It’s National Libraries Day and what better day to announce that I’m thrilled to be one of ten authors taking part in Read Regional, a programme of events in libraries across the North of England. My events page has a full list of the libraries I’ll be visiting, as well as an update on some other talks I’m doing this spring. Bones in the Nest is going on tour!
My first library was a red-brick Victorian building next to the public swimming baths. I was allowed to choose a new book after my swimming lesson. My mother, and the Victorians who built those wonderful places, knew what was important in life: a healthy body and a healthy mind. When I was old enough to go into the city centre on my own, it was to the architect John Madin’s Birmingham Central Library, where I began to drift from the children’s section to the adults’.
Although I love the new Birmingham Library, my heart will always be with its brutalist predecessor (image via BBC online).
My teenage years found me among the shelves of Oldham Library, often spending my pocket money in the book sale box. More recently, in my job at HMP Askham Grange I was based in the prison library, an oasis of stories and knowledge, where residents of the prison could escape into a book for hours.
When To Catch a Rabbit was first published, it was the audience at a talk in Dewsbury Library who made me appreciate the responsibility a writer has to their readers. They’d really taken Sean Denton into their hearts and were quite worried about his love life. There was a difference of opinion over Lizzie Morrison’s suitability for Sean, with one reader quite adamant that ‘she was no better than she ought to be.’ When I asked them what they thought he looked like, a woman said: ‘I can really picture him, he looks just like my nephew’. We had a great discussion about the importance of writers not over-describing their characters, but letting them exist in the imagination of their readers. I was asked how it felt to be published, and I said it felt amazing and particularly amazing to see my books in a library. ‘If this is as good as it gets,’ I said, ‘being here, talking to you, with my books on this table, then that’s good enough for me.’
Every day we hear news of more closures, or of libraries hanging on with reduced staff, or only surviving with the help of volunteers. Free access to books, or the opportunity to get online for the 15% of households who still have no internet access, or a quiet place to do homework, or a community hub with open doors to everyone – libraries should not be a privilege, or a postcode lottery, they should be an entitlement for everyone in this country. They are also the canary in the coalmine of the funding cuts to local authorities. Today they will come for your library; tomorrow they will come for your parks, your refuse collection, and your adult social care. Who needs libraries? We all do, but some need them less than others, and they are the people making political decisions about local services that affect the poorest in society most.
Use your library. Increased footfall gives libraries a good case to remain open. Lobby your local council and your MP if your library is under threat. Join in the conversation online or even in person in a lobby of Parliament on February 9th.
Happy National Libraries Day!
Or should that be, quite angry National Libraries Day.