Libraries taught me how to write.
When I was a child, my oldest sister would go to Leicester Central Library and bring us back a stack of books. We were too young to go to the city centre by ourselves and when we did go in with our mum her priorities were C&A, Woolworths and a trip to the fruit and veg market (in that order). The library didn’t have a look in.
We didn’t have many books in the house and in the late 80’s and early 90’s we didn’t have the distractions of tablets, smartphones or even the internet. All we had were a few toys, T.V. and those books from the library. On top of this we lived on an all-white council estate, all white except for my family who stuck out like the token Black and Asian extras in films and T.V. programmes of the time. My mum didn’t like us leaving the house, we rarely had visitors and we NEVER went around to our neighbours. As we didn’t have much money, we didn’t go on holidays or attend after school clubs. So when my sister brought back those books, they became my world. I escaped into books in a way T.V. (as brilliant as it can be) could never allow me to escape. Through reading I created whole worlds and characters in my mind via printed words across a page. Books activated my imagination and put me in the shoes of others as though I was walking in them myself. They also developed my ambition to write.
I would daydream of stories in classrooms and scribble down ideas on the back of council bill envelopes. I was a shy kid and found it excruciating communicating face to face with people but when I wrote, all my words came out clear and clever and sometimes even funny. Then, when I was finally old enough to take the bus into the city centre myself, I spent hours in the same central library that my sister had brought me books from. Skimming through every genre of novel, finding books on the craft of writing and devouring them, even the self-help books that coached me into building my self-confidence were invaluable in helping me to be a writer because they showed me how people worked. I walked up the stairs to the non-fiction section, went to the ground floor for the ‘Top Ten’ fiction books then down into the basement for the CD’s. A whole world of information was contained within three floors, not to mention the cubicle tables for me to write at undisturbed with quick access to reference books.
And all of this for free.
That library is now closed, the contents amalgamated with the old reference library around the corner. This has become commonplace now; libraries being shut down, reduced in size, given less and less staff. Governments show horror at the rise in child poverty yet still continue to slash free services – youth clubs, Sure Start centres, libraries – as though these aren’t directly connected to a child’s well-being and education outside of school walls. Without libraries I wouldn’t have been able to read a variety of books. Without reading a variety of books I wouldn’t have been able to expand my mind or realise how amazingly far my imagination could stretch. Without expanding my mind I would not have begun writing or been able to learn the craft of writing from the best masters of all; other writers. And without writing I would not be the person I am today.
For my second novel, ‘How to Find Home’, I’ve chosen to have my book launch in my local central library. I chose this venue because, if you haven’t already guessed, I bloomin love libraries, but also because I know that all the people who come through those doors this Thursday night – my friends who grew up on the council estate, my family who always stuck out, my writing community and the homeless people who I spoke to when researching this novel – will all be made to feel welcome when they arrive. Because libraries do exactly this every day. You don’t need to show your qualifications, or your citizenship, or your job history to walk through their doors. There are no dress codes or age restrictions. You don’t even have to have any money.
Libraries are for everyone. Because of this they will always be my favourite place and the perfect venue for me to talk to a crowd of people about the one topic that doesn’t make me shy – books.
Libraries taught me how to write. But, more importantly than this, they taught me how to live. I want them to do the same for my kid, hell, I want them to do the same for ALL kids. Let’s keep on cherishing our libraries, let’s keep on using and preserving them and let’s keep on telling everyone who wants to listen about how important they are in our lives.
‘How to Find Home’ Book Launch: Leicester Central Library, Thursday 23rd May from 6.30pm onwards.