READING a good book is a wonderful thing. There's no better way of stimulating the imagination, broadening the outlook, learning about lives other than yours, getting inside someone else's head.

By its very nature, however, it is a solitary occupation. Yes, you can discuss a book you've read with friends and family. But if they haven't read it themselves, it tends to be a one-way conversation.

So imagine if a whole city was reading the same book at the same time. Think of the discussions you could have then...

That's the whole idea of the Big City Read. Each year, library bosses in York choose a particular book, and give away thousands of copies at libraries and special events across the city.

"It's about everybody in York sharing the experience of reading the same book," says Fiona Williams, chief executive of York Explore, which runs the city's network of libraries. "And it's such a joy."

This year, it will be joy tinged with sadness. Because the book being given away is To Catch A Rabbit, York writer Helen Cadbury's debut thriller, which was published in 2013.

It's a cracking read, introducing Doncaster police community support officer Sean Denton, who dreams of being a detective but who finds himself in way over his head when a dead prostitute is found on his patch. But it's much more than just a crime novel, insists Fiona. "It also examines both the complexity of human relationships and contemporary social issues in York and the wider world."

Reading it will certainly bring joy to lots of people in the city who haven't yet discovered Helen's work.

The sad thing is that Helen is no longer here with us to appreciate readers' enjoyment. The mother of two died in June, aged just 52. To the last, she was talking about her plans - and particularly the forthcoming release of her third Sean Denton novel, Race to the Kill, which will be published next month.

York Press:

Helen Cadbury

Library bosses in York had decided last year that they would make To Catch A Rabbit this year's Big City Read. "Helen was absolutely delighted and brimming with enthusiasm and ideas for the event," says Fiona. And when she became ill, Helen was adamant that it should go ahead.

So this year's event will, in a way, be a tribute to a woman who was for many years a vital part of York's literary scene - a poet, novelist, creative writing teacher, book festival supporter and planner of literary events.

"She made such a huge contribution to literary life in York," says Fiona. "It's heartbreaking that she won't be able to be with us."

Helen will very much be with the city in spirit during the course of this year's event, which runs from September 14 to November 10, however.

It isn't only that more than 5,000 copies of To Catch A Rabbit will be given away. Helen's third Sean Denton novel, Race To The Kill, will officially be launched at York Explore central library on Tuesday September 26.

And her fingerprints are also all over this year's extensive programme of other events. The two month programme - featuring a host of big name authors such as Val McDermid, Sophie Hannah, Mark Billingham and Alison Weir, plus poetry workshops, literary walks, talks, murder mysteries and much, much more - was put together by Wendy Kent, Explore's reader development librarian. But Helen helped plan several of the events. "She was brimming with ideas and enthusiasm," says Wendy.

The ultimate aim of the Big City Read is to share the joy of books and of reading, says Fiona Williams. That was something Helen devoted her life to.

She's have loved the idea that thousands of people in York will be enjoying his first novel this autumn.

  • You will be able to collect your free copy of To Catch A rabbit by Helen Cadbury at any library in York from September 15 through to November 10, while stocks last.

Highlights of this year's Big City Read

This year's Big City Read programme involves 60 events spread over two months at libraries and other venues across York.

One of the biggest names in crime fiction, Val McDermid, will actually be at York Explore at 6.30pm tonight (Thursday) to talk about her new thriller Insidious Intent, in what has been billed as a 'pre Big City Read treat'.

The Big City Read proper begins at York Explore on Thursday, September 14, when York writer Tom Harper (real name Edwin Thomas) and psychological thriller writer Ruth Ware discuss their friendship with Helen Cadbury, and talk about her novel To Catch A Rabbit.

Events then run at libraries and other venues across the city until November 10.

A full programme is available at

But here are a few selected highlights...

Crime and Punishment: History detectives walk in York, Friday September 15, 10.30am, York Explore: Join WEA history tutor Katie Croft as she plays history detective during a walk through the streets of York, discovering some of the city's darkest secrets. Meet in the foyer at York Explore central library. Free, but booking essential

Alison Weir: Anne Boleyn, A King's Obsession, Wednesday September 20, 6pm, York Explore: The bestselling popular historian's latest book weaves new research into the familiar dark story of Henry VIII's second wife, who lost her head but became mother of England's greatest queen, Elizabeth 1. Tickets £7.50

The Big City Read Annual Walk, Thursday September 21, 11am, meet at York Explore: An hour's guided walk through the streets and snickelways of central York, taking in some of the York locations referred to in To Catch A Rabbit, Helen Cadbury's debut thriller. Free. No booking needed

Book launch of Helen Cadbury's third crime novel, Race To The Kill, Tuesday September 26, 6.30pm, York Explore: Join Helen's friends, family, publisher and agent at the posthumous launch of her third Sean Denton novel. Free, but booking essential

Poetry workshop with Anna Woodford, Thursday September 28, 2.30pm, York Explore: Informal creative writing workshop which looks at free writing, and also at poems about freedom by writers ranging from York's own Jack Mapanje to Emily Dickinson

Get Carter, Monday October 2, 6pm, City Screen: Special screening of the landmark British gangland thriller starring a young Michael Caine as the London gangster returning to his native Newcastle to discover the real reason behind the suspicious death of his brother. Tickets: £7.50

How to commit the perfect murder, Wednesday October 4, 2.30pm, Wigginton Recreation Hall and Wednesday October 18, 1.30pm, York Explore: No, not an incitement to commit crime, but a fun three-hour workshop with award-winning writer Alison Taft in which you'll learn how to plan, plot and begin writing your own crime story. Free, but booking essential

Sophie Hannah - Did You See Melody? Thursday October 5, 6.30pm, York Explore: International bestselling crime writer Hannah will discuss her new psychological thriller Did You See Melody? and talk about the sources and inspirations behind it. Tickets £7.50

The Game's Afoot: An Encounter with Sherlock Holmes, Wednesday October 25, 6.30pm, York Explore: David Stuart Davies brings the story of the great detective and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to life in a one-man play first presented at the Edinburgh Fringe. Tickets £5.

Pamela Hartshorne: Writing Elizabethan York, Saturday November 4, 2pm, New Earswick Library: The historical novelist talks about her research and the inspirations for her Elizabethan novels set in York. Tickets: £5

Castle Museum Book Club Special - To Catch A Rabbit, Saturday November 4, 3pm, York Castle Museum: Join fellow readers at the museum to discuss and explore this year's Big City Read book. Free but normal museum admission applies. Booking required

Poetry workshop with Carole Bromley, Tuesday November 7, 10am-4pm, York Explore: All day workshop exploring some of the themes from this year's Big City Read. Tickets £20

Mark Billingham and Chris Brookmyre, Friday November 10, 6pm, York Explore: Two of the UK's best crime writers put on a double act of tall stories, anecdotes and humour - and still find time to discuss their latest novels. Tickets £8