A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
Earlier this month, I had an author reading and Q and A in a little library in a small town called Wallsend, North Tyneside. Around 16 people were there. And yet it was one of the most special talks I’ve ever done. Why? Because Wallsend was the library I grew up in.
As an avid young reader, every Saturday I spent all my pocket money on books. At the risk of sounding like my mother, in those days I could buy a new paperback for 75p. I could also finish reading it by Sunday. These days we would cheer a child for being such a keen reader, but back then it drove my parents mad. So thank goodness for my library ticket.
It meant that once a week, I could pick up a bag full of new (to me) books, all for free. I kept my pocket money for the Enid Blytons, as there was no chance of getting those from the library – they were always the first to be snatched up.
As I got older, I made my first forays into the adult section and sometimes got sent straight back by my mother, for bringing home something unsuitable. The Dennis Wheatley book springs to mind. And I could also loan a selection of dusty, scratched old vinyl LPs, taping them illegally onto my portable cassette player and genuinely imagining that one day, I’d be arrested for this. The smell of album covers takes me straight back to being a wide-eyed teenager again.
All of this I took entirely for granted. I am not sure when it became an acceptable decision to close a library, but the thought of a town without one fills me with anger and sadness. And fear, as without free access to a wide range of books, knowledge becomes closed off and the preserve of the privileged.
The old Wallsend Library of my childhood and teens, a rather brutalist 1960s concrete construction, closed just recently.
At first this made me sad, especially when I walked past to see it all closed up and its shelves visibly empty through the glass.
But Wallsend is luckier than many towns because a new library has opened up. The new building is spacier, lighter, cleaner and more inviting.
I put all my nostalgia aside when I saw it, knowing how much I would have loved it as a child. The teenagers using the computers had to be thrown out when closing time arrived, as opposed to being dragged in when they would rather be somewhere else. The sun streamed through the windows as I did my reading, making me blink (no, it wasn’t just me being sentimental), and the staff were full of enthusiasm as they talked about their forthcoming author programme
We can’t take libraries for granted any more, and maybe that means we will appreciate and love them as we should. Of course, I wouldn’t advocate going back to the old Wallsend Library building with its tatty contents and its leaky roof. But I would like to go back to a time when no council would dream of closing down a library without, like North Tyneside, putting a bigger and better one in its place.
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Bea Davenport is the writing name of former journalist Barbara Henderson. Bea worked in newspapers and broadcasting for a long time, including seventeen years at BBC North in Newcastle, where she worked on TV, radio and online.
She left journalism to study for a Creative Writing PhD at Newcastle University. The children’s novel written as part of that, The Serpent House, was published by Curious Fox in June 2014. It is a historical time-fantasy inspired by the medieval leper hospital once sited in the village where Bea now lives. Before being commissioned by Curious Fox, it was shortlisted for the 2010 Times/Chicken House Award.
The Serpent House was Bea’s first novel for children, although she has two adult crime/suspense novels published by Legend Press.
In 2014, Bea worked with Fiction Express on an interactive e-book where school pupils read a chapter each week and chose what should happen next. Bea then wrote the next chapter in time for the following Friday! The paperback version of the book, My Cousin Faustina, will be published by ReadZone in March 2015.
She lives in Berwick-upon Tweed on the Northumberland-Scottish border with her partner, children and a naughty cat.