Writing is a solitary profession, so I was delighted to be given this opportunity, via Read Regional, to travel around libraries meeting readers and staff. And now The Mysterious Miss Mayhew and I have completed nine of my ten events, it’s a good time to reflect on what I’ve learned.
My first visit was to Edgeley Library, and I set off with my trusty prompt notes, a suitable reading from the book, and handouts for those interested in writing. About twenty minutes into my visit, I realised an important thing about Read Regional audiences: they are enthusiastic about reading and love talking about books. They also ask perceptive questions. Here, it was whether my time in advertising helped me to create the ten, pithy observations made by one of my characters. In Hull, it was about the mechanics of creating empathy for even the most unpleasant characters. In Houghton, a woman asked how I wrote from a male POV. They were the kind of questions that make you think hard about your writing and I loved it.
Something else I loved was that six of my events have been shared ones. At Gosforth I was with short story writer Carys Davies; at Acklam and Whitley Bay, with Chris Killen. Caroline Roberts kept me company in Wakefield, Gateshead and will do so again, in Hartlepool. I had no idea how any of these ‘two-hander’ events would play out, but they were enjoyable and lively, and exploring the similarities and differences in books and writing methods gave me a valuable new perspective on my work.
Visiting so many places – some familiar, some new – has been rewarding and left me with some great memories: the pace of life slowing on a rare, red hot day in the market town of Pocklington; the smell of the sea in Whitley Bay; the cherry blossom trees on the drive into Acklam, just minutes from busy Middlesbrough.
Perhaps the most important lesson I’ve learned is how the region’s libraries are adapting to change and how hard they work to provide imaginative activities and events for the community. Of course every library I’ve visited has had its own distinct character – from the traditional red brick Edgeley library to the ultra modern Wakefield Library and Museum – and some, these days, share premises with other council facilities, but all have bright and welcoming interiors, notice boards full of details of upcoming events, and active reading groups. This changing face of libraries was really brought home to me in Gateshead which back in the 1980s was my local, fairly traditional library. Sensitively remodelled, it’s now a place of light and energy with facilities that include a Sound Gallery for music and film, a Teenspace, a new children’s library and a coffee shop.
So a big thank you to New Writing North, to all those who came along to meet me and to the region’s library staff – your warm hospitality and hot tea has been much appreciated.