I think the first thing I should say is that I am absolutely delighted to have been asked to tour northern libraries. I enjoy talking to readers about my writing, I like to read out loud and I adore visiting libraries, so being a part of this project has been a real treat for me. I’ve relished this work as much as any I have done in thirty years of my freelance writing endeavour. It’s been a tour full of lovely surprises as well: I’ve made little discoveries in places that I’ve not seen before, been in buildings that I wouldn’t ordinarily get the chance to visit and fielded questions from audiences who have really taken to this idea of writers engaging with readers.
I started off at Headingley. They serve very good wine in the interval at Headingley. They also read and assimilate very well what they read there. I’m not really one for analysing my own work too much, but found myself drawn into all sorts of questions about the visual qualities of writing, the differences between what real people say and do in stories as opposed to what made-up people say and do and the difficulty of writing about memory without getting too nostalgic. I also bought a painting off a mate of mine in the audience. It’s not every day you go to a library to read to people and come away with a painting.
Keighley gets my award for best biscuits…homemade ones with those little bits of stem ginger in them. Keighley has a very lovely library. The room I spoke in smells like history, I was made to feel at home and I know that I will visit that library again, just to look at it for being beautiful. They get good big audiences too and lively ones! One lady asked me to talk about my journey to Pakistan, I think she wanted to be reminded of her homeland, and I was more than happy to oblige. I can date some of my earliest writing memories to a journal I kept when I travelled to Pakistan and India, back in the day.
ian clayton penrith
I combined my trips to Penrith and Wallsend with a visit to stay with some friends in Appleby in Westmoreland and a journey on the Settle-to-Carlisle railway. It was raining all the way up through the dales, but the scenery is still spectacular even when all looks grey through a train window. People in Penrith thanked me for coming even before I started talking – they are very polite. In Penrith too I found that most of the audience had actually read my book Song for My Father before they met me. One lady asked, ‘Do you think your father was a product of his time?’ I didn’t really know what to say, so I just said ‘Perhaps we are all products of our time and place.’ The lady then said, ‘It’s just that in my experience all men were like your father then.’ I really didn’t know what to say to that, but it made me think, particularly about what I say and don’t say when describing characters in my stories. My dad is obviously the central character in my book and I found myself wondering in the night whether I’d said what I really wanted to say about him and whether what I had said put the same picture in the minds of my readers as the picture I have in my head.
I went to Appleby station to get my ticket for the next leg of the journey to Newcastle. I happened to say that I would also be going on to Leeds after. The man behind the desk said, ‘Then I’ve got just the ticket for you…the North East Ranger!’ He rummaged through a drawer and handed me maps and leaflets then produced a ticket that he said would get from where I was, to Newcastle via Carlisle, and back to Leeds via York. ‘All in!’ he announced. If ever you need to ask anything about train travel in the northern counties of Cumbria and Northumberland, there’s a chap called Manny at Appleby station who knows everything you need to know.
Wallsend is a place I have been to just once before in my life. I stayed in a bed and breakfast place there when my lad Edward wanted to see Newcastle United play against Chelsea. I don’t know how we ended up in Wallsend, but we did and to my surprise I found myself almost opposite to where I’d stayed when I got to the library. It’s a new place called The Forum that combines offices and shops and has an elevator to the first floor – another first, a ride up an elevator to a library! They make good tea in Wallsend, so that gets my prize for best beaker of tea. They ask a lot of good questions too. It’s a good job Rachel Warkcup from Cultural Services offered me a lift to the station or I’d have been there all night.
My visit to Hull Central Library was a journey back to the landscape of my own memory. I lived in Hull for three years in the early seventies and went to Hull Grammar School. I arrived early. I wanted to look around some of my old haunts, so I took fish and chips in a polystyrene tray from Bob Carver’s around town. Then I went to the pier and looked at the river and remembered the ferry that used to go from here across to Lincolnshire before they built the Humber bridge. At the event I spoke about the influence that the Beverley Road branch library had on me as a teenager fascinated by books. A man in the audience said, ‘Aye, it’s sad but it’s closed down now, but if you want I’ll send you a photo of how it was when you knew it.’
I had never been to Blyth in Northumberland before. The librarian apologised for a smallish audience but told me that my event clashed with the lighting of a beacon to celebrate the Queen’s ninetieth birthday. It proved to be another good session though. I met a lady and her daughter. The lady was a pub landlady, she said that her daughter wanted to be a writer. I said that the world has enough soldiers and scientists and that we need more writers.
Goole is next on my list. They tell me that Goole is cool these days. I’ll let you know how cool it is once I’ve been.