Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Library

I’ve found a new love for libraries this year but not for the reason of taking out books…

When I was at school my local library was a fascinating place for me, I wasn’t a huge bookworm, I went through spells yes, but in the main I went there because it seemed a massive scary place. This is how I remember it, which may or may not be accurate and after too long searching the Internet for photographic evidence of its interior without success, will have to do. The bookcases were tall wooden and creaky, minimal light able to pass over them so in every aisle you felt hidden, they were long too, so to walk through them meant you were unsure who would be around the corner or coming up behind you. The place was silent, this is most likely a false memory created from too many films, but I remember being scared to talk, staff would actually shush you.  They were all elderly matriarchal figures who without question knew my mother’s phone number and address and would be in instant communication at the slightest hint of bad behaviour. You could hear people turn the pages of their books from the other side of the building, unseen because of the towering bookcases, so you navigated towards your friends by sound. I used to enjoy going because it daunted me, it made me feel uneasy, as if there were secrets and knowledge there that were out of my reach but that I had to discover. I can’t remember the books I took out, I can’t remember having a library card, how much fines were (I would have been too terrified of bringing a book back late however so that’s maybe why I can’t remember) or any of the staff. I just remember the feeling.

This is the exterior of my local library the year I was born.

“Public Library. 1906 by Maurice B Adams. Red brick with Portland and Ancaster stone dressings, tile-hung gables and a tiled roof. Three-bay central section of Portland stone set back from the street, flanked by projecting twin two-bay sections. Central entrance flanked by twin Doric columns supporting an open segmental pediment with palm-flanked cartouche inscribed ELTHAM PUBLIC LIBRARY, surmounted by a mullion and transom window set within a pilaster-flanked surround with an open pedimental canopy containing a scrolled cartouche over crossed palms. Ball-capped central attic with the inscription BOROUGH OF WOOLWICH. Central frontispiece flanked by lesser doors within pedimental doorcases with twin leaded lights, and flanked by mullion and transom windows at first-floor level. Hipped roof with Portland stone chimneys in centre, lower chimneys of brick at ends. Flanking gabled sections have paired eight-light mullion and transom windows within semi-circular topped surrounds, over lower courses of glazed brown brick set between Portland stone bases to side and central pilasters. First floor is rendered, with twin canted bay windows. Tile-hung gable ends are flanked with moulded urns. Eastern elevation has two eight light mullion and transom windows and is connected to a later northern extension of c.1935. Interior retains no original fittings. Open trussed roof over issue desk; skylights over the central western areas. Librarian's flat on first floor not inspected. The library was largely financed by the American philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and was originally intended to be the centrepiece of a much larger civic complex, which was not proceeded with. Included as a strong composition in the English Renaissance style by the foremost designer of public libraries, Maurice B Adams.

The Building News, 28 April 1905
The Building News, 26 July 1907”

So then I went to college, went to work, went to Uni (yes, in that order) and I didn’t need my local library anymore, I either went into town to research at the British Library or specialized institutions and once I went back to actual reading-for-enjoyment there was something called…Amazon.
I realise I am going to upset people here and I have mentioned this on the website a few times but yes I am one of those that shopped online. I’m not going to focus on this subject here, I think that is a blog in itself for another time, but whether it was because of my generation, money, convenience, etc. let’s leave that for now. In short, from my mid twenties or so, I shopped more or less exclusively online, and as you can imagine the local library simply didn’t exist for me.
Fast forward a bit and now I’m writing regularly, I own a laptop so I can write wherever I want and I feel a bit easily distracted at home so I start searching for convenient local places to write. I spend a lot of time at the coffee shop, I spend a lot of time at the pub, I spend a lot of time at the park…and then walking up the High Street one day I see the library and think why not pop in there?
It’s still called a library but I’m not sure it is one I would recognise, but I like it. Right, I’m going to list a bunch of things and I’ll leave it to you as to whether they are positive or negative…new clean shiny lower than shoulder height bookshelves so the whole place is 'open plan', shelves for DVD’s, CD’s and Magazines, tables and chairs spread throughout the whole library, kids playroom, computers everywhere, light everywhere, friendly staff…so, what is your reaction to that?
I’ll say this, it’s not quiet anymore, people talk freely and openly to their friends, people talk on their mobiles without any worry, children run around and shout and scream without being shushed and the sound of tapping keyboards rings around the building.
For me, the magic of the library I knew has gone, the smell is different, there is no fear, there is no silence, there is no sense of history, it doesn’t feel like a revered place…but you know what, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s just different. And I really like the place. What is there instead? Fantastic selection of books and media, free Wi-Fi, open access computers for all, lots of new clean seats and tables to work on, convenience for parents and an overall sense of welcoming, openness and comfort.
So it’s not all bad is it! The place seems busy all the time, a well-used community service…exactly its purpose. I use it more now than I ever did when younger.

Take a look at this link:

I started a board on Pinterest recently named ‘Bookshelves and Reading Places’, within a few weeks there have been hundreds of fantastic images that people have posted, such as:

It’s been great to see people interact on Pinterest and visit the many boards devoted to books and reading, if you get a chance take a look around. You will see that as with everything, we can enjoy the old and the new, the traditional and the modern, the familiar and the transformations…I find I can write well at the library and I’m glad I found it again.

Hour’s up.

P.S – I wanted to quickly mention that I’ve been a bit slow on new writing recently as I have been working to register with all the different eReader platforms that are out there and the ‘business’ side if you want to call it that has taken up most of my time. Shortly, Thinking Plainly’s stories will be available on the Nook, Kobo, Google Books, Apple, Sony, Books on Board, Scribd as well as of course the Kindle. I won’t be publishing all stories to all sites automatically, there will be a mixture of releases and it will all depend on different marketing and promotional strategies but it’s a nice feeling to know that the option is there to make the stories available to anyone who has a digital device. I’ll post more information on this later when everything is fully tied up and the Thinking Plainly website is updated to reflect this, but it may also effect pricing as I may have to make all the stories £1 (and the currency equivalents). This is because some have that as a minimum price and it means there is a disadvantage/advantage to other sites and may affect contractual agreements. I’ll have to investigate that in more detail soon. So can I explain that it was always my intention to sell my stories (just mine, not others that will publish through Thinking Plainly) for the minimum price (Kindle is 77p) as although there are many arguments and debates about pricing (it is a huge topic of discussion on all the forums) I took that decision but I hope you understand why I may have to increase that to a pound, it’s not really the money difference but the principle that I am apologizing for. Anyway, it may not be the case, let’s see. I hope when I post or blog about it again, you will send me your thoughts on the new website, the new sites and the new price.

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Sunday, 9 September 2012

Personal Appearance

When I told myself to start blogging earlier this year I made a list of topics I thought I wanted to talk about but had no specific set order in which to pick them so was free to chop and change as I saw fit and write about what I felt most passionate about on that particular week. I woke up this morning and took a look in the mirror…and I knew that it would have to be this topic!
I will turn thirty three years of age in November and I feel justified in saying this year has been one of the most difficult I have ever been through. In other blogs perhaps I’ll go into some of the reasons why but that aside there have also been enormous highs and positives to take and I’m going to take a light hearted view on something that has been getting more and more prominent in my daily thinking as the year has progressed (September already!)…my personal appearance.
Most people reading this won’t know me personally so very briefly I’ll preclude the upcoming anxieties by explaining I have always been someone who has kept reasonably fit. I started training in a boxing gym when I was twelve, enjoyed sports at school, have pretty much always belonged to a local gym, been a regular runner and generally an active person. I have for sure had exceptionally lazy periods where I’ve seen my local Indian restaurant more than the curl bench or treadmill but there’s nothing wrong with that here and there. I’m certainly no fitness fanatic but that may have something to do with the fact that regular exercise from an early age has helped me maintain a decent level of fitness despite injuries or bone idol periods all through my teens and twenties. Well that’s all fine and dandy but now my birthdays begin with a 3 there have been some noticeable problems with my ‘rely on muscle memory’ excuse. (You may be asking what has any of this go to do with writing but I’m getting there, keep with me, it will link up soon.)
I have always worked full time since leaving school and some jobs have been more demanding on my time than others, I have experience of doing 60-70 hour weeks and also of a few hours shift work scattered here and there. Throughout all jobs I have always managed to attend the gym at least a couple of times a week and it’s only this year that the routine of the gym has evaded me and I think I have to be honest about the reasons why.
When I was younger, I wanted to be fit for all the usual reasons, to look attractive to girls, to wear nice clothes, to feel confident and so on (varying levels of success with all of those) but also because I really enjoyed training and wanted to be good at the sports I had undertaken and it wasn’t just vanity, it was a real desire to be good at something, to be successful at a pursuit. Now this is the painfully honest part that hurts me to write, but now, at nearly thirty three I think all of the reasons I have when thinking about exercising come from a vanity perspective only. Wow, that was really hard to put down, I feel very sad at the fact that when I really delve into my feelings about this, I have to confront the truth, I can’t run away from it or pretend I’m exaggerating. The honest realization is that I no longer feel any desire to be healthy for any other reason that wanting to still look attractive. I don’t feel the need to be ‘good’ at anything, I’m never going to get in the ring to box again, I’m never going to run the marathon, I’m never going to compete in team sports like football or rugby, there are no more competitions for me to enter. I simply have no desire to compete in athletic forums anymore. It’s actually very upsetting saying that but that’s where the writing comes in, thanks for bearing with me so far.
As you may have read elsewhere I have always written so it is not something that has appeared out of nowhere this year. What has changed however is my attitude to writing and its place in my life. To put it bluntly it has taken over my life and I am happy for it to have done so. Outside of my job I have spent pretty much every spare moment working on Thinking Plainly Limited in one way or another, whether it be the business of publishing or the business of writing, there has always been not just something to do but an ever growing list of more things to do, an incredible sense of purpose and task setting, I have so much to complete and yet new ideas come every day. I haven’t become a hermit or recluse, I still go out and see my friends and know what the outside looks like (albeit less often I have to admit) but in the main it’s been me, my laptop, coffee and plenty of hot curries. I didn’t even notice at first because I was so enjoying and focused on what I was doing but almost immediately I stopped running, from a perhaps two to three 5-10k runs a week, I wasn’t doing any, I stopped going to the gym, from perhaps two to three 2 hours sessions a week, I wasn’t doing any, I wasn’t boxing anymore, I wasn’t playing football with my friends anymore, I wasn’t doing any sit ups or press ups at home…I just stopped doing everything!
You know what, I really don’t care! That’s the most surprising thing about this year, I don’t feel upset that I have put on weight and would now wheeze after a sprint to the bus. The reasons for this are the real crux of this blog and sorry it’s taken me so long to get to it.  
What does a writer look like? Have I given up on my personal appearance or just changed my perception of what my personal appearance should be? Is it because I am now growing older and need to find reasons to find an appearance that suits my years and interests which happen to be writing or is it because I am now becoming more of a writer and feel the need to fit the appearance of what a writer is supposed to look like and my age has nothing to do with it?

Do I need to take up smoking?

(John Steinbeck. Others at:

Should I not worry about putting on a bit of weight?

(I love Orson Welles)

Do I need to grow a beard?

An attempt of mine a couple of years ago.

Not quite up to Leo Tolstoy's level.

(Others at:

What about the serious glasses look?

(Arthur Miller is doing the glasses smoking combo, how literary)

Should I worry about the rapidly developing bags under my eyes? Should I worry about eating so many bags of peanuts when writing in the pub? Should I worry about drinking so many bottles of coke when writing in the pub? Do writers wear certain types of brogues? What about large overcoats, writers wear them don’t they, even in the summer? Do I need to put a few red wine stains on some shirts? The point is, I haven’t given up on myself, I know I can get fit again, I’m not overweight but know I can lose a stone if I need to. More importantly I’m happy as I am and feel confident about what I am doing with my life, if that means focusing on writing and putting everything else aside for a while then so be it. I don’t feel the need to take on the persona of a writer, whatever that may be, I’m not going to leave all my belongings behind, move to Paris and smoke Gauloises in a back street café all day. I don’t feel the need to grow a beard or pointy moustache. I don’t feel the need to buy fake glasses to make me look more intelligent. I do cross my legs in a very old-fashioned head masterly type of way but have always done that! I’ll just carry on being me and if that means I start to look a certain way because my lifestyle dictates it then I’ll assess it as I go.
I’ve got a short story to be released soon that concerns the impact of pressuring yourself to be everything you think you should be all at once…keep in mind this blog if you happen to read it later in the year, if this strikes a chord then hopefully you’ll enjoy the story.
I’ll leave you with this little oddity…my gym is in the same building as my library and there is a café that you can sit in and see the turnstile entrance to the gym. While on my third mocha I remind myself this is as near to the Pec-Deck as I have got in six months….

Hour (and a half) is up.

P.S: I realise that this blog is going out on the last day of the Paralympics. I didn’t want to mention it above as to link my trivial musings to the sheer incredible strength of humanity we have seen over the last two weeks would be just plain wrong. I hope you, like me, have been in awe of the athletic achievements in these games and in my little corner of the web I’ll take this opportunity to salute everyone involved.

P.P.S: I apologise for missing my blog last week. I have been very busy working on making my short stories available on all eReaders so there has been a lot of registering, formatting and frustrating admin going on. I’ll make a Facebook post this week explaining what’s going on in more detail.

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