I gave my first talk in a library yesterday, at Bawtry Community Library, near Doncaster. It had been requested by Claire Holcroft and George Spencer, of Doncaster Library Service, and immaculately organised by Lesley Gilfedder at the library itself. Despite the rain and the fact that it coincided with the local school play, about twenty people attended. It was a lively and appreciative audience; most of its members had read more crime novels than I have, even though I’m a self-confessed addict, and several of them had detailed personal knowledge of the part of Lincolnshire which I write about. I felt that I learnt at least as much from them as they from me.
I gave two short readings, one from In the Family and one from Almost Love. I was asked about the characters and, especially, about why I’d chosen to make a dysfunctional family the focus of In the Family. We talked a lot about the atmospheric qualities of the Fens and about past writers who have described them, especially Charles Dickens and Dorothy L. Sayers. We discussed plots and plot construction, how to make them work, whether it’s possible to change the plot mid-novel and how to avoid inconsistencies. Several of the audience kindly bought copies of the books.
I took some cakes (I’ve decided to make this one of my trademarks!) and, when the organised part of the evening was over, no-one was in a hurry to leave. Lesley, ever efficient, made tea and coffee and we all stayed to talk.
Of course, I know about public library cutbacks, but I had no idea how swingeing they have been in some authorities or how magnificently local communities have responded in order to save their libraries. Bawtry is a lovely library: it has a cared-for look; there are bright paintings on the walls; the stock is impeccably arranged and there is a large children’s area where the floor has been carpeted in multi-coloured tiles to aid the playing of games and telling of stories. It keeps full opening hours and, as last night, is also sometimes open late. All of this is achieved by volunteers. It has about ninety of them, typically working three-hour shifts. As well as manning the library, they clean it and care for the grounds. They’ve been operating this arrangement for eighteen months and, so far, not one volunteer has dropped out. I understand that most of the other libraries that come under the aegis of the Doncaster local authority are also run in this way, though not all manage to keep such long opening hours as Bawtry.
I am amazed and full of admiration, tinged also with a little bit of shame. The public library charter entitles people to the right to borrow books from a local library, yet the people of Bawtry would not be able to do this if so many of them were not prepared to give up their own time to make it work. It is both a huge local achievement and a national scandal that this state of affairs should exist.
I’d therefore like this post to stand as a tribute to the wonderful people from Bawtry whom I met yesterday and to all their friends and colleagues who continue to make the library the vibrant hub of their community. Thank you. And especial thanks to Lesley, for all your unobtrusive hard work behind the scenes.
So here I am, one month away from the publication day for Almost Love, which has reached the proof stage. I have marked the day by putting the ‘milestone’ countdown widget here (as if I needed it!), because that seems a celebratory thing to do, as well as adding the clickable cover picture and link to an interview about Almost Love, both of which are to your right on the sidebar. It’s enormously exciting, and humbling, for me to be able to visit the Salt Publishing home page and to see my second novel there, whirling on the carousel amongst those other glorious titles, including Alison Moore’s latest (The Pre-War House and Other Stories, launching tonight at Waterstones Nottingham), David Gaffney’s More Sawn-Off Tales and Alice Thompson’s new novel, Burnt Island, not forgetting my fellow crimewriter Matthew Pritchard’s Scarecrow (to be published in the autumn).
So much has happened since November 2012, when In the Family came out to face the world, and I am very grateful indeed to the many readers of that book who took the trouble not only to read it but also to comment so favourably on it. I have made many online friends since then, via Facebook, Twitter and this blog; they have been stalwart in their support and their sharing and retweeting has sometimes been so vigorous that I have barely been able to keep up with it. If I missed passing on my thanks to you, please forgive me and accept them from me now.
I’d like to express my appreciation, too, to all those readers who have visited here, pressed the ‘like’ and r.t. buttons, followed and commented. This opportunity to engage with you and your thoughtful comments has been beyond helpful to me in more ways than I could ever have imagined when I started blogging last October. It has also been a lot of fun!
I am indebted to Jen and Chris at Salt Publishing for all their support, which is unfailing and ever-present, as I’m sure all their authors will readily confirm. Their incredible creativity, their capacity for managing the impossible in no time at all and their long-suffering, good-humoured indulgence of human failings are what make them truly top publishers.
May I complete this post by announcing four events connected to the launch of Almost Love:
Waterstones Gower Street
Thursday June 20th, 18.30 – 19.30
An evening with Salt crime writers
Christina James, who reads from her new novel, Almost Love
Laura Joyce, who reads from The Museum of Atheism (published November 2012)
Matthew Pritchard, who reads from Scarecrow (to be published September 2013)
Admission by ticket or at the door. Wine will be served. Books will be on sale.
Bawtry Community Library
Thursday June 27th, 18.30 – 19.30
Christina James gives readings and speaks about crime-writing
Tea, coffee, refreshments. Books will be on sale.
Co-ordinated by Claire Holcroft and George Spencer, Doncaster Library Service
Wakefield City Library, Burton Street, Wakefield
Alison Cassels, Library Officer in Charge of Promoting Reading, writes:
As well as Crime Writing Month, 29th June is National Readers Group day, so we’ll be promoting it to our readers groups too. What we have planned for the day is our Readers Group morning, with coffee 11.00-11.30, then discussion groups 11.30-12.00, discussing three books (including In the Family), then 12.00-12.30 a general discussion on crime novels, followed by people recommending books they love until 13.00. After lunch, Christina James will be presenting her second novel, Almost Love, in a public session, from 14.00-15.00.
Event at Adult Education Centre, North Lincolnshire Libraries
Date and time to be confirmed.