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Belfast Telegraph Coronavirus podcast: Jan Carson's Postcard Stories and libraries see jump in virtual members

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Award-winning author Jan Carson

Award-winning author Jan Carson

Julie Reid of Libraries NI

Julie Reid of Libraries NI

Award-winning author Jan Carson

Belfast-based author Jan Carson has said the reaction of older people who have received short stories from her written on the back of postcards have given her a 'lift' during the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Carson, who is the author of several books including The Fire Starters, said she has written Postcard Stories for several years but started sending them to older people to create a "tangible connection" in lockdown.

"I had been writing Postcard Stories since 2015, I had a really killer dose of writers block after my second book and I set myself the challenge of writing a short story every day on the back of a postcard," she said, speaking to the Belfast Telegraph's Coronavirus podcast.

After writing 365 postcards that year and sending them to friends all over the world, she created her first collection of Postcard Stories with the Emma Press publishing house.

"When the coronavirus pandemic began, I usually do community arts work with older people and it's been very very hard to keep in communication with them because the technology is often difficult for an older person to get their head around."

She originally wrote postcards to participants in writing groups she already knew and asked the children of friends to illustrate them.

More than 100 children have now signed up to illustrate postcards which have been received by more than 80 older people.

"It's a tangible connection in the digital age - we email, we message, we text, but there's no paper trail, nothing that can be left. I wanted something that I can go to people's house and see it pinned on their fridge just to keep this network open," said Ms Carson.

Members of the public can nominate someone to receive a Postcard Story via Jan Carson's Facebook or Instagram page.

The feedback the author has received from the public is uplifting, she said.

"Folks have been emailing in and saying my Daddy is very isolated or one is going out to a friend who has a neighbour whose wife has recently passed away.

"Some hilarious messages, some really moving. I had a message last week from an 86-year-old lady who is isolating - she said it was the first time she had a giggle in seven weeks.

"If we can do even a tiny little thing like this to help someone else, it weirdly lifts you as well," she said.

Deputy Head of Service at Libraries NI Julie Reid said more than 10,000 new virtual members have signed up to the library since lockdown began.

It's along with a record month for loans for the service, she said. "In April we saw record figures for our loans, including ebooks and magazines checked out. Nearly 270,000 items were checked out since lockdown started.

Libraries NI has focused all resources towards reaching out to customers since libraries closed in mid-March and assisting those who have to stay at home, are working from home or parents who are homeschooling their children.

"We have plenty of reading schemes, accelerated reading schemes and phonics as well for children who are at all stages in their development," she said.

There's also a drive to connect with customers for whom the library was a lifeline, she said.

"We're trying to find ways to keep in touch with customers who came in to make those connections and have those conversations.

"If they're online, they can keep in touch with us via social media and we're also trying to showcase different services people might not have known were available."

Belfast Telegraph