Passion for words provided path from poverty for former Home Secretary

Alan Johnson

Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson has urged parents to read to their children so they can get on in life.

Mr Johnson, who is also a critically acclaimed author, was speaking ahead of his appearance as one of the star attractions at the first ever Wrexham literary festival, the Carnival of Words.

According to Mr Johnson, his passion for words had provided a path out of childhood poverty that led to the top of the political tree in the UK.

The Labour Party stalwart has penned two autobiographical books, This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood and Please, Mr Postman, about his working life as a postman and his early political career.

Mr Johnson will be appearing at Gwersyllt Resource Centre at 7pm on Wednesday, April 22.

The Carnival of Words is being supported by the town’s Eagles Meadow shopping centre where the festival has a pop up shop to promote the week-long festival which is on from April April 28.

During the run-up to the festival there will be host a series of free events at the pop up shop where shoppers will be able to add their own lines to a “street poem” and then watch it expertly performed.

Among the other highlights will be the appearance of former Welsh rugby legend Gareth Thomas who will lead a question and answer session about his experiences as the first openly gay rugby player.

There will also be a special bus tour around the Wrexham area which will stop off at various landmarks connected with great literary figures from the past, including iconic Victorian novelist H G Wells who penned his masterpiece The Time Machine while teaching at the former Holt Academy.

Mr Johnson, who held several other Cabinet posts including that of Education Secretary, says bright children from poor, disadvantaged families quickly fall behind those from more privileged backgrounds as their exposure to words is less pronounced.

He said: “It’s so important parents read to their children and encourage them to pick up a book and read for themselves.

“Studies have shown that children, from what the American’s call professional families, know twice the number of words that kids from poor backgrounds do.

“Children need a hug and a kiss but as much as they need that from their parents they also need words. I’ve always had a passion for words; I love the process of writing, of polishing what I’ve put down on paper and re-writing it if I have to until I’m happy with my work.”

Born in London in 1950, Mr Johnson’s mum, Lilian, died when he was 12 and he was brought up his sister, Linda, who was herself only 16, after they were granted a council flat.

But his tough start to life didn’t prevent him passing his 11-plus and he attended a Chelsea grammar school although he left at 15 to find a job.

He said: “I remember mum taking me and my sister to the library. I think that’s how I got into reading at such an early age. I’m not sure mum knew why she was taking us to the library; I think it was more an instinctive thing that books were somehow good and reading was to be encouraged.

“And although I left school and got a job stacking shelves at Tesco I always had an appetite for books and for reading in general. I was largely self-educated and, in truth, I gleaned everything I was able, every scrap of knowledge, from within books.”

At the age of 18 Mr Johnson became a postman and by the age of 20 he was a married father of three.

He joined the Union of Communication Workers becoming a branch official and eventually its General Secretary.

In 1997 Mr Johnson was elected as MP for Hull and Hessle and is hoping to be elected to represent the safe Labour seat after the General Election on May 7.

He’s now working on the third book of his memoirs which should be completed toward the end of October.

He said: “I have tried to explain why I became the politician I am, my principles, beliefs and what formed them. Writing the books has been a labour of love; I’ve really enjoyed the whole process.

“I’m hoping, if I can convince my publisher it’s a good idea, that I can try writing a work of fiction in the future. I enjoy reading fiction and really enjoy the creative process of writing my ideas down.

“I write long-hand. I use a fountain pen and lined paper; it’s the only way I can work. I try to write for around two hours a day. The final draft has to be on a word processor but everything else is done using a pen and ink, I just can’t do it any other way.”

He added: “And I’m passionate about literary festivals. I enjoy appearing at them and discussing my books and work.

“I always enjoy them and I’m very much looking forward to being in Wrexham at the Gwersyllt Community Resource Centre for what I’m sure will be a searching interview followed by a lively debate.”

For more information on the Carnival of Words or to be added to the mailing list for updates and notification of ticket sales, email: The event is also on Facebook at Wrexham Carnival of Words and Twitter @WrexCarnival #wrexwords. Contact: Debbie Williams or Ann Hughes at Wrexham Library on 01978 292090. Ticket booking through Eventbrite:



April 18, 10am-2pm: Literary Bus Tour leaves from Wrexham Library to visit sites in and around Wrexham.

April 18, 7-10pm: An evening with Gareth Thomas, Q&A and book signing, Catrin Finch Centre, Glyndwr University.

April 20, 7-10pm: Dinner with Secret Millionaire, author and property developer Kevin Green, who is launching his first book at Wrexham Rugby Club.

April 21: Closed event for Wrexham schools – with children’s author S F Said.

April 21, 12.30-1.15pm: Poetry book launch and reading with Liz Lefroy, Glyndwr University library.

April 21, 7.30pm: Poems & Pints, reminisce with the locals on 150 years of Wrexham FC, Saith Seren, Wrexham town centre.

April 22, from 7pm: Panel discussion with the Murder Squad, authors from the Crime Writers’ Association, Wrexham Library.

April 22, 7pm former Home Secretary Alan Johnson at Gwersyllt Community Resource Centre

April 23, 2-5pm: Writers’ workshops for budding authors, Wrexham Library.

April 23, 5pm – 6.30pm: Local author networking event

April 23, 7-9pm: World Book Night, welcome by Welsh Assembly Member Ken Skates, children’s story writing competition winners, World Book Night giveaway and guest speaker, Wrexham Library.

April 25, 11am-2pm: Whovian Happenings, family event for fans of Dr Who with  writers Justin Richards and Mark Wright, Catrin Finch Centre, Glyndwr University.

April 25, 2.30-6pm: From Romans to Redcoats, popular historical novelists describe their passion for the past and lead light-hearted discussions with the audience, Catrin Finch Centre, Glyndwr University.

April 28, from 7pm: Dirgelwch a Llofruddiaeth, a murder mystery in Welsh, Rhos Library.

Activities at pop up shop at Eagles Meadow

The shop will have displays of books relevant to the Festival, but no sales will take place. We will have programmes, posters and information.


Monday, April 13

12:15 – 1pm – Poetry – Aled Lewis Evans with Wrexham Welsh writers – Bilingual event

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment


Friday, April 17

11:00 to 12pm – Read Aloud Session organised by the Wrexham Library

12:15 – 1pm – Wordy Birdies – a talented female duo of performance poets

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment


Saturday, April 18

12 – 1pm – TBC

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment


Monday, April  20

12:15 – 1pm – Rona Campbell and Mold writers

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment


Friday, April 24

12:15 – 1pm – Peter Read with Wrexham and Ellesmere writers’ groups and the first reading of the People’s Street Poem

1:15 – 3pm – Historical Fiction segment