Queen Consort urges writers to ‘roar like a lion’ at book charity launch

Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Booker Prize winner Ben Okri and writer and TV presenter Richard Osman were among the guests.

Helen William
Thursday 23 February 2023 16:56 GMT
The Queen Consort (Chris Jackson/PA)
The Queen Consort (Chris Jackson/PA) (PA Wire)

The Queen Consort has urged writers to “roar like a lion out of pride” in their skills as she made her first public appearance since recovering from Covid-19 to launch her book project as a charity.

Camilla, a passionate book lover, was joined by the King for the launch at a reception at Clarence House – attended by authors, literary figures and representatives of literacy charities.

Dame Jacqueline Wilson, Booker Prize winner Ben Okri, writer and television presenter Richard Osman, plus actor and author Simon Callow were among the guests.

Actors Richard E Grant, Toby Stephens, Edward Fox and his wife Joanna David also attended.

Camilla told guests: “So thank you, on behalf of book-lovers and book clubs everywhere, for sharing your talents with us and for everything you do to promote literacy and a love of literature.

“Please keep doing so and please remain true to your calling, unimpeded by those who may wish to curb the freedom of your expression or impose limits on your imagination

“But let there be no squeaking like mice about your achievements, but only roaring like a pride of lions.”

Her comments come following the news that the latest releases of books by children’s author Roald Dahl have edits to remove potentially offensive language.

The new edits have been done to “cater for the sensitivities of modern audiences”.

The Roald Dahl Story Company and Puffin Books confirmed they had carried out a review of Dahl’s classics to ensure they can be enjoyed by all children.

Artist Charlie Mackesy also chatted with Camilla at the event as his dachshund Barney enjoyed a few gentle strokes on the head from her.

Mr Mackesy is the creator of the children’s book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox And The Horse, which has been turned into a hand-drawn animated movie and is nominated for the Best Animated Short Film Oscar.

Camilla recalled that her book project, which was previously known as The Reading Room, started life as a list of nine of her favourite books “literally scribbled on a piece of paper during the first lockdown”.

The reading lists were published on Instagram in January 2021, and since then the book club has amassed more than 155,000 international followers.

On Thursday, she announced that it has now become a charity titled The Queen’s Reading Room.

The new charity will seek to celebrate books from a diverse range of authors around the world – chosen for their literary, educative and historic merit – and hopes to boost a global love of literature.

It is Camilla’s first charity since she became Queen Consort.

She recalled a speech by Nobel Prize for Literature winner John Steinbeck, telling the invited guests: “He said this, ‘I am impelled, not to squeak like a grateful and apologetic mouse, but to roar like a lion out of pride in my profession and in the great and good men who have practised it through the ages.’

“I would like to take this opportunity to echo that lion’s roar on your behalf – and, of course, to rectify the unaccountable omission of great and good women…

“All of you here must take the most enormous pride in your profession and in the part that you play in bringing joy, comfort, laughter, companionship and hope through your writing.

“You open our eyes to others’ experiences and remind us that we are not alone.

“Human beings have always needed the connection of literature – its wisdom as well as its sheer escapism. In today’s challenging climate, we need it more than ever.”

Actress Dame Judi Dench and historian David Olusoga will be among the speakers at the charity’s first literary festival, which is to take place at Hampton Court Palace on June 11.

Mr Okri said: “I was amazed when she was talking about the lion’s roar – that is a very seductive thing to say to writers because we are constantly aware that our roar can get us into trouble.

The British-Nigerian writer said that internationally “50,000 writers at least are in prison because of their roar” and so to have Camilla say that we should roar is “very powerful”.

Mr Grant, who was born and raised in Swaziland, said: “When I was growing up, there was no television in Swaziland and so reading was my gateway to the world.

“I have been an avid reader all my life. Reading is forever as far as I am concerned, so I think it is a great thing to promote it.”

Social media’s popularity means that “at this particular moment we are in, there is this Damocles sword hanging over anybody” who says anything that others disagree with, he said.

He added there is a “beauty in being able to say what you have to say”.

Charity trustee Gyles Brandreth, who described it as “exciting” that Camilla has launched this new charity, added: “As everyone knows, she is a lifelong and enthusiastic reader and wants to help inspire children and adults alike in the UK – and around the world – to be so too.”

Camilla, 75, contracted coronavirus last week for the second time and missed a run of engagements after suffering cold-like symptoms.

Buckingham Palace announced on February 13 that Camilla had tested positive for Covid-19. It forced her to put back the charity launch back by a week.

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