— Ellie Broughton

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Shannon Trust volunteers reading

Since most of us learn to read and write in the first year or two of school, it feels almost impossible to imagine not being able to. But Angela Cairns, CEO of prisoners reading charity Shannon Trust, knows all too well how illiteracy can feel

Half of England’s prisoners are illiterate. Since most of us learn to read and write in the first year or two of school, it feels almost impossible to imagine. But Angela Cairns, CEO of prisoners reading charity Shannon Trust, knows all too well how illiteracy can feel.

“I sometimes hear a prisoner describing themselves as a ‘bad ‘un’. They say: ‘I was a bad ‘un because I was frustrated’, ‘because I couldn’t read the letters and notices that went around’, or ‘I couldn’t choose what I wanted to eat from a menu card, so I’m just randomly picking’. These are people who feel they have so little control over their lives that they can’t even choose what to eat.”

There are several charities that teach prisoners how to read, but Shannon Trust is unique: all of its 2,000 or so mentors are prisoners themselves. Prisoner–mentors, working with the charity, are helping more than 4,000 other inmates learn to read. The need is huge: 50 per cent of all prisoners in England are ‘functionally illiterate’, meaning they have a reading age of 11 or lower, while many are completely illiterate. The impact on their employability, unsurprisingly, is huge. You can read more about that story on the Positive News website, and in the magazine. 

Positive News is a media co-operative owned by readers and journalists worldwide, and profits are reinvested in journalism. In 2015 Positive News became a community benefit society (a form of co-op) invested in by more than 1,500 people in 33 countries, age 18-89, who each have equal influence. They’re just about the best people to work for, and it was great to have the chance to profile the Sharon Trust for their latest issue.

Positive News

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Nicole Kidman plays Julia Edwards in series two

Twelve-year-old Tui Mitcham is missing. A search party of farmers and bikers meets in the town’s dive bar, gathered under her father’s leadership. From the front of the room, his gaze pans the room. His eyes drift over a woman at the far end of the bar, dressed in a pristine black parka, and snag on her for a moment. Robin Griffin grew up in that town, and she got out: now she’s back to investigate Tui’s case. Matt Mitcham might have the microphone, but Griffin has the power.

Read more on The Pool.

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This year I was lucky enough to join the BBC Springwatch team to write the live blog.

For three weeks, I wrote live updates from 8am to 9pm from the Sherborne Park Estate in Gloucestershire, in the heart of the Cotswolds.

You can see the archived updates here, and if you’d like to know anything else about how the live blog worked, please get in touch by email.

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Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, and the film that followed, spurred a new generation of women to tackle huge walks like the 2,650km-long Pacific Coastal Trail. But one walker had already set out on another, much longer, walk when Reese Witherspoon hit the big screen.

Sarah Jackson had just finished her sociology degree when she embarked on one of the most gruelling anti-gap years imaginable. Some 10,600km later, though, she’s smiling: at the end of this month, aged 24, she’ll become the first woman to walk across Canada from coast to coast. (She still hasn’t read or seen Wild, though).

She often walked with a partner, and admits she took breaks to go home for Christmas, but has essentially spent two years living outdoors, out of a backpack, spending much of her time alone.

Sarah was kind enough to talk to me about her trek for Refinery29’s UK site. Read more here.

If you’re interested in reading more work I’ve done for the site, check out:

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On Katherine Lester’s wedding night, her maid Anna buttons her into a nightdress.

Are you cold, Anna asks. No, Katherine replies.

Moments later, Katherine and her husband prepare for their first night together. The house is cold, he tells her. She protests that she’s thick-skinned. To punish her for answering back, he commands her to take off her nightdress. As she pulls it over her head, the gold of her wedding band catches the low light of the fire behind him. Clothes gone, finger still trapped in the ring, she stands naked in the stone cold room while he climbs under the covers.

Lady Macbeth, based on a 19th century novella, has previously been the stuff of stage and opera adaptations. (The film’s director, William Oldroyd, and writer, Alice Birch, both have backgrounds in theatre). It’s the first feature for its director, writer and producer. One of the products of the iFeatures programme, Lady Macbeth was put together in Northumberland on a shoestring budget; its star, Florence Pugh, won Breakthrough Of The Year for her performance.

Florence Pugh is mesmerising, and Ackie’s understated portrayal of Anna is quietly devastating. The view is bleak and captivating. The huge landscapes and roaring soundscapes give glimpses of the raw power that drives the protagonist. On top of the soundscapes, and those incredible painterly interior shots, the film hangs from a sizzling, stripped-back script that makes its silence claustrophobic. The energy of the film’s inevitable tragedy barrels hard into the film’s devastating twist.

As a study in power, not much else comes close this year. Expect plenty more to come from the trio behind it.

Read the full review on the film section of The Quietus here.

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