#TheakstonsCrime went on the road with The Big Read this summer

Luca Veste, Reader in Residence for Theakstons Crime 2023 Big Read

Crime and thriller dramas continue to be one of the UK’s biggest TV genres, with millions of viewers regularly tuning in to programmes like Happy Valley, Silent Witness, Vera and Steeltown Murders each week. There is also an appetite for written stories, as the crime and thriller genre is now the UK’s most popular genre.

Harrogate International Festivals is using our collective love of gripping crime stories to develop reluctant readers into active ones, working in urban and rural communities where there are low levels of reading.

Around 16.4% or 7m adults in England can be described as ‘functionally illiterate’ (1 in 6). They would not pass and English GCSE and have literacy levels at or below those expected of an 11 year old.

Last month, the Theakston Old Peculier Big Read, the North of England’s biggest book club, toured libraries across Yorkshire and the North East to celebrate crime fiction and re-engage readers with their local libraries.

The free events were hosted by Luca Veste, the author of numerous crime books and the 2023 Reader-in-Residence at Harrogate International Festivals, and took place between 26-30 June.

Veste discussed The Long Call by Ann Cleeves, the author of the hit series featuring detective Vera Stanhope and the inspiration behind the much-loved TV drama Vera, starring Brenda Blethyn. 1,500 copies were be distributed across the eight libraries participating.

The libraries taking part included:

The Big Read was produced by Harrogate International Festivals and sponsored by publisher Pan Macmillan – the initiative has been running for 20 years and sits alongside the Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival which takes place in Harrogate each July, and is also celebrating its 20th anniversary.

Ann Cleeves served as the first Reader-in-Residence at the Festival in 2003 and has played a significant role in the crime writing community since then. In 2021 she launched the Reading for Wellbeing Project with local authorities in the North East, advocating for reading as a way to improve mental health and wellbeing and support access to books.

Sharon Canavar, Chief Executive at Harrogate International Festivals, said: “Reading is proven to reduce stress, exercise the brain and enhance relaxation. The Big Read is a great opportunity to connect people over the love of reading, offering the opportunity for like-minded people to get together and make new friends. The event is also a fantastic opportunity to raise awareness of local library services.

“Crime fiction provides a ‘stealth’ engagement in the arts. Our research and experience shows that this genre provides a myriad of entry points from gaming to TV to film, and with blood, gore and forensics as a focus there is often an interest from even the most usually uninterested reader/s.

The Long Call was carefully selected to appeal to readers who are perhaps unfamiliar with the books genre but engaged with TV shows like Vera, with a view to encouraging them to engage with a series that has multiple titles available to them afterwards. We’re proud to work with local libraries to offer access to literary experiences to isolated urban and rural areas.”

Find out more on our website here.