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Cath Staincliffe on readers, writers and libraries

On National Reading Group Day, author Cath Staincliffe, tells us why libraries are so important to readers and writers:

Writers are born in libraries

Writers are born in libraries. I certainly was. Because being a reader is a huge part of being a writer. For me a love of reading goes hand-in-hand with the desire to write. I grew up in a house where we all went together to the public library and returned home with piles of books to devour before next month’s visit. Beginning in the children’s section, I then graduated to adult fiction, reading my way round the shelves trying anything that captured my interest.

The pleasure and excitement of stories, being in other worlds, seeing things through the eyes of other characters and sharing their emotions is what I get from reading and what I’m hoping to find when I write. Back then books were real luxuries: we might get one as a birthday or Christmas present and my dad would be persuaded by doorstep salesmen that he and his growing family really needed the collection of encyclopaedias or reference books they were flogging (though we could scarcely afford them) but the vast bulk of our literary diet came from the public library.

Meeting readers

In the years since I’ve been published, I’ve done dozens of events in libraries and relish meeting readers. It’s a chance to talk about books and stories and characters and language and style with people who are passionate about them. Of course we bring ourselves to the books we read, it’s an active process, filling in spaces the writer has left, hearing the dialogue, fleshing out the scenes and it’s always interesting how different readers interpret characters and books differently. Occasionally there are disappointing numbers at library events – I remember one appearance where only two people turned out to see me, and another where a bloke who’d just nipped out for a pint of milk has been corralled by the librarian to bump up the numbers but then there are times when thirty or forty avid readers will listen and debate and ask pertinent questions and I come away from those visits feeling energised and privileged to be writing for a living. There can be surprises along the way, too – in one of my early private-eye novels I finished the book and then had a sudden brainwave for a final twist. I was delighted with myself. At a library talk afterwards a reader was keen to tell me that she’d seen the twist coming all along. Which was more than I had!

If they didn’t exist, we’d have to invent them

Libraries are one of the few free, public, local, cultural spaces that we all share. True community venues. For that reason alone they are precious, they bind us together. They enable any of us to become readers, perhaps to become writers. They really are invaluable and if they didn’t exist we’d have to invent them. To see them under sustained attack is heart-breaking. My local library is still open and I’ve never lost the habit of borrowing books. I can only hope that the same provision will be there for my children and for theirs.

About Cath

Cath was brought up in Bradford and hoped to become an entomologist (insects) then a trapeze artist before settling on acting at the age of eight. She graduated from Birmingham University with a Drama and Theatre Arts degree and moved to work as a community artist in Manchester where she now lives with her family.

Looking for Trouble, published in 1994, launched private eye Sal, a single parent struggling to juggle work and home, onto Manchester’s mean streets. Cath has published a further seven Sal Kilkenny mysteries. In 2006 Cath was short-listed for the CWA Dagger in the Library.

Cath is a founder member of Murder Squad, a virtual collective of northern crime writers. She is an avid reader and likes hill-walking, messing about in the garden and dancing (with far more enthusiasm than grace).

Find out more about Cath and her books.

Follow Cath on Twitter.

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