Rings if I finished it. I got all the way to the trolls but they scared me so I abandoned it. I didn’t read The Hobbit until I was eleven, then The Lord of the Rings so I could watch the films and then The Silmarillion. My Mum used to have a rule that we had to read the book a film was based on before watching it. When I was seven I once unnerved my Grandma because, watching Prisoner of Azkaban when the Dementors come on the train, she asked me what one was and I apparently said very calmly, ‘They’re Dementors, they suck out your soul.’

Mostly when I was a child I would read history and general knowledge books because I loved history and knowing things. I used to read so much non-fiction that my Year Six teacher had to transition me to reading fiction again, although now I read fiction almost exclusively. In primary school they knew my reading was good so didn’t ever progress me up through the reading boxes where things got more complicated. I read all of Horrible Histories about three times as a result. I used to always have a book on loan from the school library in primary school and we went to the library bus when it came round on Mondays. Every summer I would participate in challenges at the local library and you got a participation medal if you read enough. I always did.

I remember my Nanan getting me the sets of children’s books that came in the newspapers; I read Heidi, Treasure Island, Gulliver’s Travels, Black Beauty and The Secret Garden. Everyone used to buy me books for my birthday or Christmas, they still do. Another thing my Nanan did was get me a set of Disney comic versions of classic books with Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, I wish I still had one to prove their existence. I have a set of sixteen little books giving the plots of Shakespeare plays in story format and believe it or not those are still useful for my studies, my favourite was A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Strangely, when I read on screens, such as my Kindle, it’s like I unlock reading superspeed. I’ll never forget reading Animal Farm, under two hours, without getting up. The feeling the last scene gave me, where the poor animals can’t tell pigs from humans, I could never describe or replicate, but I was more horrified than when reading Salem’s Lot or The Shining. I prefer physical books because I am able to actually hold one while reading and own a collection of books that I can look at and flick through at any time, physical books are much easier to navigate than eBooks.

I read quite a bit of what is called classic literature, such as Dracula, so I understand it and get the references. My favourite reads in 2020 were the Dune and His Dark Materials series. Generally I’d say what I read genre-wise is a big mix, although I definitely like sci-fi and fantasy. My most recent achievement in terms of reading is all of the Game of Thrones books.

My very favourite book would have to be my copy of The Complete Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales – it has over two hundred stories and I’ve read all of them. My Grandad ordered it for me from the publishers for my third birthday to get the complete version. I like it so much maybe because those stories are just timeless. Another absolute favourite of mine is Watership Down.

Right now I’ve just finished Gone with the Wind for the other half of this project. My reading during the pandemic has been quite eclectic with my university reading removed, including Dracula, Dune, some early Stephen King, The Iliad and The Odyssey, A Series of Unfortunate Events, and last night Twelfth Night on a whim.

Just William and Me

By Fiza Rashid

Sheffield Hallam student Fiza Rashid returns with a guest post about first reading Richmal Crompton’s Just William books.

{By Source, Fair use,

I had never heard of Richmal Crompton nor the Just William series before I started this project so I had no idea what to expect. My very first thought when reading Just William was that it is very similar to Horrid Henry. They are both a collection of episodic stories about anarchic characters who are constantly looking for chaos and if they cannot find it, they will create it. While reading Just William, I noticed that secret societies are quite popular in children’s literature, for example The Famous Five and the Purple Hand Gang in the Horrid Henry series, which adults know nothing about. However, unlike Horrid Henry, William sometimes actually means well but his ill-conceived plans almost always end in disaster. For instance, in the very first story, William Goes to the Pictures, he attempts to re-enact the movie he watched, accidentally knocking his father into the bushes when imitating a crook escaping the police and lowering his voice to flirt with the girl next door which leads her to think William has a problem with his lungs.

These books offer a glimpse of middle class English family life in the 20th century which is something I’ll probably never understand. I was quite surprised by how complex the language was since these stories are mainly targeted towards children; it seems to me that only adults would understand some of the jokes in these stories and that these books are about children, not for them. 

There are some blatantly racist and orientalist passages which I don’t see why Crompton thought it appropriate to include in a children’s book. For example, the ‘Red Indians’ game William and his friends love to play where they hunt and partake in cannibalism with their faces ‘smeared black with burnt cork’. This isn’t the only time he paints himself a different skin colour. He paints himself brown in The Native Protégé from William Again where he is mistaken for a Bornean child and mocks foreign languages, and in William the Money-maker from Still William, the Outlaws hold an exhibition where they each impersonate a different native.

The emotionally distant parents and the abuse that the children and the domestic staff endure is also very uncomfortable to read.

I suppose it’s all down to generational differences. Some of these books were published during the Second World War and therefore a lot of children used Just William with its stories about adventures in the countryside as a form of escapism. Peter Mason, one of the interviewees from Reading Sheffield, talks about how he loved the Just William books and how he can’t understand children’s literature of today. I don’t think there is a huge difference though; I think children still do love these trickster characters.

William reminds me of my youngest siblings as they always twist my parents’ words into something they want to hear. In A Question of Grammar from Just William, William asks his father if he could have a party to which he replies, ‘No, I did not’. Having learned about the concept of double negatives at school, William takes this as an agreement and organises a party which I thought was really funny.

William’s adventures and chaotic behaviour were fun to read. I loved the way Richmal Crompton effortlessly switched between the perspectives of a child and the adults and I loved the imagery of children playing in the woods and having their own adventures without the adults intervening. As a child who spent most of their time outdoors, I identify with this a lot. However, the narrative structure of the stories quickly became predictable and repetitive. I enjoyed how William always got himself involved in an adult’s business and tried to do the right thing but ended up in trouble instead. But I do think William was just unnecessarily cruel at times so I don’t sympathise with him at all. The mischievous, mean-spirited, ‘boys will be boys’ attitude of these stories annoyed me and so I quickly lost interest.

None of the other characters stood out to me except Dorita. I really liked her character; she reminds me of myself when I was younger as we both hate fancy wedding clothes. It is a shame that she only ever appears in the first book of the series.

Madeleine Doherty, another interviewee from Reading Sheffield, says her brother had the Just William books and she describes them as ‘boys’ books’ so I was curious to see if any girls actually did read these books. From an article on the newspaper database, I found that a lot of girls did read Just William and that they actually identified with his character and ‘not those drippy girls’. Another article suggests that many girls between the ages of 9 and 14 loved William and found him attractive because he’s so witty, but honestly, he doesn’t seem that way to me.


Crompton, R. 1990. Just William. UK: Pan MacMillan.

Crompton, R. 1995. William Again. London: Macmillan Children’s Books.

Crompton, R. 2006. Still William. London: Macmillan Children’s.

Roe, S. (2011). Peter Mason. Reading Sheffield. Retrieved from

Cooper, T. (2011). Madeleine Doherty. Reading Sheffield. Retrieved from

Southworth, J., 1988. How to be a male chauvinist piglet at 11 and still make girls love you 66 years later. Daily Mail, May 2, 1988.

Telling tales on a naughty schoolboy, 1992. Daily Mail, Sept 12, 1992. 48.

My Reading Journey

By Fiza Rashid

Our latest Ideas into Action guest post, from Sheffield Hallam student Fiza Rashid.

A stack of books I own or have borrowed from the library

I have lived in Sheffield all my life. I attended primary, secondary school and sixth form in Sheffield. I am now in my second year of studying English Literature at Sheffield Hallam. 

From a very early age, my dad would take me and my siblings to our local library in Firth Park every weekend. Here I became obsessed with Roald Dahl’s books, especially Matilda. I saw myself in her and I started to identify with her. I am 19 years old now and even now, when watching the film with my 4 year old sister, I feel the same sense of comfort I had back then when I read it for the first time. A lot of interviewees on the Reading Sheffield site talk about their love for The Famous Five series but to be honest, I found them quite boring. 

I really loved Jacqueline Wilson’s books. Lizzie Zipmouth was another fictional character I identified with; it’s about a young girl who struggles to settle into her new home. Lizzie Zipmouth refuses to speak to anyone and as someone who has struggled with selective mutism throughout primary and secondary school, it was comforting to see that reflected in a children’s story. 

I also remember my mum had these children’s story books in our native language that she would read to us because I couldn’t quite read the written script back then even though I could fluently speak it.

Books were insanely expensive back then (and still are) so I never really had any books of my own as a child but now that I’m earning a bit of money, I can afford to buy them to keep and reread to my heart’s content. I mostly buy second hand books because I love to see the notes other people have written inside. I dislike reading eBooks; I don’t know why but I find it really difficult to read using electronic devices.

When I was a child, I read Horrible Histories and Horrible Science a lot. I have always loved history and science; I find those subjects very fascinating. At my primary school, they always had Goosebumps books on the shelves in class and they were terrifying to me back then but I absolutely loved them. My cousins and even my uncle loved them and we all agree that Welcome to Dead House is the best book out of the series. I read a lot of dystopian fiction in secondary school. I was obsessed with that genre, but I’m older now and I find the fixation with dystopia in popular culture very off-putting. Why would I want to read about a post-apocalyptic world when for my country, the world ended in 1608?* 

However, I did study Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro for my A-Levels which is a dystopian sci-fi novel but I really enjoyed it and it will haunt me forever.

My copy of Never Let Me Go that I forgot to give back after my A-Level exams

I remember being very excited about the scholastic book fair each year and one of the most memorable books I’ve gotten from there was Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl. I first read it when I was 11 which was around the age she was when she started her diary. I think her diary is relevant during this pandemic. I don’t want to compare her experiences to ours because it is extremely different but her words express feelings of isolation and longing that so many of us have felt during lockdown.

My siblings and I also read the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. These were also books we had gotten from the scholastic book fair. It was about a teen boy’s life written in the form of a diary (or journal because he specifically told his mother not to buy one that said ‘diary’ on it but she did anyway) with silly illustrations which was very funny and relatable.

A Series of Unfortunate Events was another series that defined my childhood. I got up to the fourth novel but I stopped because the library at my secondary school didn’t have the fifth book and I refused to skip ahead and not read them in order. I hope one day I’m able to finish the entire series. 

I stopped reading as many books when I started sixth form. The jump from GCSEs to A-Levels was huge and I had no idea how to cope with the workload. Our education system’s destruction, intentional or not, of a person’s natural desire to read seems to me like an act of violence. My child-like love and desire for reading diminished; it just didn’t bring me joy anymore. I feel like as we grow up, reading is framed as elitist or only supposed to be done when we absolutely need to. Sometimes I feel guilty reading for pleasure because there is always something I should be reading for my essays.

I am trying to take up reading as a hobby again and one of the ways I am doing this is by reading with people. I discuss books with my friends over Facetime and sometimes I even read to them. They keep me accountable and they make it enjoyable. I believe community is essential to all learning which is also the reason I chose this project.

I also set goals for myself each year. Last year in 2020 I set myself the target of 50 books and I surprisingly exceeded that goal reading 59 books (although I feel like this was only achievable since the country was under lockdown because of Covid-19 and I wasn’t worrying about studying or my part time job anymore). My favourites from last year were On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong and Circe by Madeline Miller. This year I plan to read 60 books. I’ve read 14 books so far and hopefully I achieve, or even surpass, my goal. 

My copy of On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Note: All images are the copyright of Fiza Rashid.


Dahl, R. (2003). Matilda. United Kingdom: Penguin Books Limited.

Deary, T., & Hepplewhite, P. (1993-2013). Horrible Histories. London: Scholastic Corporation.

Frank, A. (2007). The Diary of a Young Girl (Pressler, M., & Massotty, S, Trans). London: Penguin.

Ishiguro, K. (2006). Never Let Me Go. London: Faber

Kinney, J. (2007). Diary of a Wimpy Kid. New York: Amulet Books.

Miller, M. (2018). Circe: A Novel. New York: Little, Brown and Company.

Snicket, Lemony. (1999-2006). A Series of Unfortunate Events. New York: HarperCollins.

Stine, R. (1992). Welcome to Dead House. New York: Scholastic.

Vuong, O. (2019). On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous. London: Penguin Group

Wilson, J. (2009). Lizzie Zipmouth. London: Young Corgi.

* This refers to the colonisation of South Asia. 1608 was when the British first arrived in India.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover

By Thea John

Sheffield Hallam student Thea John writes about her reaction to D H Lawrence and Lady Chatterley’s Lover for her contribution to our Ideas into Action project with the university.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is a book with a storied history. I first came across it as a mention of a play and mutterings of an obscenity trial while I was doing my GCSEs. At the time, my thoughts on banned books were rather teenage, but I found that I had read several stories I considered shocking already and did not need to read another.

The Daily Mail article on the result of the obscenity trial reads thus, ‘DON’T BE PRUDES, JUDGE SAYS’ with a picture of packets of the full copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover that would then be sent to go out to booksellers. It is an interesting thing to consider this very English book was suppressed by the English for thirty years even when it was published in full in other countries.

The book is so very English, tied to a very English point of view, even though Wragby Hall (where much of the story takes place) is a fictional location. It talks about the pits, the town of Tevershall, London, Scotland, Sheffield – it’s a book that makes me feel English for having read it. These are places that I can connect with even after all these years.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is more than just a story about an upper-class woman and her lower-class lover. Though it is that, it also served to me if no one else, as a window into history. I must admit I did not think all that highly of the book at the beginning. It was not a writing style I was accustomed to and it was not language I was accustomed to. It was a difficult read for me to the point that I had to find an audiobook to get used to it. But once you get past more archaic language and structure it is quite an insightful piece of literature.

It is quite worth it.

Themes that I found within included, capitalism, the class divide, nationalism, feminism, environmentalism, and of course sexuality. I devoted most of my research to be around the obscenity trial and I had forgotten Lawrence as a person except what I believe of him through this book – a very thoughtful man with many thoughts on women, sex, men and classism. I took him for another middle class, but Siegal puts it best, ‘collaboration with the class enemy’ is what has gotten him to this point. He sounds exactly as though he is the one looking down on the working class and I rather thought him to be projecting himself into this work through the cuckold that is Lady Chatterley’s husband, Clifford.

Clifford’s character was crippled and made impotent by the first world war. He is about as much of an antagonist in this as he is a victim to Connie, Lady Chatterley’s, affairs. He speaks to her after her first affair about their marriage and his love for her. He encourages her to have a child, even if it won’t be his, for Wragby, to protect this place that they both love. Lawrence writes here of an asexual ideal, a sexless marriage that is not a loveless one, but from the perspective of Connie it is a terrifying trap.

An article from Doris Lessing about Lawrence formed the base of my thoughts on the Clifford-Lawrence connection. She writes about the anti-war message, but I focussed on the part where Lawrence was apparently dying of TB as he finished Lady Chatterley’s Lover and that his own wife was off having an affair. Yet viewed through his own writing I must assume he didn’t begrudge her this, he understood. The sexless marriage was not something his protagonist could abide and she suffered for it, even when she was getting what she wanted.

Though in the 1930s I can understand the scandalous nature of this book, I can’t quite imagine it in the 60s. I read through the interviews and they seem to be aligned to my own thoughts; from the perspective of nowadays, this book is not a shocker. It is about as obscene as any number of things that I have read on Twitter this week; not counting for length or skilled prose of course. The thought of hiding the book away as I read it had not even crossed my mind until I read Betty R’s interview.

It’s a curious meeting of the now and the past. The talk of divorce and the car journeys they take (to Sheffield). But then, ‘the bitch-goddess Success’ and I remember whose work I am reading. Though I do also feel that way about success, reading it after a paragraph about the English intelligentsia is very jarring.

And that is when Mellors is introduced. Mellors is her Lover. The Lover. At first just another man to look at Connie and feel nothing more than disdain, I disliked him. I felt that Connie deserved someone to desire her how she wished to be – even if that was Michealis- rather than deal with another man who cared nothing for her. But she grows to desire him, first in the intrigue of someone new and then physically after seeing him bathing. I still dislike Mellors, I have grown close to the character of Connie after being party to her thoughts and emotions. Her second affair is longer and more passionate. But I feel that that is all it is. It is all sexual passion rather than love and sex together. I have not read any more of Lawrence’s works, so this is definitely presumptuous, but his own feelings on sex and relationships must be within this. The viewpoint being Connie’s I must assume that Lawrence himself felt or observed someone who felt they needed sexual contact to live their lives to the fullest. Connie and Clifford could live their sexless marriage together, but Lawrence declares they cannot. Clifford would not abide a man out of his own class, or any man at all, in truth even as he knows what Connie truly desires.

Thea’s Reading Journey

By Thea John

I was born in Nottingham and we moved to Sheffield by Halloween of 1999. Basically, I’ve lived here my whole life and haven’t lived in any house other than the one we live in now. My grandmothers were a large part of my early life, though I can only recall my granny on my dad’s side actually reading to me. We are firmly middle class, both sides of grandparents are first generation immigrants, and I don’t know if they went to any kind of university. My parents both came from London and met at university – I’m not sure if I would call either of them big readers. But education was certainly something that has always been encouraged.

We were Baptists, so we went to church. Cemetery Road Baptist Church, the building was lovely but I wasn’t much of a good Christian. I enjoyed the psalms and hymns but the only book in that place was the Good Book. Maureen Lambert, one of the Reading Sheffield interviewees said ‘your faith changes all the time’ and I think she’s right. The Bible meant a lot of different things to me as a child, but I was much more invested in the songbooks. I’m attracted to bright colours, so I bought myself a purple covered version.

Growing up my brother and I spent more time arguing over the television than sharing books with each other. It’s very disconcerting to think of a living room without a tv in it. Unlike many of the interviewees, I’ve only lived without it in my university halls. Though, there has also always been a bookshelf, even if my brother’s was full of video game cheat sheets, we definitely read them. We had the Horrible History comics, that were given to us from an old family friend. We then got the proper books when they started to be released. We went to the theatre performance they did at the Lyceum one year even.

I stole his Horrid Henrys for my own bookshelf, then the Horrible Histories. If my brother brought home a book, I would look at it first and decide whether it was worth my interest. My stepmother was the one who introduced my now most loved book series – Harry Potter. First heard as an audiobook camping trip while my parents were trying to set up a tent whilst being rained on. My brother would insist on being the first person to show interest in them, but I was the one devoured the rest of them as soon as I could. I was about six at the time I heard the initial audiobook. After that I was a proper bookworm, I finished The Deathly Hallows in the dark of my room, under the covers. At some time in junior school, I was outraged that my dad wasn’t reading to me, even though at that point I could very well read on my own; he made me read him a book that was like a thousand Arabian nights. Each night we read a chapter, it was about a tree and at the top of the tree was a magical land that changed every time they went up the tree.

We’ve got family friends who used to send me a book for Christmas and my birthday every year. But I suppose I’ve always been more into ‘boy’s’ books – the Saga of Darren Shan, Skullduggery Pleasant, Alex Rider, CHERUB. And they used to send things that any girl might read rather than what my brother would read.

As a tween becoming a teenager I moved from audiobooks and paperbacks to Japanese comics, graphic novels and webcomics. I re-read Macbeth in graphic novel form and relished in the adaptation; it was novel to me (pardon the pun) to explore my favoured words through a new medium. I really fell in love with drama at secondary and through that plays. There’s something so lovely about reading as a group and scripts are the easiest way to do it. Everyone gets a character and that’s how we read The Tempest for the first time.

I tried to push myself into reading more of the classics, Dickens (more than A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations), War and Peace, Gulliver’s Travels, Pride and Prejudice. I did read a little of each of them, but I was quickly bored – ‘It was too old for me.’ – to quote another one of the interviews (Shirley Ellins). The writing style stopped me in my tracks and I moved on to films. I hope that I too find them more accessible to read when I get a bit older.

So, I read less as teenager. Less published books, so I had to make do with the assigned reading. I always ended up enjoying the assigned reading despite how determined I was to not care, Lord of the Flies and Mister Pip are stories I really love despite their grim contents, and Shakespeare, especially Macbeth. Animal Farm was my first introduction to how something can grow off the page and take wings. Ironic considering how much money I had already spent on the Harry Potter series. I find I’m fond of a happy ending, but I read for the terrible things that happen to characters. I write for the terrible things I can do to characters; when you’re the author the power you hold over character is absolute. The internet is a good place to be if you have a creative imagination and decent Wi-Fi!

Through GCSE and 6th form I was much the same, head in my phone and trying to clumsily write stories without having to come up with brand new characters. Though I did that anyway. Over lockdown, I got to spend time with my younger siblings and though I know that I’m here now, seeing the things they’re learning makes me wonder how different I would be if the curriculum had been changed earlier, to quote a final interview, ‘It’s so vastly different’. (Barbara Green)

Charles Dickens and Popular Culture

By Olivia Vigrass

Sheffield Hallam student Olivia’s take on Charles Dickens in her second guest post for us.

Charles Dickens is perhaps one of the greatest authors of the 19th century and still has an impact on popular culture today. Some key novels still affecting popular culture today include A Christmas Carol, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations. Perhaps the most relevant in our times is A Christmas Carol. For many people it is now a Christmas tradition to watch one of the many film adaptations every year, including my own family. This shows the lasting effect Charles Dickens has on popular fiction in the 21st century.

As a student who has studied A Christmas Carol in multiple settings over my school years, it is easy for me to have an academic pre conception on the novel. However, I mainly associate A Christmas Carol with the musical film adaptation which is The Muppets Christmas Carol. By taking an iconic classic that is Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and combining it with the popular kids show of The Muppets, a timeless piece of popular culture was created. This novel reminds me of Christmas Eve and being with family, and anticipating what the next day would bring.

On its initial release, A Christmas Carol was published in staves in the newspaper. The fact that the novel was publishes in staves and not a complete novel, changes the way in which it would have been read compared to how we read it as a full novel. The activity of reading would have involved the whole family gathering to listen every time a new stave was published, which makes the reception of the novel different than today. By publishing it in staves, the people who read it would have to anticipate the next chapter for a period of time before being able to read it. This makes the reading experience perhaps a lot more exciting than how we read it today. Since we have the full novel available, we don’t have to wait to turn the page over to the next chapter, this changes the experience for us, perhaps making it not as an exciting experience.

In Charles Dickens’ career, he was well known to draw upon his criticisms of the rich and the poor. It is clear in A Christmas Carol, that Dickens is using Scrooge as a criticism of a rich man who has loads of money but refuses to be charitable and kind. The contrast of the rich in the novel being the Cratchit family who barely have enough to feed the family let alone treat their ill son, Tiny Tim. By the end of the novel, Scrooge has a change of heart after being visited by the three ghosts and decides to help the Cratchit family and Tiny Tim gets better. Dickens is expressing social attitudes he wishes to be conveyed in society, where the rich have sympathy towards the less fortunate. Comparing to today’s attitudes, it seems as though there might not be a clear poverty line in this day and age but there are still people less fortunate who could use help from those who are better off. It could be suggested that today, there is a wider use of charities compared to the 19th century, where people who would like to help can donate money anonymously and help that way.

The genres which Charles Dickens focused upon covered a variety of forms, mostly involving the criticism of the poor in some way. It could be suggested that Dickens drew from the popular 19th century genre of melodrama in order to create a sensational reading experience for the reader. It is clear that in A Christmas Carol there is use of sensationalism as there are ghosts and spirits which evoke feelings of sympathy or pity from the reader of the story. It could also be a novel of the Gothic genre, in some ways, as there are themes of death too, involving the predicted Tiny Tim’s death and Scrooge’s predicted death. Overall, the dark themes are overshadowed by the bright themes of Christmas and family.

It is clear to see that A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens has taken on many different lives and forms over the past 177 years. These include film adaptations including animated versions, plays for theatres and radio. The book was published in 1843 and in 1844, it was already being adapted for stage. It is clear that the book still has a large cultural impact, as it reappears every Christmas in many different forms. As I said earlier, it is also a common novel of study for different levels of education.

Charles Dickens (public domain)

Olivia’s reading journey

By Olivia Vigrass

The latest in our reading journeys from the Sheffield Hallam University students taking part in the Ideas into Action initiative.

As a child, I was surrounded by reading in school and out of school. Of course I went through the standard practice of learning how to read when I started primary school like most other children in this country. I was also familiarised with reading at home, as my parents used to read to me before I went to sleep, some of the books including The Little Princess series, those being some of the key books I remember from that long ago.

As I grew older, particularly when I was about 11 or 12, when I started year 7, me and my group of friends all took an interest to reading young adult books and tended to share our thoughts on them. One particular key series that sparked my love of reading was The Hunger Games trilogy, which me and my friends read and then we would anticipate the release of the films and go and see them together multiple times. It seems like in 2012, young adult reading really took off, and I was a huge fan of all the dystopian novels released and publicised around that time. An author that remains strong in my memory of that time was John Green, the book that left the biggest mark on me of his was the teen romance of The Fault in Our Stars. Until I read that, I had never thought a book would inflict so much emotion and make me cry! It is also a nostalgic experience for me, when these authors bring out books now, as I love to read them and it really takes me back to my early teens. In comparing myself with Elsie Brownlee’s reading journey, it is easy to see that our generational differences create very different reading journeys. In comparison to Elsie who grew up in the early 1930s, it is clear that I had more freedom when it came to reading books and so did my friends. Elsie’s journey focuses around the library setting and her love of books that stemmed from there, ‘At about the age of eleven, Elsie became a fervent library user.’ Me and my friends all purchased our books with pocket money, showing that we had a bit of power in buying exactly what we wanted to read.

As I got older and entered High School, I constantly had a book on the go, and I really think my love of reading began to grow even more. When I was 16, I read the Harry Potter books for the first time, which was strange considering that the franchise had been around for so long! I had never read them because I thought they were a bit childish and overhyped but I was completely wrong. Even now, I still find comfort in reading them as they are a great escape from the world around us, especially in times like these. Another popular book series that I deemed as overhyped was the Twilight series, but I read all of these around about when I was 17 and I completely fell in love and they are still some of my favourite books I’ve ever read!

When I was at the point of deciding what I wanted to study at university, I was in no doubt that English Literature would be the one for me and I have never regretted this decision as it has opened so many genres and books to me that I never would have picked up. Some including classics such as Wuthering Heights and gothic novels which I had never even heard of such as The Castle of Otranto and Beloved. I believe that this degree has opened my mind to authors and contexts that I was ignorant of before. It is also so lovely that I can talk to like-minded people about reading and books that I couldn’t do before.

Currently my reading interest is horror novels, particularly by Stephen King. So far I have read Carrie and The Shining, and I am now reading Pet Sematary. I feel like being in lockdown has really re-sparked my love of reading as it is a great escape for me.

When I leave Sheffield Hallam University, I am going to do a masters in Global Media and Culture, as I would love to become a writer for a social media company. Elsie, who I mentioned earlier, had a dream to work in a library. Elsie: ‘I thought, “I’d love to work in a place like this. I’d LOVE to work in a place like this.”’ (2015). Even though libraries are still working today, it is much more accessible to buy books from online, physical copies and e-books alike. As we are both women, it is interesting to see how her father practically chose her job for her, yet I have the choice to do whatever I would like to in the future, ‘Elsie’s father thought further education for girls a waste of time as they were bound to get married’ (2015).  I feel lucky to have a different approach on the life I want to live.