There’s Something About Libraries

library
I still remember those occasions when I was very little when I’d get the chance to go into the library in my village. Libraries are a way to escape reality – on many levels.

libraryOften it was after having been on a walk with my mum and our dog at that time, Teasel. She was left tied to a tree outside while we got to go in to that cave of book wonders. There was a certain dusky, musky smell that would hit as we walked in to the cool, dark, hushed room. An old, Victorian schoolhouse, the library had high ceilings and high up windows, and an old creaky wooden floor.I’d be allowed to wander down the aisles, staring at all the beautiful, differently coloured spines, until I’d made a choice and chosen a new book to take out. We’d then go together, hand in hand, to the smiling lady at the desk and she’d ask for my library card. Upon being proudly presented, the card would be beeped, the book stamped and, after some hanging around while the adults chatted, we’d be off again, back outside with the new book clasped tightly in my arms.

Many years later, I had the amazing privileged to study as an undergraduate at Oxford university. Truly a book-lover’s dream. Every college has its own uniquely beautiful library, each faculty (or department to use a simpler, less Oxfordy name!) had its own as well. And then, of course, the mother Queen of all libraries, there was The Bodleian. I never got over the awe of being inside that book heaven. Although, anyone who has read The Historian will understand my slight creepings of fear when entering the darkest corners of the library alone!  😛

But what about now? What about in real adult life? How many of us use the library nowadays? How many of us even have a local library now?

Only last month a BBC article revealed that a staggering 8000 library jobs have disappeared in the last 6 years. 343 libraries have been closed, with plans for another 111 to be closed this year. Here in the UK, “Our public library system used to be envy of the world.” And now look at them.

The battle cry of those in favour of library closures would seem to be, What on earth do we need libraries for in this day and age? We have the internet. Everyone has tablets – no one reads physical books…. But this simply isn’t true. Libraries allow people of all classes and walks of life to access the same materials. They open doors to learning for children who come from poorer backgrounds. They provide a safe space to study for those from unstable homes. And they are a place of community in an ever more insular society.

As fellow book lovers I’d love to know your thoughts on this matter. Do you still use libraries? What do you feel about the closures?

 

PS Don’t just listen to me bang on about this. Here’s a few, possibly  definitely more articulate – words from Caitlin Moran about why we need to save libraries. Go take a listen to her for she is very wise.

A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

a god in ruins

“When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal” – A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

“War is savage. For everyone. Innocent or guilty.”

a god in ruinsKate Atkinson is, without doubt (for me at least), one of the greatest writers of our time. I remember discovering her books when I was about 14 and devouring my way through my school library. I was recommended Behind The Scenes At The Museum and was hooked on her from then on.

Having read and adored Life After Life, I was very exciting when I found out Atkinson had a new, in her words “companion” book on the way. And I can happily say this book does not disappoint. Whilst Life After Life chronicled the multiple lives of Ursula, in A God In Ruins,  Atkinson delves into the life of Ursula’s brother, Teddy.  Once again the author plays with the structure of the narrative, allowing herself to jump backwards and forwards in time in a non-linear direction but often linking these episodes by an idea or an image. As Atkinson herself notes in her wonderful Author’s Note, she often comes back to certain images or ideas such as birds, flying and falling, and the notion of Utopia. In this way, the time-hopping doesn’t jar and we can easily follow the flow of the narrative. Furthermore, it brings into stark relief the idea that life is fleeting, one day we are a young boy gazing at skylarks, and the next an old man in a nursing home.

There is a sense of melancholy and loss which permeates this book, only fitting considering its subject: that of World War II. A large component of the book focus on Teddy’s role as a RAF bomber pilot and his missions as part of the bombing campaign which devastated Germany during the Second World War. One of Atkinson’s many strengths is her ability to conjure up these ‘set pieces’ and bring them to life with such clarity.  Her descriptions of bombing missions, the fear, flying through thunder and lightening,  are some of the best passages of the book and it is clear how much time and research she put into her novel.

As Atkinson says, “War is savage. For everyone. Innocent or guilty.” It is always unfair. This novel doesn’t just chart the effects of war at the time but shows the reader how it resonates down the generations, affecting everyone, in particular those who are left standing afterwards. It is about “All those beautiful songs that would never be sung.” The stories that were silenced by war. And silence is something which permeates the novel. The silence which weighs heavily on Teddy and those around him, in all his relationships. It comes in the form of things left unsaid, of secrets, of failing to open up, of repressing memories and keeping them to oneself. And, of course, we see that this question of silence holds extraordinary poignancy when we reach the end of the book. But that way lie spoilers, so I will say no more. Suffice it to say many tears were shed.  In her Afterword, Atkinson acknowledges it as “the whole raison d’être of the novel…hidden at the heart of the book to do with fiction and the imagination, which is revealed only at the end.”  It really is a master stroke and packs a big literary wallop!

However, whilst the vein of silence and war runs through this novel, a large part of Atkinson’s brilliance lies in her wonderful ability to capture and present the essence of human beings and humanity. Her depiction of Teddy and those around him really capture what humanity is, and sadly what it can sometimes mean. The lives of humans are terribly short, and our actions and our relationships with others are what makes it special. We must embrace every moment of our song, for we are lucky – unlike many young people in the war – to have so long to sing it.

This book is worth every tear I shed, and cements in my mind the brilliance of Kate Atkinson. If you haven’t read it already, grab a copy now!

Making Time In Your Life For Books

making time for books

making time for books

When I first graduated from university and entered the big, scary world of adulthood, it was quite a culture shock. Apart from the usual horror of discovering your years as a student are suddenly, and alarmingly, over, and the reality of needing to go out a get a J.O.B sinks – or rather, is aggressively thrust – in. What really struck me is how little time I had for doing the things I enjoyed.

I was suddenly caught up in a tide of fellow adults, getting up early, going to work, sitting at a desk all day until the commute home, arriving back and being totally knackered. The weeks zoomed by and I felt like I didn’t have any control over my life because I had no time for myself, to do what I enjoyed. And I, like many people, was a voracious reader.

I’ve always loved books and there I was, no longer reading any – particularly horrible having just spent four years at university studying lots of them. I felt like I was slipping out of touch with the book world, and even my list of must-read classics lay untouched.

I decided things needed to change, so I started consciously making time in my life for books. I took certain measures and slowly but surely, I got back into reading, I made sure that I was reading everyday and had exciting piles of “to be reads”. All was good.

But What About You?…

Well, I still felt something a little lacking. It got me thinking, and then it got me Googling – always a bad move people! – and then, because my googling wasn’t especially fruitful, it got me thinking again.

There must be plenty of other people out there feeling the same as me.

You must love books too, or you wouldn’t be here. But do you read as often as you would like? Do you get through as many books as you want to? Or do you end up cramming all your book time into a two week holiday in the summer? I know how it feels! It’s so frustrating.

So I want to help you out, and show you how to make space in your busy life for books.

But not just that, to make life even easier for you  I will help you choose books to read, so you don’t have to cut into your precious reading time. You’ll also find useful background information, character analyses, details of themes and imagery all to help you read and understand these books in greater depth.

Welcome to The Town Crier!

It’s your complete guide to literature and all things bookish, and aims to guide you along the path to book Nirvana.

Just as its name suggests, this website is aimed at encouraging thoughtful discussion and a love of reading – or, most likely, reigniting your love of reading.

You’ll get tips on how to make more time for reading in your hectic life. You will discover a whole exciting range of genres and styles of books – including some you might never have dared try before. You’ll get honest, in-depth reviews so you can make your book buys with ease.

Writing A Killer Thriller…(Well, actually a whodunnit)

write detective novel

Come into the parlour and let me reveal what my little grey cells have been assembling for you on the subject of Detective Fiction.

write detective novelThe book idea I have brewing in my mind for the writing is a murder mystery, Agatha Christie style – less gruesome stabbing and more puzzle-solving. A classic, detective story in fact.

So, today I have decided to write a bit about Detective Fiction and how it came into being.

Detective Fiction can be roughly summed up as the following: a subgenre of mystery fiction in which there is a character who investigates a crime (usually a murder). Pretty broad eh!

I love a good detective novel and I’m particularly fond of Agatha Christie (now you know why I’m tempted by writing a detective book!) – in fact my brother in law recently gave me the most enormous collection of her books. They’re currently sitting in a bag in the living room because I’ve run out of bookshelf space! But that’s the bookish dream isn’t it?!

Anyway, back onto detectives… I’ll start you off with some background context to help you understand how detective fiction came into being.

During the 19th century and the Industrial Revolution, London grew rapidly and it became clear that a better system needed to be put in place to deal with increasing crime rates. Therefore, in 1829 the Metropolitan Police Service was established to help bring law and order to the city. Prior to this law enforcement was a source of public controversy and ridicule because of its lack of organisation and inefficiency. With the establishment of the police force, we begin to see the figure of the official police detective emerge in fiction. In fact, there is a move away from criminals being seen as the plucky heroes fighting against the system, to being the villains who are brought to justice by the police. All good stuff, eh?

So, with that piece of history in mind let’s look at two of the earliest authors to introduce us to Detective Fiction as we now know it.

Poe and Collins

Around 1841, Edgar Allan Poe published three stories all featuring a character called Detective Dupin, one of the very first literary detectives to appear. Furthermore, the first of these novels, The Murders in the Rue Morgue is credited with being the pioneer of the locked room subgenre of mysteries. It included a seemingly impossible crime and an ingenious solution.

These novels included some ideas which we still see in detective fiction today but it was Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone which really drew together many elements we now associate with classic detective fiction. Published in 1868, the story is set in an English country house, there is a celebrated investigator who must work with the bungling local police to solve that case, there are false suspects and red herrings, a reconstruction of the crime and a final twist at the end. Many argue that this was the true birth of detective fiction.

Right, I’d better get back to planning the murder! But on Friday, I’ll carry on where I left off today and have a look at the development of Detective Fiction – including the Golden Age of Agatha Christie. See you there 🙂

In the meantime, if you’d like to rip your way through a murder mystery but don’t know where to find the time. Worry not, I have the answer: