Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Listening Books

Near Charles Dickens Primary School, and not far from the old Marshalsea Debtors' Prison, is a blue and brick building full of sound. The building on the corner of Bittern Street is the home of Listening Books, a UK charity which provides more than 4500 audiobooks (by post, internet streaming or downloads) to schools and to anybody with an illness or disability which makes it hard for them to read ordinary books.

I first came across Listening Books when I saw a ‘tweet’ by their patron Stephen Fry. I believe one of the greatest luxuries of our age is the ability to have personal access to a wonderful variety of music and stories. People in past centuries would have been so envious of what we take for granted today. I love the fact that Listening Books are making stories available to people who find it difficult to read books, so I recently got in touch and offered to help. As a result, they invited me to come to their office to do an interview.

It is a beautiful April day in London, more like summer than spring. I take the tube to Southwark, in southeast London. Charles Dickens’ father was in the Marshalsea Debtors Prison here, just like Little Dorrit’s father, and many of Dickens' books are set in and around Southwark. I always think of it as foggy and cold, but today the sun is shining and birds are singing.

I am greeted and given a tour of the offices. On the ground floor are audio-books in MP3-CD form and also in the old cassette format. Guess which takes up most room? The tech guys on the top floor are converting the cassettes into CDs and also into MP3 format for internet streaming. Some of the older cassettes are top priority. They need to be saved before they are worn out and lost forever.

After the tour, I descend a wrought iron spiral staircase to the bowels of the building and a sound proofed recording studio. A nice technician gets me settled in a sound booth. After a ten minute interview, I get to read my favourite passage from my favourite book: the girl fight scene from The Pirates of Pompeii. (left) You can listen to my interview HERE, and you can hear other interviews with great authors like Jacqueline Wilson, Benjamin Zephaniah and Sally Gardner on the Author Interviews page.

If you find it difficult or impossible to read due to illness or disability, including dyslexia, you can join for only £1.67 per month, or £20 per year. That modest amount will allow you to borrow unlimited books on the streaming package, which means you can listen via your computer, stopping and resuming whenever you like. This option also includes more than 1000 audiobooks that can be downloaded to your MP3 player or iPod/iPhone/iPad for no extra charge. For £35 per year you will receive audio CDs by post. When you're finished just pop them in your nearest postbox. And for only £45 per year you can receive audio CDs and streaming and downloads.

Schools can get the streaming package for only £20 per year, with 10 licenses to stream, so up to ten pupils can listen at any one time. Listening Books offer a great choice of textbooks that tie in with the National Curriculum and because they are read by professional actors, they are never boring.

If you know anyone who is partially sighted, dyslexic or even has trouble turning pages, encourage them to join www.listening-books.org, a great charity.

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