7th February was National Libraries Day here in the UK.
It will probably come as no surprise that I spent a few good hours in my school’s library: reading, daydreaming, writing, daydreaming some more. I remember Year 10 English with fond memories. It was the year we read MACBETH. It was also the year I fell in love. No, not with a boy, but rather with words and the beauty of the English language. Lady Macbeth fascinated, repulsed and intrigued me all at the same time. In 6th form (i.e. college) I studied two additional Shakespearean masterpieces: KING LEAR followed by Hamlet, which incidentally was my least favourite of the three due to my irritation at Hamlet’s incessant procrastination (what can I say? I’m a doer!)
I also read A Doll’s House by Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen. It depicts Nora, a married mother of two who goes from ‘ownership’ by one man (her father) straight to another (her husband), dependent on each for the supposed security they provide. Along with Shakespeare’s tragedies, this three-act play had a profound effect on me.
I foraged into poetry for a while, an art form that’s still very dear to my heart. Then I READ THIS and knew I wanted to be a Writer!
If my school library, the set texts I studied and the book above played a crucial role in my writing journey, then it’s even more true of my local library (Forest Hill, pictured).
I myself have spent many hours browsing the bookshelves – the paperbacks, hardbacks, student study guides, audio books – excitedly choosing what to sign out next, lost in the creations conjured up in the minds of authors the world over.
When I started writing the local library was my first destination. The place I knew I could go to for inspiration and guidance. I remember the walk, a clear blue-sky day, my stomach full of fluttering butterflies and unreserved excitement that I’d finally decided to embark on the writer’s journey. It was there I picked up MY FIRST EVER HOW-TO WRITING BOOK. It’s the place where, over the years, I’ve subsequently gone to do research, to lose myself in the array of choice on offer. The place where I’ve taken refuge to read in peace when everywhere else has felt like a Roman amphitheatre packed to the rafters with gladiators and roaring crowds; where I’ve developed plot ideas whilst watching the world go by; where I’ve gone to print and photocopy work when my laptop has been temporarily out of order and yet to be fixed by my computer engineer father.
I have no desire to write a political blog, yet it’s impossible to escape the impact politics and the resulting social policies have on my – and your – daily life. So, I can hardly write about libraries and ignore the glaringly obvious: one too many have closed over recent years because of lack of funds as a result of austerity measures. With childhood illiteracy still a big issue for us as a society I’m at a loss to understand why the very best places where those same children can nurture a love of books, reading and writing are being shut.
As I browsed through all the various activities planned for National Libraries Day it made me sad to think some people, children in particular, don’t have a local library to call their own. And then it made me angry to realise how much I take my own local for granted simply because I know it’s there; refurbished in recent years to make it ever more splendid, grand and seemingly immoveable. It’s an imposing and permanent fixture in the surrounding area, proudly erect amidst the rows of stunning period houses, vibrant local businesses, schools, and pristine swimming baths and sporting facilities.
So this post is my way of celebrating my local library. My way of thanking all the wonderful staff who do such a great job of making it the safe haven it’s been for me all these years – where I’ve gone to learn, explore and escape to new worlds from the comfort of a sofa chair, mere minutes from my home.
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