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 Self-publishing, Writing

My Talk at the Cambridge Literary Festival

An overview of my talk about self-publishing, given on behalf of the Alliance of Independent Authors, at last week’s Cambridge Literary Festival.

Cover of "Opening Up To Indie Authors"
My talk anticipated the launch of this groundbreaking book the following week

Last Sunday I had the honour of representing the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) as a speaker at the Cambridge Literature Festival, the new name for the Cambridge WordFest.

It was the first time I’d taken the stage at a major literary festival, my presence last autumn at the Cheltenham Literature Festival being over the airwaves from the Green Room via BBC Radio Gloucestershire, rather than before a studio audience.

It was heartening to have this opportunity to spread the word about the virtues and benefits of self-publishing at a major literary festival in one of the nation’s foremost university cities. It was also timely, as two days later I was due to launch at the London Book Fair a new book I’d co-authored with Dan Holloway, Opening Up To Indie Authors, which includes guidance on how self-published authors may work more effectively with literary festival organisers. I applaud the organisers of the Cambridge Literary Festival for their inclusive thinking, and I very much hope that this will be the first of many such events far and wide.

Behind the Scenes in the Green Room

Waiting in the Cambridge Festival Green Room, it was exciting to see prominent members of the modern publishing scene dip in and out between talks. I shared a coffee table with Dame Jacqueline Wilson, former Children’s Laureate, and remarked to the Astronomer Royal, Sir Martin Rees, that I would that evening be having tea with my cousin Dr Frances Willmoth, the author of an important book about the first Astronomer Royal. That made me feel more intelligent by association, at least!

Strange too, though, to realise what a small world publishing is. The first person I bumped into was a publicist who I knew from my time working for the children’s reading charity Read for Good. I also sat opposite children’s author Jamila Gavin, who lives and works a few miles up the road from my home on the other side of the country.

I was to do a double-act with editorial consultant Rebecca Swift, founder of The Literary Consultancy. Together we were to describe the current state of the publishing industry, including both traditional publishing routes and the newer self-publishing model. Rebecca appeared to know everybody in the Green Room, kindly introducing me to many of her friends, including Melissa Benn, daughter of the late, legendary Tony Benn MP. Melissa had just interviewed another notable politician, Alan Johnson MP, on stage. Melissa decided to join the audience of our talk, as Rebecca had been at hers. It’s a perk of being a speaker that you’re allowed to attend a number of other talks while you’re there, free of charge.

The Splendid Setting for our Talk

Interior of the Divinity Lightfoot room
Divinity Lightfoot – the name of a room, not a Bond girl

We headed off to the place designated for our talk, led by one of the many amiable and efficient stewards. Our venue: a historic and inspiring room with the wonderful name of Divinity Lightfoot. I thought this would make a great name for a character in a detective novel or a Bond Movie, but it turned out to be an elegant, airy room flooded with natural light in the Divinity School of St John’s College, Cambridge. The golden fleur-de-lys that dappled the walls were all hand-painted, the steward assured me.

We kicked off with a straw poll of our standing-room-only audience to help us pitch our talk. We asked who was trade published, who had self-published, and who was happy with their lot. About half a dozen hands went up for each of the first two questions, and none for the third. It was going to be interesting.

Sharing Our Advice About Publishing Routes

Becky kicked off the presentation, drawing on her background as an editor with Virago to create a vivid picture of how publishers and agents handle submissions. She knew how hard it was for a new author’s work to progress beyond the slush pile, and this led to her setting up her company, The Literary Consultancy, offering editorial advice to authors before they launch their manuscripts to publishers and agents.

When Becky founded TLC, self-publishing in its modern form was not an option, but as more aspiring authors learn of its potential, more are considering that route. I explained what modern self-publishing means and outlined the many opportunities it offers for commercial and critical success. I also dispelled myths and outmoded ideas about self-publishing, and I spelled out the difference between professional self-publishing, where the author assumes the role and responsibliities of the publisher, and the old-fashioned “vanity press”, in which a printing company converts a manuscript without criticism, guidance or quality control, into a printed book.

The Elephant in the Self-Publishing Room

Though one might have expected Becky and I to diverge, as so many of her clients have found success via traditional trade publishing deals, we actually concurred in many ways. I addressed head on the elephant in the room that some self-publishing advocates ignore: the importance of quality control. Many bad self-published books abound because it’s so easy for authors to click the “publish” button without proper proofreading, editing or formatting – but I endorsed Becky’s call for authors to polish their manuscripts to the highest degree before launching them on the world. Her services would be as valuable to self-published authors as to those seeking the traditional route.

The flurry of eager questions at the end of the session suggested that Becky and I had restored the faith and enthusiasm of the audience to persevere with their publishing projects, whichever route to publication they chose. The range of the audience members’ writing projects was fascinating and original, from an autobiography that required a soundtrack to the invention of new genres. Anyone for a crossover of a political satire with fantasy? Sounds good to me!

After Our Talk Was Over

Debbie Young and Rebecca Swift in Divinity Lightfoot
Debbie Young (left) with Rebecca Swift, after the talk was over

Many guests stayed long after our talk was over to ask further questions and to pick up our business cards so that they could follow us up later. When I walked up and down the empty rows to gather any remaining TLC or ALLi leaflets that the stewards had kindly put on chairs, I was pleased to discover only two remained, demonstrating the audience’s serious interest in our services.

Several of the stewards attended our talk, lingering after the paying guests had gone to talk about their own publishing ambitions. I suspect most of these stewards are volunteers, taking part simply for the love of books, so it was a real pleasure to be able to help them, after they’d spent days taking such good care of festival speakers and guests like us.

I had only one regret: that I’d brought only one copy of my book promotion handbook, Sell Your Books!, for reference, instead of bringing more to sell. But I was delighted when Melissa Benn snapped up that copy.

I also went away with a new book myself, a beautiful hardback of the novel Dory’s Avengers by Alison Jack, a Cambridge-based author and editor whom I’d previously befriended on Twitter. She’d kindly brought me her book as a gift. She also obligingly took the photo shown here of Becky and me after our talk. Two days later, our paths were to cross again at the London Book Fair – but I’ll return to that in another post.

To share this interesting inside information about what it’s like to be a guest speaker at a literary festival, here’s a handy tweet:
“Behind the scenes at a literary festival with @TLCUK & @IndieAuthorALLi at @CamLitFest: via @DebbieYoungBN”

If you enjoyed this post, you might like to
Walking on Air at the Cheltenham Literature Festival