The Book Fairies on South African Radio – Tuks FM

Get colourful, get creative – the creative corner

We were excited to talk to Tuks FM in South Africa this week! Here is the YouTube recording followed by the transcript if you’d rather read it.

Tuks FM interviews The Book Fairies

Quentin: Today on the Creative Corner we are talking about a new movement that is taking the world by storm. It all started on International Women’s Day. Emma Watson – who you might know as Hermione and Belle – took to New York and hid a whole bunch of novels around the city. But where did this all start? Today, I am talking to Cordelia Oxley, she is the head of an organization called The Book Fairies – and it’s going worldwide.

Cordelia, Chief Book Fairy: The book fairies is a group, and it’s now worldwide. It’s full of people who are absolutely passionate about reading but also those who want to pass on the books they’ve read and giving them a way to do that anywhere in the world and it’s really simple.

I: The idea behind The Book Fairies is that you get stickers from The Book Fairies organisation, they get delivered to you, then you take second hand books or new books and leave the book in a public area where somebody can find that book and take it home with them and read it.

C: I’m surrounded by people who, like me, are very excited to do this. It’s been a pleasure building up the team and we have lots of different book fairies in so many countries, many of which I speak to on a regular basis. Some of which just get the stickers off the website and then they go off and do their own book drops and some of which I spend a lot of time speaking to every day about how we can build up the book fairies in different countries. So yeah, that’s how it works at the moment. I mean we did a big launch at the beginning and you would have seen it on International Women’s Day [#IWDoursharedshelf]. We did our launch for The Book Fairies and that set us on a path to get more and more people around the world joining in.

I: So obviously this stretches back a bit before International Women’s Day. Where did all of this kind of stem from, how did you begin The Book Fairies before we get to the big launch on International Women’s Day?

C: So basically I’ve been working on Books on the Underground in London for five years. There’s a lady that set that up called Hollie and she moved to the states a couple of years ago, so I’ve been running that. And through that I built up a team of Londoners who wanted to join in. By the time we got to last November, we’d built up ten of us who were doing regular book drops on the tube and the idea being the that you, when you’ve finished your book, leave it on the tube for someone else. And publishers – English publishers, we’re in touch and we’d put their books on the tube as well because they loved the promotion. And then we did the Mom&Me&Mom book drop in November with Emma and that went so well that we both decided that this is something we absolutely have to do worldwide. And that’s when I started thinking about how we could make it universal and then I thought of The Book Fairies.

I: In terms of working with Emma Watson, I mean how did you know her, is that a personal thing, do you guys meet up and chat and all of that and why specifically Emma Watson?

C: Well, I approached her in the beginning because she is an avid reader. She is passionate about getting people reading and she’s always got her head in a book, and she has said she is really like Hermione in that way. So that’s when I sort of talked to her about working with BOTU because you know, every two months she announces the book they’re going to be reading for @oursharedshelf which is her feminist book club. So I thought it’d be a great opportunity and then after that, we had a chat about getting together and making it worldwide. She has lot’s of contact from people around the world saying it’s great you’re doing it in London, it’s fantastic, but we don’t that have that here and that’s what stemmed into us working out how we could get around the place. The day itself I decided that it would be great to go to the places of significant interest to the feminist movement and that’s why she went to all those places in New York and left a book there. The book fairies in London helped me with the planning too!

I: Coming up, Cordelia will talk about why Book Fairies are so closely linked to females in society and how we can integrate book fairies as a movement in South Africa and how you can be a part of it.

C: I recognise that in countries that aren’t as privileged as here, the problem does often lie in gender, which means that boys often get the chance to read whereas girls may not. I think that it’s great when projects get girls to read, but absolutely it’s different in every country. I mean here in England or in New York, it’s just to get more people reading and not looking at their smartphones, whereas in a developing country, it’s getting children to read. And if it’s children who don’t usually go to school, that is unfortunately often girls. Of course that’s why it’s a priority there, but ideally you would have everyone reading and learning.

I: I’ll tell you now, a majority of the South African population, our literacy levels are quite low and worryingly so. But in terms of a South African, how can a South African get involved with you guys and start getting the stickers and maybe trying to leave some books around to try and get this whole literacy level up so people continue reading in their country?

C: Well I’m actually so pleased to be speaking to you because I love South Africa myself and having been there, I just love it. And that’s one of the things I really want to do: to get more book fairies in South Africa. Because when I mapped out where all those 40,000 free stickers went, there was a very big, big space in South Africa so that either the people hadn’t heard of us or perhaps books are more expensive or less easy to get a hold of. So one of my big things is to get more people sharing books in Africa to also help the literacy issue there. So I’ve got a really good relationship to our new South African book fairy, she’s an official one and she’s called Grace. She lives in South Africa and she is talking to book shops and other places that she can get books from in order to spread them around her area. Another thing she is going to be doing is speaking to friends in other areas in South Africa to encourage them to do the same. And of course anyone around the world can get the stickers on our website, it’s So anyone could get the stickers on there, we’ve sent quite a few to South Africa since making that map, which is great.

I: Yeah, for sure. But in terms of taking this global, I mean what have been the challenges you have seen with your team in terms of the global challenges of going worldwide with this idea?

C: Well, we knew it would be big because of course Emma is quite a big name, everyone follows her and lots of readers follow her as well. And we knew it would be big and we had lots of stickers ready, but we weren’t that ready for the demand that came in in the weeks following, it was crazy. So I got all our London book fairies together, and we had days and days of packing envelopes with stickers, stamping them, writing addresses, going over to the to the post office. And we did this for 4,000 people and 40,000 stickers went around the world for free at the beginning, just because, basically, people were so excited about it and we wanted to match that excitement straight away and get them being a book fairy straight away. So that was a massive challenge and that was a time when, you know, none of us was sleeping very much. But it really helped, because it’s a good problem to have.
So that was a problem and something that’s emerged from it which is also a very nice thing is that you’re getting lot of people copying, which is fantastic because, you know, they’re sharing.

I: You don’t mind that?

C: No I don’t mind, I don’t mind that. The problem is when they are using our messaging and changing it, that’s where the issue is. So it looks like it’s one of our ones [official Instagram accounts], and it’s not. They might be promoting books that aren’t appropriate. That hasn’t happened yet but that’s a concern that I have. So generally I’ll approach them and say ‘Well, actually, do you want to be the official book fairy for such-and-such country or region’ and, you know, they’re receptive to that and that’s fantastic. That’s something we weren’t expecting. We just managed to get the messaging consistent across all the different channels. Because it’s worldwide, it’s quite hard because you’ve also got the language barriers. That’s something we’re challenged with all the time – but again, they’re all positive things because it means that it’s going well.

I: Yeah I totally get you. No but I mean, uh, going on your social media and seeing somebody leaving The Da Vinci Code on a bus or something like that, there is that risk where somebody reads the Da Vinci Code and goes like ‘What the heck? This is against my entire nature to read a book like this.’ What are the books that you’ve dropped for people around where you lived?

C: Well, something I’m quite passionate about is getting more of a voice for independent authors. So what that means here is authors that have just started writing and they don’t necessarily have a publisher or anyone to promote them. So I’ll invite them to send us some copes. I mean already, that’s costing them money, you know, sending us 10 copies or so. And we run independent author days. So a lot of the books that I drop are written by either local authors or authors who can’t afford promotion. Very local to me is Jane Austen’s house, a perfect place to leave books and they often get swept up straight away very quickly. So a lot of mine are independent authors but also any books that I read. I keep them in, uh, it’s called a Buddle, it’s this thing we have in England where you put a book inside, like a little cushion. So the book looks brand new all the time and they never get kind of worn in your bag. The good thing about that is that all the books I read, you know, still look like new books and I can drop them around the place.
The thing I’ll say about picking up a book you would never normally read is that’s one of the comments we often get is ‘Oh, I’d never think to read this book, but now it’s landed on my lap and I’m really enjoying it and I’ve discovered this new author, I’ve discovered this new genre’, and that’s very fantastic. Because often you decide you don’t like a cover and you decide that’s it. So we’re opening up people’s reading habits and that’s fantastic.

I: Yeah, totally. It’s amazing if you think about that some sort of independent authors work might be read by someone who, you know, probably would never have found it in the past and now through this service, I mean, it’s working.

C: Exactly.

I: So get involved and get your second hand books out in rotation in the world. You don’t even know who might read them and enjoy them. So if you enter your bookcase right now and hand pick a couple of your books to give away, what would be giving away? Let us know! Cordelia concludes with this:

C: It’s really interesting to see what books people drop frequently across the world.

I: Do you see fiction being dropped more than non-fiction?

C: Yes, definitely. And in my experience, they’re more likely picked up anyway, so really something I’d encourage unless there’s a specific message that’s important to be sent out. And I would recommend starting out with fiction because they will undoubtedly be picked up, whereas non-fiction is a harder sell. You have to go to specific areas that want, like maybe business areas if it’s to do with helping you learn something specific.

I: Do you think that’s because people are into some form of escapism because, you know, you’re going to want to pick the book up and you’re going to want to go somewhere else, you don’t want to be in the current space you’re in, you want to journey with your mind somewhere else?

C: Exactly. And it’s more fun finding a story and then you’re going to enjoy it, and I think with non-fiction it’s always very specific. You go and find it because you need this specific thing and it would be quite difficult to match it exactly with what someone is looking for. So I think with fiction it’s, you know, a lot of people love reading fiction because it’s an escapist thing as well. But it is interesting seeing the one’s people choose. Da Vinci Code you mentioned is incredibly popular, we see that pop up all over the world, obviously they have sold so many millions of copies, they’re going to be everywhere.

I: Amazing. In terms of where we can get you on social media: Where else can we get you?

C: So we are big on Instagram, a lot of readers seem to be heading onto Instagram now and that is @bookfairiesworldwide. And we’re on twitter @the_bookfairies and we’re also on Facebook @bookfairiesworldwide.

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