Libraries

In our recent and ongoing period of financial unpleasantness so many libraries are closing down or, should I say, are ‘being closed down’ by councils as they seek to cut costs.
According to The Guardian (which isn’t always to be taken as gospel but which should be believed when it quotes people who know) 340 libraries have closed in the UK in the past eight years and a further 340 could go in the next five. Among the many libraries being considered for closure is the first publicly funded library in the UK – Warrington Central Library opened in 1848 – the bellwether of English libraries.
The Public Libraries Act 1850 gave local boroughs in England and Wales (extended to Scotland in 1853) the power to establish libraries for reference and for free lending to not only ‘steer people towards temperate and moderate habits’ (keep them out of the pub?) but to encourage the ‘lower classes’ to spend their time on morally uplifting activities and engage in autodidactism (keep them out of the pub and allow men (and possibly even women) to learn stuff when the provision of a general education was severely limited).
It’s not just me saying ‘keep them out of the pub’. A campaigner for the working classes is quoted in the 1834 report of the Select Committee on Inquiry into Drunkenness that ‘the establishment of parish libraries and district reading rooms, and popular lectures on subjects both entertaining and instructive to the community might draw off a number of those who now frequent public houses for the sole enjoyment they (can) afford’.
In 2005/06 347,000,000 visits were made to UK public libraries (this doesn’t include academic libraries) with 48% of English residents visiting one at least once in the year. Since then use has decreased (2013 the figures were 288,000,000 and 36%) but that’s still a heck of a lot of people.
And they use libraries for so many things! Community gatherings, getting your bus pass, work spaces for school children, nursery classes, adult education classes and free access to the internet (still 14% of households in the UK – that’s 14% of 27,000,000 – 3,780,000 households have NO internet access). Libraries are critical!
It’s not just about referencing or borrowing books – though that is still their most important function.
Every year I get a statement (and a payment) from Public Lending Right UK. They track every time one of my titles is borrowed and for each reader I receive 4.2 pence. So please, if you haven’t read any of my books and you’d rather not buy them, go to your local library (if it’s still there) and ask for The Last Dance, or Walking Alone, or Runaways, or Highly Unsuitable Girl, or A Set of Lies, or Her Parents’ Daughter or Second Strand. They will be delighted to help you.
We must keep our libraries, as well as our independent bookshops.
Use them or lose them!

Being (or not being) a Local Author

Local AuthorIs there any advantage to being known as a ‘local author’?
On the one hand the description implies that this is not a well-known author of national or international renown. There is something quaintly parochial, patronizing and possibly even pathetic about having to try to appeal to potential purchasers because you all happen to live in the same vicinity.
On the other hand, for whatever reason, it is certainly easier to get bookshops, newsagents, corner shops and pubs (thank you Holdings, The Wheatsheaf and The King’s Head in Yarmouth) to stock books and to give you the opportunity to do signings (thank you Waterstones and The County Press Shop in Newport) if you have some kind of local connection.
But what is the attraction of reading books by an author who is ‘local’? Is it to support someone you may pass in the street, or sit next to in a pub, or queue up with in the Post Office? Or is it perhaps because if the author is ‘local’ then the subject matter may well be locally relevant too? Or is it that the places referred to(and, heaven forefend, people) will recognizable?
When I was writing my first book, The Last Dance, I lived near Sandwich in East Kent. That area didn’t feature at all in the book, instead it was based in The Wirral, Cheshire, where I was born and lived for the first twenty or so years of my life. I lived in Shropshire when I was writing the second which, although also based in the Wirral ventured as far afield as Cambridgeshire. I was still living in Shropshire when the third book Runaways was published. Also based on The Wirral large sections were located in Kent and Mumbai. My fourth book, Highly Unsuitable Girl, was also written whilst I lived in (a different part of) Shropshire and failed to feature anything to do with that county.
It was only when I became ‘local’ to The Isle of Wight that my books became primarily based in the area in which I lived. Her Parents’ Daughter, written in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, is the story of a murder in Yarmouth (as is A Second Strand – also written in Yarmouth).
The difficult book was A Set of Lies. The early drafts of this were written when I lived near Ludlow, Shropshire and the main characters lived, and the main settings were located, there. I then moved to the Isle of Wight and it was suggested by various people that the book should be based on the island. So the fourth, fifth and sixth drafts effected that change.
Since I started writing books that have been published I have moved house five times, lived in five different counties and so even when I have been ‘local’ it has only ever been for a short time.
I have now been ‘local’ on The Isle of Wight for three and a half years. This is a record. Perhaps it’s getting near time to think about moving on again.

The End of June 2015

We’re half way through the year – the nights are drawing in and next Christmas is nearer than last.
It is also:
1 year since Skye Lacey (in A Set of Lies) is about to leave The Lodge, the home she has lived in since she was a baby.
3 years since Colin and I moved to the Isle of Wight (and we’re still here!)
7 years since Runaways (my third book and the last of The Iniquities Trilogy) was published
9 years since my first book The Last Dance (the first part of The Iniquities Trilogy) was published
20 years since Anya, in Highly Unsuitable Girl, discovers she is unable to have children and 47 years since the court case as she fights to gains custody of her dead husband’s children
37 years since, in Her Parents’ Daughter, Jane begins work in a dead-end Council job after leaving the psychiatric hospital where she had spent more than 18 months
39 years since, in Walking Alone (the second part of The Iniquities Trilogy) Holly and Carl went for a walk along the Thames at Dorchester while Oliver and Crispin try to recover from their hangovers.
67 years since the girl given the name Monika Heller is met by Ted Mottram at Lime Street Station, Liverpool in The Last Dance
105 years since my father, Tom Banks, was born (frightening to think that was nearer the beginning of A Set of Lies than the end)
AND 200 years since Napoleon Bonaparte (in reality and in A Set of Lies) is weighing up his options as he tries to escape the Prussians and the Bourbons who want him dead.

A weekend in numbers

Five hundred and forty five miles, three nights in hotels, two bookshops, contact with five old friends re-established, two Valentine’s Night dinners, one celebrity wedding missed, only seven pubs visited, thousands of words spoken to interested/ing book buyers, never enough books sold!

Thanks to Stanton at Castle Bookshop, Ludlow and to Peter and Eleanor at Lingham’s Booksellers in Heswall on the Wirral for their hospitality, support, encouragement – and coffee.

Support Your Local Bookshop!

Book Clubs

So far there have been three winners of the competition for spotting the anomaly in Her Parents’ Daughter – one in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, one in East London and the third in Somerset. I understand the book is being subjected to The Yarmouth Book Club members’ scrutiny, so I expect they’ll be more …..

Talking of book clubs – Highly Unsuitable Girl was the Summer Book for the Book Club of Pilton, Somerset (thanks Sylvie & Malcolm Drake). The (almost!) unanimous decision seems to have been positive.

Any more book clubs out there, get in touch – I’m happy to supply copies at a very good rate….. and also answer any questions you may have.

 

Competitions

I’m not very good at competitions.
I am a coward, preferring, most of the time, to keep my head below the parapet, out of the firing line so I can avoid any risk of losing. I could never, for example, stand for election for anything.
My father stood several times as a Prospective Parliamentary Candidate through the 40s, 50s and 60s but he never won – he was a Liberal and in those days (as today?) it was a very unfashionable political position. No. I could never stand for election.
But I do go in for some easy forms of competition.
Several years ago I won the bonus ball at two pubs, the Sunday meat raffle and the Giant Easter Egg Draw – all in one week. This week I won the pub bonus ball, and I’ve drawn Costa Rica in the World Cup sweepstake (stranger things have happened!), but I don’t see those as proper ‘I only win if I’m better than everyone else who’s entered’ competitions.
I have won two of those, though in neither case did I actually put my name forward. In 1968 I was awarded the Sixth Form Prize for Geography at my school (Birkenhead High, and I still have the atlas I won) and in 2006 my first book, The Last Dance, won the David St John Thomas Prize for self-published fiction. The £250 I won for that was more than eaten up by the cost of going to Harrogate to pick up the cheque.
Now I’m breaking the habit of a lifetime and entering my work (myself?) into a real competition.
Last week I submitted my fourth book, Highly Unsuitable Girl, to Guardian Legend Self-Published Book of the Month competition.
Fingers are crossed……..