Libraries have always been enormously important to me, both as a reader and a writer. When my four children were small, our family was moving around a lot, living in lots of different places, and the local library was one of the first places I’d take them when we arrived somewhere new. It was somewhere we’d go most days after school and hang out. At a time when life was full of continual change, they felt like a constant thing, all these different libraries – places that welcomed us and that we thought of as ours. Places we went to for new and familiar things, for excitement, for entertainment, for comfort.
It was also a time when I re-discovered, through the books we were bringing home, the great myths, fairy-tales and legends of the world. I was starting to write seriously during this period and it’s no surprise, perhaps, that re-discovering those stories with my children in our local libraries had an influence on my own work. I love the bold drama and ambition of fairy-tales and myths, the journeys and tests and transformations, their light and their darkness and the way they speak to our deepest fears and desires.
My children are grown-up now, but I still go to my local library in Lancaster several times a week, hunting for new things to read, for films to watch, and for new talking books to listen to in the car, or in the kitchen when I’m cooking. It’s one of life’s great pleasures: looking at the shelves and knowing I can pick anything I want and take it home.
As a writer, I’m also extremely grateful that libraries are with us in our towns and cities as keepers of historical records. Quite a few of the stories in both this and my last collection of short stories were inspired by things I came across in the local history reading room at Lancaster Library, just down the road from where I live now.
These days, that’s what I treasure libraries for more than anything – for being such extraordinary repositories of local history and lore.
Without my local library there are at least half a dozen stories I would never have written: one was inspired by an account of a visit by Queen Victoria, another by records from the old County Lunatic Asylum, another by a book about the invention of a famous local product, another by an entry in an old travelogue on the mining of iron ore on the Barrow peninsula.
Every time I set foot in the door, I wonder what I might come across next.