8 book readings you should listen to this National Storytelling Week

When was the last time you were read a story or poem? To celebrate National Storytelling Week, we've put together a list of video readings from some of our favourite actors, poets and writers. 

Michael Sheen, reading from Phillip Pullman's 'La Belle Sauvage' at Penguin Presents 2018

Storytelling is one of the oldest art forms. From telling an anecdote to a friend about what you ate for lunch, your Grandparent sharing tales about the world they grew up in, or listening to an audiobook. It is ingrained in us to tell stories. 

#NationalStorytellingWeek focuses on increasing the awareness or oral storytelling. To join in with these celebrations we're sharing some of our favourite oral readings from writers, poets and actors. Click play and enjoy.

1. Stephen Fry - Heroes

In September, Stephen Fry visited our London studios to record the audiobook edition of his latest book Heroes. In this extract from a Facebook livestream, Stephen introduced the book - his own retelling of classic Greek tales - and gave us an exclusive reading.

Brought to you by Penguin.

Shortlisted for the 2018 Specsavers Audiobook of the Year award.


Few mere mortals have ever embarked on such bold and heart-stirring adventures, overcome myriad monstrous perils, or outwitted scheming vengeful gods, quite as stylishly and triumphantly as Greek heroes.

In this companion to his bestselling Mythos, Stephen Fry brilliantly retells these dramatic, funny, tragic and timeless tales.

Join Jason aboard the Argo as he quests for the Golden Fleece. See Atalanta - who was raised by bears - outrun any man before being tricked with golden apples. Witness wily Oedipus solve the riddle of the Sphinx and discover how Bellerophon captures the winged horse Pegasus to help him slay the monster Chimera.

Filled with white-knuckle chases and battles, impossible puzzles and riddles, acts of base cowardice and real bravery, not to mention murders and selfless sacrifices, Heroes is the story of what we mortals are truly capable of - at our worst and our very best.

'An odyssey through Greek mythology. Brilliant . . . all hail Stephen Fry' Daily Mail

'A romp through the lives of ancient Greek gods. Fry is at his story-telling best . . . the gods will be pleased' Times

'Assured and engaging. The pace is lively, the jokes are genuinely funny' Guardian

'An Olympian feat. The gods seem to be smiling on Fry - his myths are definitely a hit' Evening Standard

'Just as delightful and difficult to put down as the first. Heroes makes the stories relatable without skimping on the gory details, or sacrificing the truths of the myth. It's rich, it's funny and you'll feel like you've learned a lot' Herald

© Stephen Fry 2018 (P) Penguin Audio 2018

2. Linton Kwesi Johnson - Tings

Linton Kwesi Johnson is known and revered as the world's first dub poet. At the Mayor of London’s Windrush 70 celebrations, he performed this poem, written in 1991. In it, Johnson reflects on years of struggle for black rights in the UK, the hard and messy work of activism, and the longing for home and comfort in the midst of impossible circumstances.

Selected Poems
Selected Poems
A selection of Linton Kwesi Johnson's best poems over three decades. Ranging from protests against police brutality to eulogies for departed friends and playful celebrations of urban life, Johnson's use of Jamaican dialect to tackle distinctly British subjects contributed to a revolution in the notion of literary English. This Selected Poems charts the unique literary talent of one of Britain's most influential poets and social critics.

3. Imogen Hermes Gowar - The Mermaid & Mrs Hancock

Author Imogen Hermes Gowar's debut The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock was called a 'cracking historical novel - with a twinge of the surreal' upon its release last year, and was shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction. In this video, the author reads a short extract from the book, introducing us to a spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession.

The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock
Random House presents the audiobook edition of The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar, read by Juliet Stevenson.

This voyage is special. It will change everything…

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

As gossip spreads through the docks, coffee shops, parlours and brothels, everyone wants to see Mr Hancock’s marvel. Its arrival spins him out of his ordinary existence and through the doors of high society. At an opulent party, he makes the acquaintance of Angelica Neal, the most desirable woman he has ever laid eyes on… and a courtesan of great accomplishment. This meeting will steer both their lives onto a dangerous new course, on which they will learn that priceless things come at the greatest cost.

What will be the cost of their ambitions? And will they be able to escape the destructive power mermaids are said to possess?

In this spell-binding story of curiosity and obsession, Imogen Hermes Gowar has created an unforgettable jewel of a novel, filled to the brim with intelligence, heart and wit.

‘A cracking historical novel... The story is by turns intriguing, touching, funny, sad and heartwarming. It will make you laugh and it may make you cry.... The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock is superb.’ – The Times

‘A marvellous, high-energy, inventive romp through Georgian society. Rich in delicious period detail and written with a wickedly observant eye, the path of this unlikely romance leads down some unexpected byways to give a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable reading treat.’ – Daily Mail

4. Michael Sheen - La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

Michael Sheen's reading of Philip Pullman's La Belle Sauvage was nominated for Audiobook Narrator of the Year at 2017's Audio Production Awards, with heralding his performance as 'better than an army of actors'. Reprising his role, Michael read a short extract from the book to an enraptured audience at Penguin Presents 2018.

La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One
La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One
Brought to you by Penguin.

The British Book Awards Audiobook of the Year 2018

2019 CAMEO Book to Audio
Best Solo Narration - New York Festival Radio Awards
Shortlisted Best Audiobook Narrator - Audio Production Awards

Penguin presents the audio download edition of La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman, read by Michael Sheen.

Eleven-year-old Malcolm Polstead and his dæmon, Asta, live with his parents at the Trout Inn near Oxford. Across the River Thames (which Malcolm navigates often using his beloved canoe, a boat by the name of La Belle Sauvage) is the Godstow Priory where the nuns live. Malcolm learns they have a guest with them; a baby by the name of Lyra Belacqua . . .

"As a reader and a fan, I was hugely excited on hearing that Phillip was returning to the story of Lyra and Dust and challenging the Authority. And, as an actor, it was a true privilege to be asked to record La Belle Sauvage, the first book of this new work." Michael Sheen

"The best piece of narration I've ever heard" - The Bookseller

"Michael Sheen's narration of Philip Pullman's new novel is better than an army of voice actors his voice is impressive, from the crisp, definitive consonants of its higher registers to the rumbly bass notes Sheen summons when some menace enters the scene, to the vast, buttery expanse of his middle range." Slate
Podcast studio at Penguin Random House

Find out more about Penguin Random House Audio

5. Terrance Hayes - American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

In seventy poems bearing the same title, Terrance Hayes explores the meanings of American, of assassin, and of love in the sonnet form. Written during the first two hundred days of the Trump presidency, these poems are haunted by the country's past and future eras and errors, its dreams and nightmares.

American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin
American Sonnets for My Past and Future Assassin

The black poet would love to say his century began
With Hughes or God forbid, Wheatley, but actually
It began with all the poetry weirdos & worriers, warriors,
Poetry whiners & winos falling from ship bows, sunset
Bridges & windows. In a second I'll tell you how little
Writing rescues.

So begins this astonishing, muscular sequence by one of America's best-selling and most acclaimed poets. Over 70 poems, each titled 'American Sonnet for my Past and Future Assassin' and shot through with the vernacular energy of popular culture, Terrance Hayes manoeuvres his way between touching domestic visions, stories of love, loss and creation, tributes to the fallen and blistering denunciations of the enemies of the good.

American Sonnets builds a living picture of the whole self, and the whole human, even as it opens to the view the dividing lines of race, gender and political oppression which define the early 21st Century. It is compassionate, hilarious, melancholy, bewildered - and unstoppably, rhythmically compelling, as few books can hope to be.

6. Florence Welch - New York Poem For Polly

Florence Welch's Useless Magic is a beautifully illustrated collection of lyrics and never-before-seen poetry and sketches. In this video, Florence gives us a passionate reading of the spellbinding New York Poem for Polly.

7. Jay Bernard - Bras

In this video, Ted Hughes Award-winning poet Jay Bernard performs their poem Bras at Penguin Pride Live in Brighton. In Bras, Jay Bernard plays with the softness of the vocabulary around breasts and lingerie, and the tension of growing up gender-non-conforming with a female body.

**Winner of the 2020 Sunday Times/University of Warwick Young Writer of the Year Award**

Jay Bernard's extraordinary debut is a fearless exploration of the New Cross Fire of 1981, a house fire at a birthday party in which thirteen young black people were killed.

Dubbed the 'New Cross Massacre', the fire was initially believed to be a racist attack, and the indifference with which the tragedy was met by the state triggered a new era of race relations in Britain.

Tracing a line from New Cross to the 'towers of blood' of the Grenfell fire, this urgent collection speaks with, in and of the voices of the past, brought back by the incantation of dancehall rhythms and the music of Jamaican patois, to form a living presence in the absence of justice.

A ground-breaking work of excavation, memory and activism - both political and personal, witness and documentary - Surge shines a much-needed light on an unacknowledged chapter in British history, one that powerfully resonates in our present moment.

'The verse has anger and political purpose, but a rare lyrical precision, too. The combination is powerful' Sebastian Faulks, Spectator, Books of the Year 2020

*Winner of the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry*

*Shortlisted for the Costa Poetry Award; T.S. Eliot Prize; Forward Prize for Best First Collection; Dylan Thomas Prize; RSL Ondaatje Prize; John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize*

*Longlisted for the Jhalak Prize 2020*

8. John Boyne - The Heart's Invisible Furies

In this clip from the Penguin studios, John Boyne reads from his book The Heart's Invisible Furies. This hilarious extract sees Cyril confess his sexuality to the shock of his old catholic priest.

The Heart's Invisible Furies
The Heart's Invisible Furies
'Compelling and satisfying... At times, incredibly funny, at others, heartrending' Sarah Winman, author of When God Was a Rabbit

Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?

Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.

At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.

In this, Boyne's most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart's Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.

Readers love the next book by John Boyne, A Traveller at the Gates of Wisdom, out 23 July 2020

***** ‘Very unique, very well written and crafted … a journey you will never forget.’
***** ‘It’s structure is like nothing I have seen before … the rewards on reading it are immense.’
***** ‘An extraordinary book…beautifully and intelligently written, timeless and insightful.’
***** ‘This is an imaginative tour de force.’
***** ‘Ambitious and breathtakingly evocative … takes your breath away.’
***** ‘A masterpiece... I can’t praise this book enough; had me gripped from the first page. Sublime!’

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