I am a fan of libraries. Big ones, little ones, those wonderful book buses – show me a library and I find myself smiling. I owe my professional life to libraries – really. Without access to books I would not be writing this today. I would never have worked as a lecturer, survived the education system or become a writer. Libraries have been a lifeline for me.
I began to read very early, partly as I was bored, I think. I have dyspraxia – a form of spatial dyslexia – so I did not walk until after my third birthday According to my mother, I sat in a corner and shouted until someone brought me what I wanted – often a book of some kind, which at least kept me quiet. Then I went to school and the fact I could already read caused some consternation but I had a very smart teacher who pointed me to the Book Corner (remember those?) and, once I’d read everything there, let me sneak into the hall and take books from the Junior library. I was in heaven.
Then it all went wrong. Moving up to the second year Infant class, my new teacher (who’s name, fortunately, escapes me), decided I was not really reading at all, just showing off. She gave me the prescribed “reading book” for the term (!!) and asked me to read aloud. I couldn’t. I still find it hard and when I do readings and signings I practise for days beforehand. Aged six, I had a terrible stammer and half-way down the first page I burst into tears. Suddenly I was stuck with just one book for the term and until I read the whole horrible text aloud to this woman, I was barred from even the Infant library, let alone the now-forbidden Junior shelves.
On returning home that afternoon I told my mother I was never going back to school again. A remarkable and intelligent woman, she put me on the back of her bicycle and we made our way into the nearby town centre. Here I was signed up for the children’s library and given two pink tickets. Surrounded by more books than I had ever seen in one place, I agreed to go back to school – and keep my under-aged reading habit a secret.
That library kept me sane, in the midst of the crushing boredom of the second year Infants. By the time I was ten I’d consumed the Junior library too – dyspraxic, remember? So I never played out unless forced. I couldn’t skip, or catch a ball or even run without tripping over my own feet so I read – and read -and read. For my tenth birthday the local library staff gave me a quick test (to see if I really had read everything) and presented me with one illicit, precious grey ticket for the Adult section.
I wish I could go back now and thank them, show them all what a difference they made to my life.
I hope we will somehow salvage our library system and keep it safe, to pass on to the next generation of young readers. Yes, I’m a writer and I have a vested interest in getting them hooked on books but somewhere out there is a child just like me. I want them to have the same chances I had.