Edinburgh Library Campaign
Make It Count: The Writer’s Library
26 June – 24 July 2017
Make It Count is the Trust’s library campaign and it seeks to get Edinburgh’s library lovers to not only sign-up for a card and visit their local library, but to get vocal about just how important they are by sharing what they have to offer.
We caught up with several writers to find out what role libraries have played in their writing careers:
I don’t think I would have got anywhere with my writing if I hadn’t had access to Edinburgh’s libraries.
‘I moved to Edinburgh nine years ago, living in a pretty loud, chaotic flat, where it was hard enough to read, let alone write. The Central Library was a godsend. I went haphazardly and voraciously through the amazing selection on the stacks, and spent fifteen to twenty hours a week upstairs in the reference room, note-taking and writing. I’d do double-shifts on days off from my job, walking home in the afternoon for a big pasta meal before rushing back.
Everything about the library helped. The discipline instilled by working in a quiet public space; the separation between writing and home; the fertile thinking time on the journeys there and back; relief from the distractions of email and social media; the stunning domed ceiling in the reference room, surprising every time you look up; the internal spiral staircases leading up to apparently infinite stacks, like something out of Escher. There’s also something quietly, gently affirmative about being part of a community of people working on independent projects beside each other.
The library really worked for me, to the point where I now find it hard to work anywhere else. I don’t think I would have got anywhere with my writing if I hadn’t had access to Edinburgh’s libraries. It’s self-evident that libraries are essential and ought to be protected, venerated. Access to information and to a quiet, welcoming space is extremely important.’
He has been published in the Edinburgh Review, Valve Journal, Birdville Magazine, Textualities, Random Acts of Writing and The Human Genre Project. He read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of the Story Shop, and in 2014, received a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust.
His first novel, Infinite Ground, was published in 2017, for which he was awarded The Somerset Maugham Award.
You can follow Martin on his website at martinmacinnes.com.
Her short stories have been published in newspapers, magazines, on-line and in anthologies, most recently in New Writing Scotland 31. She was named as one of Edinburgh City of Literature’s ’emerging writers’ in 2013 and read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival.
Her debut novel The Confession of Stella Moon won the Andrea Badenoch Award 2011, was shortlisted for the Dundee Book Prize 2013, and longlisted for the Bath Novel Award 2014. She is currently researching her second novel Muriel’s Story and working on a book for young people.
You can find her on twitter @PascaleBientot.
Shelley Day Sclater
‘I’m in the pubic library in the medieval town of Køge in Denmark, gazing out of the window across the sunny green to the great towering Church of Sct. Nicolai and listening to the clang clang clang of the bell that pulses every hour on the hour, when the request for me to participate in this exploration of writers and their libraries pings through. Writers and their libraries, eh? The word that comes to mind is Symbiosis.
New place, and I always head first for the public library – a homing-instinct, if you like. My favourite place on earth is the Cambridge University Library. I researched and wrote my PhD thesis in there. That place changed my life, showed me horizons I never knew existed, told me yes, even someone like me could go places.
Every writer has a library that made them into the writer they became.
Every writer has a library that made them into the writer they became. Find lots of testimonies in Ali Smith’s lovely short story collection Public Library. Val McDermid tells some hilarious tales about her encounters with the Chalet School in her local library in Fife in her formative years. I can trace my own literary history back to 1958, to Heaton Library in Newcastle, to a little square of blue card with the corner cut off and my name on it in curly handwriting. I was five years old.
Even way back then, a part of me knew that a library ticket is a ticket to so much more than books. A library ticket had a very special magic. It was a ticket to independence, to pleasure, to new thoughts and ideas, to other worlds, to other selves, to other parts of yourself. Those feelings don’t ever go away. If anything, they get more powerful as the years go by. I’m 64 now, and last year I saw my debut novel published; it was almost entirely written in libraries and had its first outing at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. And here I am now, travelling, and rooted for the moment in a library in a small town in Denmark, working on my short story collection (due out in November). And all those feelings from when I was five still provide the fuel that keeps me going.
Libraries nourish both readers and writers; they foster curiosity, inspire dreams, awaken your spirit, provide food for your soul and a safe space for your creativity. They’re places where you can be yourself yet feel connected, feel like you belong. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you came from or where you’re going. Everyone’s welcome. I know of nothing other than a library that can do all that, do it for free, and do it equally, for everyone: as Jackie Kay says, a library is democracy-in-action.
In our turbulent times where differences – perceived or imagined – fuel antagonisms and threaten to decimate communities, we need more than ever to be reminded of our common humanity. The Arts are precious and they are necessary; they provide a ‘royal road’ to empathy, opening minds and hearts, speaking truth to power. Public libraries, says Ali Smith have always played an essential role. Never before has an appreciation of our shared humanity been more crucial to our survival. Never before have our public libraries had such a critical part to play.
The great Maya Angelou explored a similar theme in an address to the New York Public Library: Information, she said, helps you to see that you’re not alone. That there’s somebody in Mississippi and somebody in Tokyo who all have wept, who’ve all longed and lost, who’ve all been happy. So the library helps you to see, not only that you are not alone, but that you’re not really any different from everyone else. There may be details that are different, but a human being is a human being.
A library, she said, is a rainbow in the clouds.’
Libraries are the enlightened custodians of our culture; the internet is entertaining and, at best, useful as a starting-point.
‘As it is impossible to distinguish between opinion, fake news and fact on the internet, I find libraries even more important than ever.
Being able to browse real shelves rather than merely relying on Google is a much more fruitful way of doing research.
Also, library staff are just about the most knowledgeable people I have ever met. Even if they don’t know everything about a topic they know where to find out about it.
Libraries are the enlightened custodians of our culture; the internet is entertaining and, at best, useful as a starting-point. We are so very lucky to have public libraries to keep us in touch with the closest we can come to reasonable truth. Long live libraries!’
Much of his poetry, as well as many of his novels and short stories, have been broadcast and translated into over a dozen languages. Recently he has also begun writing for children.
You can reach him at [email protected].
She has had several short stories and dark fairy tales published and her work has been shortlisted for awards. In 2012 she read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of the Story Shop.
Her debut novel Goblin was published in May 2017, and she is currently working on her second novel.
You can follow Ever on Twitter @everdundas.
The Place of Strange New Things
When I walk into the library it feels like coming home.
I’m clutching a list of books as I search the shelves; finding them feels like discovering treasure. I hold them in my arms and take a moment to scan the other titles. I’m suddenly struck by how fortunate I am to have all these books available to me, all these strange new things, opening up the world.
I’d been ill for a long time before I was diagnosed with a chronic illness in 2013. Chronic pain, exhaustion, cognitive problems. No cure. I remember someone’s shock when I told them: “You’re in pain all the time?” It was obscene. Unacceptable. It had become my normal.
As I wrote my first novel, I was working part-time in an office. I clung on to it. I was barely making it through the day. I’d come home and collapse, spending the rest of the week recovering until it started all over again. Two years later and I didn’t have a choice; I had to give it up.
It took months to recover from what I’d put myself through to hold onto that job. Slowly, slowly I learned to live again. I learned to manage my illness and I finished my novel. But who was I now I couldn’t earn a living?
I was lucky; I had support from my husband and parents, I had good friends. Even then, the process of going through the punitive Tory benefits system was humiliating and dehumanising, and the whole time I thought of people so much more vulnerable than me.
I wasn’t poor. I wasn’t living in poverty. But being unable to earn a living, going through the nightmare of government bureaucracy, all changed how I felt about myself, it changed how I fitted into the world.
When I felt like my world had shrunk due to illness, lack of income, and an inaccessible disabling society, the library offered solace, hope, knowledge, and the power needed to forge ahead into a new life.
I wanted to be somewhere where I was human again.
When I walked into the library it felt like coming home. Everything was at my fingertips. Money didn’t matter here. My illness didn’t matter here. I stared in wonder at all the books in front of me, and I plucked The Book of Strange New Things from the shelf.
Thanks to my parents, I was able to see Michel Faber at the Edinburgh Book Festival and I went to meet him at the signing. I felt embarrassed that I was taking up an old battered book, Under the Skin, and I babbled at him, shifting uncomfortably, willing myself to shut up, but still apologising – “I couldn’t afford to buy Strange New Things, but I got it from the library and I loved it.” As I walked out into the (thankfully dark and quiet) square I read his inscription and cried: “An old loved book for a reader no less valued for being too skint for The Book of Strange New Things.”
When I felt like my world had shrunk due to illness, lack of income, and an inaccessible disabling society, the library offered solace, hope, knowledge, and the power needed to forge ahead into a new life. I’m now a published author, earning a living doing what I love, and my novel was launched into the world in Edinburgh Central Library, my oasis, my second home, my place of strange new things.
Libraries are a great place in which to write; you’ll find characters there just waiting to be picked up, fictionalised and placed into your stories.
‘The cross-section of society that you find in your local library makes each one a case study in humanity. For that reason alone, libraries are a great place in which to write; you’ll find characters there just waiting to be picked up, fictionalised and placed into your stories. It might be the rambunctious older book borrower, the silent but fascinating child who seems to be a voracious reader, or the librarian with the quiet dignity; no matter who the person, you’ll soon find them making their way on to your page.
My library in particular has a couple of large foreign language sections to help recent immigrants to the area find their feet and access news from their home countries. The nature of the library and the language disparity means that I can’t talk much to, for instance, the stoic-looking lady who pulls up a chair near me and reads articles in impenetrable Chinese hieroglyphs. But we smile and notice things about each other; as I wonder about her history, her daily routine, what her favourite book is and whether she eats alone, she no doubt wonders the same things about me. And in feeling her curiosity, I think about who I am too, and as always happens, I find that I’ve written myself into my stories just as much as I’ve written her.’
In 2016 she was selected to read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival as part of Story Shop, and has read at storytelling events throughout the UK and abroad.
You can find Heather on Twitter HeatherParryUK.