Tuesday, 4 February 2014

An Open Book

This Saturday it's National Libraries Day, giving us a welcome excuse to celebrate our favourite books and mark the importance of having public spaces where we can access those books. With libraries across the country under threat, Derbyshire library users might be particularly aware of the nearby campaign to save Sheffield libraries, after it was revealed that 16 facilities may be shut across the city. A petition about the proposed cuts can be accessed here.

I have Chesterfield Library in my hometown to thank for my love of poetry - when I first got interested in creative writing as a teenager, I used to spend Saturday afternoons in there scanning the poetry shelves, looking for new things to read. Chesterfield library was the first place I really had access to contemporary poetry collections, work by people I'd not heard of before but instantly engaged with. I can vividly remember reading 'Roddy Lumsden is Dead' in there one rainy weekend and feeling like a new world of books had opened up to me. The idea that other young writers might not get the same opportunities one day is unthinkable.

Fortunately for Derbyshire folk, the future for libraries looks less bleak here than it does in Sheffield and this Saturday the county will be hosting events for National Libraries Day, including two workshops with your local laureate at Glossop and New Mills libraries. I'll be encouraging workshop participants to tell me about their favourite books and to use those books as a starting point for a new piece of writing (a letter to one of the book characters, perhaps, or a poem about the first time they read that book).

I have too many favourite books to mention. As you'd expect, many of those are poetry titles. But I've always loved novels too and one of the books I seem to get drawn back to time and again is Graham Swift's 'Waterland', a haunting portrait of the fens. I like it because, as well as telling a compelling story, it seems to capture the mood of fenland places in a way that nothing else does, a way I can't quite put my finger on. It reminds me of the impulse that makes me want to write poetry.

One of the pleasures of reading novels, of course, is finding out what's new. Last Tuesday I was in London for the announcement of the Costa Prize. It was won by a first book, 'The Shock of the Fall' by Nathan Filer, a debut about schizophrenia and grief. It follows the narrator Matthew's descent into schizophrenic illness following the death of his younger brother. Nathan Filer is only the fifth novelist to win the prestigious Costa Prize with a first book. If you want to read Nathan's award winning novel, I hope you can find it in your local library this Saturday....

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