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Biography

Early experience in reading aloud​It was a dark and stormy night in Cornwall.  Well, that’s what Alec likes to think, but he was only just being born, so (conveniently) he can’t even remember what year it was.  He remembers bright lights, adults talking in the background, lots of mess, and a good deal of shouting and crying, some of which might have been his own – your typical library storytelling session, in fact.  His father, a Yorkshireman, could tell a tale or two, and his Cornish mother was from one of the UK’s ancient Celtic countries – all known for their love of stories!

Realising that neither tin mining nor pilchard fishing was for him, the infant Williams engineered a move to Bradford, West Yorkshire; he played in the same street as author George Layton, scuffed his knees, and built ‘dens’ with his friends.  Somehow, he grew up*.  (*But kept the child inside!)

It was a dark and stormy night in Cornwall...

At 18, and unsure what to do with his life, an evil careers teacher whispered the word ‘librarianship’ in his ear, and Alec sneaked into the Leeds Library School course, a week after it had started.  Everyone looked up and gawped; his audiences still continue to do this…

Having qualified as a librarian, Alec’s first job was in Chester.  “There’s the children’s section” he was told casually, “do something with that.” So he did – and was amazed, both by the quality of 1970s UK writing for children, and the sheer enthusiasm of librarians working with them.  It was a heady time, with big-name authors visiting; taking books into housing estates; and storytelling in the park – more useful experience for his later storytelling career!  Meanwhile, marriage and a young son meant lots of bedtime stories…

Alec as a young librarian

After Chester, Alec moved to Lancashire, but failed dismally to pick up the accent.  By then, he had specialised in children’s library work; become involved in professional bodies such as the Library Association (now ‘CILIP’); began to put his name about; and developed a further taste for the limelight by living next to Burnley Football Club’s floodlit pitch.

Moving to the West Yorkshire District of Calderdale in 1979, Alec was drawn into several major school library design projects, along with designing the award-winning Halifax children’s library.  He also co-wrote CILIP’s first ‘Children and Young People’ Guidelines. All very rewarding, but he was seeing fewer books and children…

In 1997, Alec moved to Leeds as Head of Children’s Services, leading a team of thirteen children’s librarians.  Amongst his senior management work, he found time to train teachers, whose comments (“The most enjoyable course I’ve been on for ages… he was a breath of fresh air!”) made him realise his vocation as a communicator, so when the opportunity to leave libraries came in 1999, Alec began an independent, freelance career as trainer, speaker and storyteller.

But Alec didn’t leave libraries behind.  A great supporter of school libraries, Alec was Chair of the UK’s School Library Association from 2004 to 2006, and became involved in their government-supported initiative ‘Boys into Books’, encouraging boys to read (download the booklist from here, and read Alec’s introduction).  Boys’ reading is also one of Alec’s very popular training courses, along with topics such as library design, reading for pleasure – and, of course, storytelling!

Alec's son carrying on the story tradition

Since 1999, Alec has travelled the UK speaking to both children and adults, and has worked in over 30 countries around the world. He's in demand as an entertaining speaker; a compere at events, and a guest lecturer at universities – and his work for IFLA and the British Council has given him an international perspective on reading, libraries and children’s books, as well as a chance to collect stories as he goes! 

Alec’s son lectures in English Literature at the University of York (it must have been all those bedtime stories and poems!), and is an expert on the work of nonsense writer Edward Lear.  Alec and his partner also live in the North of England, in a 17th Century farmhouse on top of the Yorkshire Pennines.   

Alec’s happy to travel to your venue too – even if it’s a dark and stormy night…

One of the great men of children’s reading, libraries and literacy.  And a nice man too.  — Tom Palmer, Author, 2012


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