In celebration of libraries (again).
I've spent a lot of time in libraries in January. Harbour Street was published in the middle of the month and once the PR trips to London were over it was good to get out and talk about the novel to readers. It's always hard to unpick the different threads that make up a story but fun to try. Influences come from remembered snippets of overheard conversation, specific places and a writer's past experience. Then the rest is down to imagination and a sort of magic.
I was in Orkney for a lovely event with the Orcadian Bookshop. We held it in the sailing club in Kirkwall. On Harbour Street. Then the next day I helped Orkney Libraries to celebrate 60 years of taking boxes of books to families in the more isolated islands. A way to reach communities that even the mobile libraries can't get to. We flew in to North Ronaldsay with our two boxes, arriving just as it got light on the regular 8-seater flight and had a chance for a quick tour before meeting several generations of islanders in the hall. There was tea and a pile of home-baking (of course) and a chance to talk to the three pupils who make up North Ronaldsay school. Speaking to people there it was clear how much the service meant to them. Each box was a treat and an excitement, because they were never quite sure which titles had been selected for them.
Less than a week later I was in a very different library: the Lit and Phil in Newcastle, run by its members and private subscription. I've raved about this place before and I'm still bowled over by its beauty and its history. I visit it regularly to work in the Silence Room in the basement. I can't imagine publishing a new novel without holding an event in the Lit and Phil to celebrate. Thursday was the public library in Gateshead and an audience of old friends and new faces - one couple had driven all the way from Kidderminster with a pile of hardbacks for me to sign. And yesterday we had a sell-out crowd in South Shields, the front row of the theatre reserved as always for the visually impaired readers' group. Another indication of the range of services provided by library staff.
So I know I rant about them. I've battled to save libraries in our most deprived urban areas and explained their importance to the cultural life of our communities. I believe that without libraries and independent book shops the range of titles available to us would decline. And my involvement won't stop. We're developing an exciting plan to highlight their importance in remote places - watch this space later in the year. So as it's February (and I gave up alcohol in January...) please raise a glass with me and toast libraries in all their variety and the staff who work in them and the readers who keep them alive.