Back to Picador World Book Night Home >

We asked members of the public who had given or received, Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife on World Book Night 2011 to share some of their experiences with us. Read on for some of their brilliant stories.


The World's Wife - World Book Night 2011

As a lifelong lover of books I knew I just had to take part in the first ever World Book Night as what could be better than sharing my love of reading? When I looked at the choice of books I was unsure what to pick but decided to go for The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy as one of only two poetry books on the list.  My reasoning was that they might not be the most popular choice, so here was a chance to promote great poetry, and I might stand more of a chance of becoming a ‘giver’ if my selection was not oversubscribed.

I decided to give out my books at two local restaurants, Nutters and The Crimble in Rochdale, who are supporters of Marie Curie Cancer Care and who welcome me as a volunteer fundraiser when I take in Daffodil boxes in March each year.  So I had a chat with the owners who happily agreed to let me come in with my books on the Saturday night.  I enlisted a friend to help me give them out as I had no idea as to how long the process might take or what the response would be.

Then disaster nearly struck as my books didn’t arrive when expected and it was touch and go if they would make it in time to my agreed pick up point at Madeleine Lindleys in Oldham.  A friend in Sheffield who I had told about the event and had signed up after me had received her books in time so I was feeling pretty dis-chuffed when the day before the event mine still hadn’t arrived and all I could do was to listen to radio and television coverage of the impending first ever World Book Night. On the morning of World book night the book shop rang to tell me my books had finally arrived so I dashed over to get them then hurried to get the codes written in for potential receivers.

Nutters restaurant was first for us to give out books and so armed with twelve books each me and my friend set out to give way The World’s Wife.  I was really lucky in first picking a table with a large group of people who were thrilled to receive the books and be part of the World book Night celebrations that they had heard of in the media. To all but one of the group The World’s Wife was new to them and I suggested they looked at Mrs Darwin where in four lines and eighteen words the origin of the species and the nature of men are wickedly described. Everyone on the table dutifully turned to the page- there was a momentarily pause- then all the women on the table burst out laughing.  I was pretty sure they would enjoy the rest of the book!  At that moment Andrew Nutter joined us, took a book and posed for a photo with the group.  It didn’t take long to give away the rest of the books and I enjoyed talking to these random strangers about the poems and seeing their faces when they realised there was no hard sell and yes- the book was free!



Why I chose to give out ‘The Worlds Wife’ by Carol Ann Duffy on World Book Night

I love reading. I love poetry. One of my favourite, favourite poets, Carol Ann Duffy has lots of things going for her: heart-breakingly beautiful poetry, accessibility, intelligence, humour.  It really does not take a lot to interest people in poetry if you use her writing.  I look forward to her publications as much as my daughter did the next Harry Potter….

I chose my fellow embroiderers in the local Embroiderer’s Guild to give out my books. Stitchers and Textile Artists all, using texts and quotes quite often in their work. People whom you might think would at least know who the Poet Laureate was. I didn’t think it would be hard work.  Who can refuse a free book after all?


Below is a remembered conversation. It was conversations like this (of which they were many) that made the night worthwhile for me, and good enough reason to give books away, especially poetry books.

“Oh thank you. What is it?”

The Worlds Wife, poems by Carol Ann Duffy.  It's World Book Night. Lots of people are giving away books in a celebration of literature, and so that people might get to read something they don’t already know.”

“But it's poetry”


‘It's not really reading then is it? I don’t think it's my sort of thing. Give it to someone else”

“Well, give it a chance. Try 'Mrs Icarus'.”

Pause.   Smile.

“It's funny’


“But I thought you said it was poetry...”

“It is. It is also funny.”


“I’ve never heard of her.”

‘She’s the Poet Laureate.”

“Since when?”

Flicks a few pages.

“Actually It's quite good”

Walks away with book...


Helen Edwards



We had an equally good reception at The Crimble where we gave away the remaining books in the bar to diners waiting for their tables and to some of the staff.  My only sadness was that I didn’t have more to give away.  I’d like to think that because of World Book Night there are now some new readers of poetry who otherwise might never have had the opportunity or inclination to pick up some poetry to read.


My advice to anyone thinking of signing up to give away books in 2012 is to take the plunge and choose your book. Make sure you know the book you are giving away so that you can share your enthusiasm and passion for reading and have the opportunity to talk with someone new.

I’m really looking forward to World Book Night 2012 and have applied to be a giver again. It is so lovely to be able to take part in such a life affirming pleasure as giving great books away with no strings attached- a rarity in these straightened times.


Christine Morgan


The Principle of Giving

I am passionate about sharing poetry. I believe it is overlooked as an important part of our lives. So many people are afraid of poetry and yet I knew this collection to be very accessible which I hoped would open up the world of poetry for people who may not normally read it.

I live just by a large park and on Sunday mornings watch many mothers shivering and bored on the sidelines watching their children play rugby or football etc. I decided that I would give books away in the park and also at the nearby leisure centre. In hindsight, outdoors in the park wasn’t a good option. I would definitely plan for an indoor event next time – probably at our local pub which has become a hub of the community with literature nights, pie making competitions etc.

Wandering up to people randomly can be a bit intimidating for both giver and receiver.  In spite of all the publicity not everyone knew about WBN and I had to explain myself and why I was giving away books several times. 

My best response was from the son of one of the women I was giving a book to. He said ‘Can I read it? I love poetry.’ I wanted to hug him! 

I didn't meet any other givers apart from someone I know in the next street who strangely also decided to give away The World’s Wife. Next time I will definitely plan an actual event rather than accosting people I come across! Make an occasion of it. I will also contact the local Reading Development Officer at the Council and see if we can set up a network of givers.

I have applied to be a World Book Night giver again, and this time have asked for a Young Adult Book. I will arrange an event with the local Ranger Guide Group and make it a whole ‘book’ evening where maybe they can also bring along books to swap with each other and we may even attempt some creative writing. 

I will also talk to them about World Book Night and the thinking behind it and the principle of giving. After I read an article about Jamie Byng I read the book The Gift from which he developed the idea. I would love to share the ideas as well as the books. I have seen lots of WBN books in Charity shops since and feel like telling them they should be giving the books away not selling them.

Madelaine Smith (Winchester)



Taking Poetry to the Football Fans

An important factor in my participation in World Book Night 2011 was that, as an Arsenal season ticket holder, I was going to a football match that afternoon.  I decided to give away my books before the match and called it “Taking Poetry to the Football Fans”.  I chose a poetry book because for a travelling fan a book of poetry is a very good thing to have in your pocket – you can enjoy at least one poem on every stage of the journey home and some of the stages may be very short e.g. the first part of many Arsenal Fans' journey home is Highbury & Islington to Kings Cross which lasts a mere 3-4 minutes.  Given that I wanted to give away a poetry book there was only one choice. 

I gave up my job for personal reasons at the end of November 2010 and one of the last things I did in my job as a School Librarian was to prepare a series of notes to accompany some of the poems in The World's Wife that the Sixth Form were to start studying after Christmas.  One of the teachers was reading the poems in the Library while supervising a class of 11 year old students doing silent reading and he could not stop himself from laughing out loud at one poem, "Mrs Darwin", which he showed to me.  I borrowed the book and read it from cover to cover overnight and was hooked.  When the opportunity to give away copies on World Book Night came up I jumped at the chance.  I wrote a quite inadequate application and was thrilled to be selected as a giver. 

I had initially said I would give out my books in the stadium and wanted to involve the club in my plans.  I thought that this would not be too difficult as they have supported many educational initiatives and I hoped they might want to get really stuck in.  In this respect I was to be very disappointed as I got a complete refusal to countenance any participation by any person associated with AFC and indeed I was told I was not allowed to give out my books anywhere near the stadium!  After this setback I decided that I would take my books to one of the places that the Arsenal fans congregate before home matches, the Rocket, a bar in the University of North London on Holloway Road.  Following on from the notes for Sixth Formers I prepared a handout to put in each book giving a 2/3 line note about each poem so that the poems would be accessible to all.  Well I figured that as I couldn't recall who Sisyphus was not many others would be able to either!

During the run-up to the actual day WBN experienced many difficulties as a result of problems with their reliance on computer technology and, when they put out a call for volunteer helpers I leaped forward to help out.  I spent many hours trawling through emails from disgruntled givers who couldn't get the systems to work, summarising what they wanted and forwarding the information back to WBN headquarters.  I also helped out at my local library.  I know many of the people who work there because I had worked at one of the local libraries in Islington about 10 years previously.  I know how busy they were then and the work load has only increased since I left the library service.  I was rather upset to find that many givers had just assumed that they could have their books delivered to any library without the courtesy of asking the library first.  At my branch this was a serious mistake.  They had recently been 'refurbished' and their storage space had been seriously decreased and there was only really room for a maximum of 5 giver's books but approximately 20 people had selected them.  When the boxes started being delivered I went to the library and wrote on the boxes the name of the giver (several of whom were not even members of Islington Libraries).  I was constantly emailing WBN asking them to tell the givers to come and collect their books which were in danger of blocking the Fire Exit.  I also alerted WBN to problems with the labels on the boxes and turned photographer to let them know exactly what I was talking about. 

On the Friday night I froze in Trafalgar Square where an amazing array of authors and a few celebrities gave readings.  I have never been a fan of Graham Norton but he was a perfect host, talking about each person before they came onto the stage in a very knowledgeable manner and he was hilarious in his off the cuff remarks e.g. his envy of Lemm Sisay's very warm-looking coat.  I was inspired to read One Day by the author's reading and fell in love with Margaret Atwood's work all over again.  At the end I searched desperately for a copy of One Day or, as my second choice, Stuart, A Life Lived Backwards but came away disappointed on both counts.  I accepted a copy of Toast for the memories but did not ever imagine that I would read it.  As I had finished reading my newspaper there was nothing in my bag to read on the way home so I started to read and was absolutely hooked.  Toast was the perfect choice for one of the WBN books, it hooks you on the first page, reels you in over the next five and is impossible to put down unless you stop before then.  Given that I always give any book at least three chapters there was no way I was not going to finish!

I know that WBN is primarily aimed at those who read rarely or even never.  I do think it has also been an inspiration to regular readers to read outside their normal genre of choice.  Before WBN I had read 12 of the chosen books and since I have read another five;

  • Toast
  • Stuart; a Life Lived Backwards
  • Dissolution (and all the others in the series) Read an extract >
  • One Day
  • Fingersmith (and other books by Sarah Waters)


I also attended the readings at the Royal Festival Hall and as a result I bought a copy of Submarine by Joe Dunthorne which I enjoyed and my son will not give back to me.   I really wish that there was a recording of exactly what Mark Haddon said that night … it was totally inspiring and seemed to be somewhat 'off the cuff' and I don't think it has been made available since.

On the way home, walking across the new footbridge to Embankment station my day was completed when I met three girls giving out their WBN books a was given a copy of Dissolution that I have kept as my souvenir of the first ever WBN.

I have applied to be a giver again this year but the books I have applied to give away is very different.  I want to try to encourage a group of 'A' level science students at my local Sixth Form college to read a book that is NOT a science book.  So many science students never read anything but science textbooks and by the time they finish their studies they are completely out of the habit of reading fiction.  For those teenagers I have chosen Let the Right One In … vampires, extreme horror, a detective element … if I can't persuade 24 budding scientists to read that then they really are lost to reading for pleasure.


Alex Kersley (Islington)