Posted in Events, Reading

Sharing My Speech from the Launch of Our Community Library

Pic of Gordon checking out some audio CDs
The first satisfied borrower of the day: my husband, with Liz Howard, volunteer librarian

I was delighted to be invited to launch the new Hawkesbury Upton Village Library yesterday, and I wrote a short speech to mark the occasion. A number of people afterwards asked me for a copy of it, so here it is for anyone who would like it.

After I’d spoken, local councillor Sue Hope added her thanks on behalf of the community to the Hawkesbury Village Hall Committee, the Parish Council and the Hawkesbury Writers for their support and funding for the new facilities, for which the books and services will be provided by South Gloucestershire Libraries. A team of eight wonderful village volunteers will staff the library and open it for two hours every fortnight.

My Opening Address

It’s a pleasure and an honour to be invited to open what is going to be a wonderful new resource for our community. It feels like we’re at a little bit of Hawkesbury history in the making.

Like many of you, I was sad that funding cuts led to the closure of the mobile library that had served us so well for so long. It brought great comfort and interest to many villages and hamlets beside ours, and it was always a heartwarming sight to see it trundling down our lanes. It was like a tardis full of books, manned by kind, friendly and knowledgeable staff always willing to help us, no matter how obscure our questions, even when we forget our library cards. I don’t know whether the mobile staff realised how much we loved and appreciated them, but on behalf of our community, I’d like to thank them for the pleasure they have brought us – and to congratulate them for their driving skills to manoeuvre that great bus down the lanes to us, time after time.

So a sad loss, but, like a phoenix from the ashes, this new and different kind of library, with its permanent base in our community, is the start of a whole new chapter (groan) in our bookish lives. In a way it will bring us the best of both worlds: access to the entire stock from South Gloucestershire Libraries, not only from Yate’s stocks but from anywhere in the south west. All we need to do is request them online from the comfort of our own homes, and they’ll be served up to us by our fantastic team of volunteers, all trained to give us the help we need at a local level.

Photo of bookshelves open and stocked
Smart new mobile shelving allows the librarians to create a pop-up library every fortnight in the village hall

You can of course still use the other South Gloucestershire libraries of your choice – in Yate when you’re shopping, or the library nearest your workplace – but just as the mobile library brought resources to those who couldn’t get to those, so will the community library. But choosing books from the Community Library will help you save fuel and time – just as the Hawkesbury Stores makes it possible for us to buy groceries close to home.

For any cynics who are wondering whether public libraries are still relevant to us in the digital age, think again. Studies show that a large proportion of library users are also regular buyers of books. Libraries are for everyone – and not just for those who can’t afford to buy books.

Why do affluent book buyers use libraries too? Library books should not be considered as second-best to buying books. The quality of books in libraries is always high, mostly as new or nearly new condition, and it’s a joy to touch and hold them – these days, with the high production values of modern books, they are an aesthetic treat as well as a literary one. You can get as much of a buzz out of walking home with an armload of library books as from buying them in shops – and you don’t have to worry about running out shelf space at home, either.

Libraries also offer a low-risk strategy to expand your choice of reading matter. Well, I like to think of a library as a tasting menu in a restaurant. Like a tasting menu, a visit to the library offers you the chance to try new things. When you haven’t paid for a book, it doesn’t matter if you don’t much like it or finish it – but at the same time, you might discover new passions and interests in the process.

A library is also like a smorgasbord because it’s an all-you-can-eat menu – only in this restaurant of reading, you don’t end your visit by paying a bill. The only money you will spend here is if you treat yourself to some tea and cake, which you can do with a clear conscience because the takings for refreshments are what will cover the hall hire costs for each session.

But that’s fine too because libraries aren’t only about books on shelves. They are also an important social meeting point, accessible and affordable to all, where everyone may meet on an equal footing. They are hugely democratic and an enormously valuable anchor in our society for all sorts of reasons unrelated to books – the books might even be considered a bonus. What matters is that we connect.

cover of Reading Allowed by Chris Paling
Recommended reading for everyone who loves libraries

I’ve just finished reading a fascinating fly-on-the-wall memoir by a librarian, Chris Paling, called Reading Allowed. He points out that public libraries can also be study centres, play areas, A&E departments, refuges for the homeless and much more – Hawkesbury librarians, you have been warned! I’m sure our library will serve as a brilliant coffee shop too – a safe, warm place to socialise with friends. Fortunately libraries no longer have a silence rule!

I realise not everyone may be instantly persuaded that the library is for them. “I’m not much of a reader,” they might say, or “I don’t have time to read”. I bet they still find time to watch television. In that case, I say they just haven’t met the right book yet.  

The book stock has been carefully curated to match the needs and interests of our community, and it will be constantly refreshed to keep it interesting for us.

photo of cake on table
Celebratory cake – we don’t do much in Hawkesbury that doesn’t include cake

Who watches “Game of Thrones”? Of course, that hugely popular series is based on books by a very wise man, George R R Martin, who famously said about books and reading:

“He who reads lives a thousand lives. He who does not read lives only once.”

Our new community library gives us all the chance to live a thousand lives. So please do take advantage of this wonderful gift to our village, today and every time it opens, once a fortnight, in future. I’m delighted to declare it now officially open.


If you love libraries, you might enjoy these other posts from my blog archives:

In Praise of Public Libraries for National Libraries Day

Sharing My Stories about Public Libraries

Another Story Inspired by Public Libraries

cover of Quick Change
Click the image for buying ilnks

Both of the stories about libraries featured in those last two posts are included in Quick Change, my collection of flash fiction, available in paperback and ebook. Click the image to buy online or quote ISBN 978-0993087967 to order at your local bookshop.

 

Posted in Reading, Writing

Writing in the Library

A post about writing fiction and finding inspiration in public libraries

Modern desk with computer
In the blue corner, my business desk

For the first time today, I decided to take a mini writing retreat in my local public library, and I’m jolly glad I did.

I’m lucky enough to have my own study at home, in which I’ve squeezed both a business desk for my freelance work and, for my fiction writing, a tiny upright bureau that used to be my grandfather’s. Even though it’s currently in a relatively tidy state, I needed some cooler air in which to write. My study’s upstairs, and all the heat in the house seems to gravitate towards it and stay there.

Old upright bureau with paper notebook
In the red corner, my fiction writing desk

As I had to go into our nearest town anyway to run an errand, I decided to take my notebook with me and sit in the calm, open-plan space of the Yate Public Library, where it might not be much cooler, but at least the air would circulate better.

Like a human thermometer, I roved around our large, single-story modern library, trying to decide the best place to settle. It’s a new, light and airy building, thanks to a National Lottery grant a few years ago. Easily the coolest spot was the children’s section. This was also one of the quietest, as I was there during school hours.

Notebook showing Einstein's head and caption "Ideas"
Always inspiring: a new spiral-bound notebook

After I’d been scribbling away happily in my new notebook for half an hour, a small girl aged about 3 arrived with her mum. She made a beeline for the open boxes of picture books and quickly made her choice.  “But you’ve had that one before!” complained her mum.  Undeterred, the little girl curled up in a chair to read it, or at least, to read the pictures – a great way to develop future reading skills, by the way, as is enjoying the same books over and over again.

Seeing how much pleasure this little girl was gaining from her favourite story gave me a real filip. It reminded me that writing stories isn’t really about the author getting words on the paper, to satisfy his or her own compulsion to write, but about filling the reader with pleasure. What better incentive could there be to any writer? I carried on writing…

Further Encouragement

New cover of Stocking FillersOn arriving home, satisfiedwith my morning’s work, I was torn between whether to close my eyes for a few minutes (gosh, this heat is enervating!) or  to plough on with writing my story. While deliberating, I had the urge to check whether I’d received any new reviews lately. (Yes, authors do this a LOT.) To my delight, there was a new one against my Christmas collection of short stories, Stocking Fillers. Though the review was brief, it said enough to make me happy:

Gentle but worldly. Light sometimes outwardly fluffy stories, but within is a gentle spike of irony. Very easy and digestible. A true story teller.

Well, now I know what I’ll be doing for the rest of the day: smiling.

With thanks to Yate Library and its wonderful staff for providing such a wonderful resource to our local community. 

New cover for Quick Change

If you love public libraries, you may also enjoy these previous posts: 

In Praise of Public Libraries

Sharing My Stories about Public Libraries

Another Story Inspired by Libraries

Both of the two short stories in the above posts are also available in the new paperback edition of Quick Change, my flash fiction collection.

I

Posted in Writing

Another Story Inspired by Libraries

Indie Author Fair banner adAs promised in my last post, today I’m sharing the second of the two stories that I read aloud at the Indie Author Fair in Chorleywood last Sunday.

Both stories have been published in anthologies this year. The one I posted here earlier this week was included in National Flash Fiction Day’s 2014 anthology Eating My Words.

I was invited to write the second story, below, to appear in an interesting and unusual project that used flash fiction to promote positive expectations of local government services. Gosh!

I chose to celebrate the mobile library service in my story, because the village in which I live is fortunate to have a visit from one every fortnight. Mobile libraries are invaluable resources, storing an extraordinary assortment of fiction, non-fiction, CDs, DVDs and even jigsaw puzzles in their limited space, for the benefit of remote communities, free of charge. They are especially valuable to those who have no independent transport to reach their nearest public library, but they’re also welcome to those who can’t otherwise get out very much, such as parents with small children at home, or those caring for housebound relatives who do not have the freedom to leave the village often.

My preamble is in danger of being longer than my story (the required word count for submissions was 350 words), so without more ado, here we go….

Upwardly Mobile

Every other Tuesday, half way through my shift in the village shop, I’d watch the white mobile library bus trundle past on its way to park by the village school. On its return trip twenty minutes later, the lady driver would wave cheerfully to me. In our narrow lane, the giant books painted on the side of the van almost touched the shop window, making me feel the size of a Borrower, which was ironic, because I’d never borrowed any of its books.

Then at the start of October, my hours at the shop were cut. Our takings had been falling since the new superstore popped up a few miles away. After that, I was always at home on Tuesdays, alone in my cottage opposite the school. I’d watch the library van park outside my house.

As soon as its doors swung open, school children bearing books would bound up its steps. Older folk followed more slowly, cautiously gripping the handrail with their book-free hand. When they’d emerge one by one, they’d all be smiling, large print books a common bond between the very old and very young.

As the days shortened, I grew weary of daytime television. I wished I could afford more bus trips into town, or to anywhere that would make my life less dull. Then last Tuesday afternoon I finally found my courage. Once its regular visitors had dispersed, I slowly mounted the mobile library’s steps.

“Can I help you, dear?” asked the lady driver, now standing behind the counter. It seemed odd to hear her voice at last.

“I don’t know,” I faltered. “You see, I’m not much of a reader.”

When she ducked behind the counter, I thought it was to hide her scorn. But she popped up again with a library card application form and a pen.

“Ooh, everyone’s a reader, dear!”she exclaimed kindly. “You just haven’t found the right books yet. We’ve got something here for everyone. I’ll help you choose.”

But that’s all I have time to tell you now, because I want to get back to my book.

Headshot of Debbie Young with Change the Ending paperback
Self-satisfied selfie, snapped on the day that my paperback arrived in the post!

Change the Ending is an intriguing anthology which includes the work not only of seasoned authors but also of local government workers who had never written fiction before, but were persuaded to by the project’s creator Dawn Reeves, a powerhouse of energy and inspiration. It’s now available to buy here.

To read more of my short stories, you might like to try either of my single-author collections:

  • Quick Change, published in the summer to mark National Flash Fiction Day, featuring 20 flash fictions on the theme of change
  • Stocking Fillers, just published this month, to celebrate Christmas with 12 humorous short stories

Both are now available as ebooks on Kindle, but if you’re ereader-averse, you’ll be able to buy them in paperback very shortly!

Posted in Reading, Writing

Sharing My Stories About Public Libraries

Indie Author Fair banner ad

 

Yesterday I was pleased to give a public reading of two of my short stories at the Chorleywood Literary Festival. Both stories were written in celebration of public libraries.

I attended the Festival to represent the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) at an event called the Indie Author Fair. This was a pop-up bookshop organised by the author collective Triskele Books in association with ALLi. Around 40 indie authors were involved, so I was very lucky to be chosen as one of a dozen readers.

Originally I’d planned to read a story from my summer collection, Quick Change, but at the last minute I thought it more appropriate to select a story that celebrated books and reading.

I’ve had two stories about libraries published this year, one in Eating My Words, the official anthology of National Flash Fiction Day, and the other in Change The Ending, which used flash fiction to foster positive outcomes for local government – an unusual and inventive use of fiction!  When I asked the IAF’s compère, Perry Iles, which of the two I should read, he answered “Both!” So I did, and they went down very well with the audience. Good call, Perry!

I’d like to share those stories with those of you who weren’t at the Festival, so today I’m posting on my blog the story from Eating My Words – the one that had to be written on the theme of The Senses. This story was inspired by my husband’s Open University science degree course. By an extraordinary coincidence, he happened to be studying a module on The Senses, and kept sharing with me fascinating facts from his textbook. The narrator of the resulting story is an elderly gentleman, who is emphatically not based on my husband!

I’ll share the other story with you later this month, so if you don’t already receive my new posts by email,  pop your address in the “follow the blog” box form on the right of this page to make sure you don’t miss it.

Please Remain Silent for the Benefit of Other Library Users (In Hushed Tones)

Why, Miss Blossom, how lovely to see you back in the Reading Room, it’s been a while, has it not? I hope you’ve been keeping well. The Times? Yes, I’ve finished with The Times. Please be my guest. No, no, I’ve definitely finished.

I was just going to toddle along to the Science section until I saw you. Yes, Neuroscience, actually, it’s a new interest of mine. I’ve been spending a lot of time in that department lately. Fascinating stuff, absolutely fascinating.

Just yesterday I came across a fact I’d never known before. Tell me, have you ever noticed that although the smell of polish hits you the minute you enter the library, you cease to notice it after a while? Apparently, that’s nature’s way. We’re all programmed to stop noticing a smell, good or bad, within moments of first sensing it. Yes, unpleasant smells too. Yes, I suppose it is a blessing. That must be why that air freshener company has been advertising a device that alternates between two different perfume reservoirs – so that the user is constantly reminded that it’s working.

No, no, I don’t watch much commercial television either. I just happened to switch over by mistake.

But the same applies to all the other senses, according to the book I’ve been reading over in the Science section. If you hear a sound repeatedly, it fades into the background.  Yes, trains passing your flat at night, that’s an excellent example. You only notice them when they stop – when there’s a strike and they don’t run. I’ve noticed that too. You’re so right. Next time I’m kept awake by the cessation of striking trains, I shall – there, I shall say it! – I shall think of you.

And have you noticed how the same food or drink, day after day, ceases to be pleasurable? Yes, that first cup of proper English tea after a trip abroad is always the best, you’re quite right.

And as to touch, well, I never notice the cat curled up against my arm on the bed at night, once she and I have settled down. Your cat sleeps on your bed too? Sooty sleeps on your bed, curled up into the small of your back? Oh, Miss Blossom, I say! I wonder whether our cats would be friends if they met?

The other sense? The fifth one? Does it work for the sense of sight? Well, do you know, I am at odds with the book on that one. Because, Miss Blossom, because – and I don’t care if the librarian is looking daggers at me since you ask – no matter how often I spot you in this Reading Room, and no matter how long I gaze at you before you look up and notice me, I will never tire of the sight of you . Oh Miss Blossom, dare I ask? Would you care to join me for the afternoon in the Science Section?

To read more stories on the theme of the senses, and wonder at the amazing inventiveness of other writers featured in the anthology, you’ll find Eating My Words available as ebook and paperback available to buy on Amazon.

Quick Change is currently available as an ebook for Kindle, and a paperback will be available from all good bookshops from the end of November.