“Can you say something inspiring?” said the lovely lady from the library.

“Can you say something inspiring?” said the lovely lady from the library.

“Er…inspiring? Er…”

“Yes! You know, about your volunteering experience, and your library project and how it’s helped your career?”

“Er…I’ll do my best.” And here it is, an edited version of my 20 minute keynote speech at an event celebrating the achievements of young volunteers who have helped Kirklees libraries in recent weeks:

Can I start by saying what a great thing it is that you’ve done by volunteering at the library. Volunteering can be hard. I know, I’ve done it. You give your time, your energy, your passion for the subject and your skills to an organisation who, in this case, really couldn’t have done that particular thing without you. Sometimes, in the chaos of the day, it feels as if you get very little recognition in return, but that’s only if you end up volunteering in a company that doesn’t really understand what you can bring to an organisation, or how best to nurture you. I happen to think that you’ve hit the jackpot by volunteering at the library, but then I’m biased. Continue reading

Book review: The Library Book (published by Profile Books in support of The Reading Agency)

Confession: when I read the press release about The Library Book last year, I approached Profile Books on a whim, hoping they would be interested in including extracts of my Living Library research as an ‘epilogue.’ I knew I was living in la-la-land just clicking the SEND button, but to quote my brilliant mum ‘if you not ask, then you won’t be getting…” I got my quickest rejection to date: 3 minutes for a ‘no thank you and good luck’ (I posted an extract here instead, and found out last month that it got a readership of over 3500).

So, when The Library Book finally made it to the shelves of my local library, I couldn’t wait to review it. The library, of course, had to jump through hoops to get it: justify the spend on this book, approve the spend, order it, receive the order, catalogue it, ring me to tell me it’s arrived, put it somewhere for me to pick up. This process took 4 months. Good grief, I could have handmade a copy in that time. But I have it now, and it was worth the wait.

The book consists of memoir, essays and extracts of novels. Many are testimonies to what the libraries have given the authors, whilst others present fictional worlds, or form the backdrop to pivotal events. As with any collection of writing, some contributions are more engaging than others. The standout piece for me was by Bella Bathurst, simply because I recognise so much of what she writes about in the libraries that I visited during my residency. She gathers stories from librarians and patrons (which no other contribution does) to bring the modern public library to life. My other favourites include Zadie Smith, whose account of the library as a ‘gateway’ for her entire family is beautifully written and gathers pace to question the concept of Big Society. Caitlin Moran too provides a similar argument with lightless. Anita Anand and Hardeep Singh Kohli offer engaging insights into the immigrant experience (again, I can relate to this), and Val McDermid’s reliance on libraries as a writer echoes my own. Fictional work by Julian Barnes and Kate Mosse are superb, and Susan Hill’s memory of accidently meeting E.M. Forster and T.S. Elliott is spellbinding (I think I held my breath for the last two paragraphs). Robin Turner’s interview with Nicky Wire of the Manic Street Preachers provides a much needed departure from some of the more clichéd appreciations of libraries (and is tightly written), and Karin Slaughter’s call to action makes for a sharp conclusion.

For all the weightiness of the subject matter, it is a light read. I clearly have my favourites, and there’s enough in this slim volume for you to discover your own. You get the gist, this is a book worth reading.

3 Unwritten Rules I Think You Should Know About Using Your Library (It Wasn’t Like This In My Day)

At Hudderfield Library last Saturday, we celebrated World Book Night two days early and during the day. Here’s an edited version of my reading, taken from The Living Library:

If you think back to when you went to the library as children, you’d be forgiven for thinking that libraries have changed beyond recognition. The buildings remain the same – big and imposing, or small and intimate. And perhaps the decor remains the same, with yellow, peeling walls coupled with a familiar smell that lingers. Yet all of this is largely cosmetic. Visiting the library is different now, and it’s different because the rules of using your library have changed. By rules, I don’t mean the number of forms you have to fill in, or how to book yourself time on the computer, I mean the Unwritten Rules. So, to help you make sense of these rules, I’ve put together a list of things I think you should know, helpfully titled: 3 Unwritten Rules I Think You Should Know About Using Your Library (It Wasn’t Like This In My Day). Continue reading

World Book Night reading

In less than 3 weeks, I’ll be reading from The Living Library, a work in progress. The fabulous bods at Huddersfield Library are busy promoting the event with this lovely poster.

 

And guess who’s going to be there… Continue reading

The Living Library gets its first airing

Yesterday, I learned three secret ingredients to a good book reading:

1. Free tea and coffee
2. Free biscuits
3. A warm room

You simply cannot go wrong if your audience is fed, watered and warm. It makes them a captive audience, and there is nothing sweeter for a writer than reading to a captive audience. So, with a belly full of Viennese Whirls and tea up to my eyeballs, I began reading extracts from the first chapter of The Living Library. They laughed, clapped and asked me questions, and came out with some gems of their own:

Mrs H: I remember being taken to join the library by my teacher when I was 7
Me: Where was that?
Mrs H: In Leeds, next to the school. I started working at the school as a teacher when I got older. I remember the smell from when I was a child. Still smelled of wet knickers.

At the end of the reading, one of the women gave me hug and a few others came and told me that they would happy buy the book, ‘but I expect it’ll be the library for free, so there’s no need to buy it.’ And with that, they were all gone.

The clever bods at Huddersfield Library have now hit upon a cunning plan for me to read from my manuscript throughtout the year, as it progresses. ‘It’s different from us hearing the final product,’ said the mastermind, ‘which is what usually happens.’ So watch this space…

This has been a big week on the writing front with the reading and also the creative writing group beginning again. Two hours a week for the next six months. SIGH. Oh my, how I’ve missed it.

Me and my captive audience

Library talk with the Kirklees Recorder

Last month, I had the pleasure of talking to the Kirklees Recorder about swimming into the deep end of a writing residency without any armbands. Listen to how the residency first came about and why I think the experience has been thought provoking. If you listen carefully, you can also hear my first attempts at newsreading. They must have liked the ‘larry the lamb’ voice, as The Recorder have asked me to read again next week. I mentioned the interview to one of my clients, and they said, ‘yeah, well, you do sound a bit like the Posh Radio 4 Lady on Radio 1,’ but I think I have some way to go yet. Anyway, enjoy…

That’s all folks (not really)…

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the last two weeks, it’s that library staff know EVERYTHING, and I don’t mean which books to read if you want to do a loft conversion. I mean they pick up on much more than you realise. Not only do they know what you eat and drink when you think they are not looking, they know your reading habits, how often you come in, the time of day they are likely to see you, and the way you walk, talk, behave and smell. This means that if, for some reason, you suddenly disappear, they start asking questions. It means that they care enough to find out what has happened to you – they are a real ‘social service’ showing that what they do is sometimes above and beyond the call of duty. How many institutions can say this about their clients?

The start of Summer Reading Challenge yesterday marked the end of my formal writing residency, but I’ll be back over the summer to top up my research as I write my manuscript. So you’ll get some more library stories over the coming months. Stay tuned and thanks for reading…