You have an extremely happy Dog Eared Read’s gal on your hands today as I’ve had my mitts on some truly dog eared and precious books. I promised updates on the old writing process and here is the first one.
So I’m not giving too much away about plots/the story itself, insert that old buying cow, free milk saying here please, just more on what I’m up to, how it is going and the like. What I can say is that A LOT of research is required. My brain alighted on a story that I just felt like I had to tell and it nagged and nagged at me until I addressed it front on and said ok, I’m going to do your bidding, try and get you out of my head and down on to some paper. What I didn’t anticipate was how much research I would have to do because of my chosen story, this is not something I can just pluck from my imagination cloud (I’ve just made that up as I’m sure you can tell, but I like it so I’m sticking with it) I need facts and figures, and I want them fast because I want to get busy!
I’ve been able to get started with some second hand book deliveries, Internet pages printed out and a trusty highlighter, but it’s not enough – I needed to bring in the big guns. Back online I went and got myself registered, registered with the British Library *pow pow pow*. Next a day off work was found, the megabus was booked and the waiting for the day to arrive began – and here you find me, nearing the end of that said day.
(Megabussing in 30 degree heat – oh the artistic dream)
My alarm going off at 6am doesn’t usually result in me jumping out of bed with a spring in my step, I am massively more of a night owl, but today I was bright eyed and bushy tailed as I knew I had A Day ahead. The megabus gods were good to me and everything was on time, I settled down to listen to some bookish podcasts for the 2 and a half hour journey then…promptly fell asleep for the entire thing!
I made my way straight over to the library and have to say that every single member of staff was an absolute delight, from registering, getting my membership card (I AM A MEMBER WITH A CARD!), to taking my bulky bag to store in the cloakroom and selling me a pencil. It was clear I was an amateur at this whole ‘entering a reading room’ game as I had came armed with notepad and pen. My pen is officially a banned item, mightier than the sword and all that. I had to troop off and buy a pencil, along with a pencil sharpener just for good measure, in the gift shop and firmly keep my eyes diverted from the books…like those amazing Penguin editions I’d never seen before, with that really alternative cover of ‘Everything is Illuminated’ by Jonathan Safran Foer, I totally didn’t pick that up.
(Many of these were spotted so I felt like less of a novice for being pencil unprepared)
Going in the reading room was slightly akin to how I imagine walking into a holy building is for some. The texts I’d reserved had been sent to the rare books room so that is where I found myself, a sharp in take of breath as I turned the corner and saw the size of the place, the delicious rows upon rows of tables with heads bent over piles of books held together by ribbon and being handled delicately as if a precious stone you couldn’t let slip through your finger tips. As advised I found myself a spot, table number 104, popped my stuff down and went off to collect my goodies. The magic of just walking over to the desk, saying my name and only moments later being handed two such precious books I think is something that will never wear thin for me.
The next few hours passed in a blur. I dived straight into the first text book which was so incredibly helpful I was having to sharpen my pencil to make so many notes at such a rate that I honestly broke the sharpener within about an hour (note to invest in a more sturdy pencil sharpener made). I took a half hour break when my stomach made it clear that it was not going to allow me to think anymore if I did not keep it happy, so I nipped out to the library’s cafe which I can confirm does a mean blueberry muffin and cup of green tea. Once refreshed it was back to the grindstone and I’d like to do a Dog Eared Reads shout out here to Isaac, the amazing Jamaican guy checking readers passes as you entered the room. We had a great natter about tea at the Dorchester and how we were happy with a mug, a teabag from a box and a decent chair – nothing running into the £100’s for us! He made me feel welcomed and put a smile on my face – priceless.
I then moved on to the second book and did not at all expect what was inside. After pulling open the ribbon and opening it up I found document after document carefully placed within, newspaper articles from the late 1600’s and beautiful illustrations and maps that were paper thin but still showed the stunning penmanship of the time inked along the bottom. Now I know I am a person who lives with their emotions pretty close to the surface anyway but I honestly came close to having a tear in my eye. It felt like such an honour to have these amazing treasures before me, so lovingly looked after and given for me to look at for FREE, it was more than I had expected to find and I was, and still am, utterly delighted. I could clearly go on here to talk about the importance of libraries, how having a space that isn’t about profit but is all about education is something societies are built on and should fight to retain until the bitter end, how we should cherish these resources as those who kindly look after them do, BUT that would be a bit of an essay and I know you lot know the important of these things! (And if for any reason you are in doubt, read Ali Smith’s ‘Public Library’, it is my prescription to you).
*gazes in wonder*
The final part of my session in the rare book room was spent actually writing. So I have to confess, I love love love research, I realise I may sound odd here but I find genuine delight in learning, finding out new facts, discovering oddities or stories about our world, so all that part was a doddle. Writing though, ouch. Writing can hurt. I love it but in a very different way. After an hour and a half my brain was physically hurting. I also have the intense self awareness that tomorrow I will read everything I have written and HATE it, wonder what on earth I think I am doing when clearly not an iota of talent lives in these finger tips and want to press delete on the whole thing (clever telling you lot eh? Means I can’t give up so easily!)
What I found really interesting is that this afternoon I had written an opening 1500 words or so. I had a notebook with me in which I had done this 8 weeks previously. With one I have written in the first person and in the other I have used the third. WHY did I do this? I didn’t set out to write in either or to experiment, it just came out of my pencil that way. Which am I more comfortable with? What will work better for my story and the characters. I know nothing Jon Snow.
What I do know is that when I packed away my notebook and laptop, handed those books in and headed out the door I felt so incredibly and intensely happy, those who have known me over the last couple of years know this hasn’t always been the case, this time last year the whole concept of ‘happy’ felt pretty alien to me, so I can’t stress how important today has been to me in so many ways. It was such a productive day and I felt like I was doing what I was meant to be, everything had clicked somehow.
Other odds and ends helped make the day a lovely one, best friends who let me crash on their sofa so the 6am start isn’t 4.30am (here’s looking at you twin), staff in every single place I went being delightful, jumping on a tube with a 50/50 chance of it going in the direction I needed to go and it turning out to be right…it all added up. The kind folk at the British Library also gave me a free ticket to their current Shakespeare exhibition and near the end of my day when my brain had ground to a halt, I had half an hour before I had to leave so I had a wander round, it was blummin’ wonderful, I could have spent much longer in there. I even got to see a human skull that Victor Hugo had gifted Sarah Bernhardt that she then went on to use in Hamlet, I mean it’s not everyday you get to see a curiosity of that level is it?!
One thing that did dampen the day was that I did an official Bad Friend Move. A little while back I was at an author launch party and she was thanking but also apologising to her friends for how she had been during the time she was writing, often being unreliable and bailing on them. I had made plans with a funny and wise man named Sam, we were going to go and investigate the new Tate Modern building together at the end of the day. When I saw just how much material I had from the library and only such limited time to use it I did the awfully rude thing and cancelled. It hangs heavy on my soul (this may sound trite but it does, I hate being a canceller) and for this Sam, I am truly sorry.
So what now? Well other than having to work out where I am going with my tense, what will Danielle choose, this trip has led to a bit of a problem. I need to go back. There was so much more that will be of amazing use to me in the British Library that I either didn’t know about before today or couldn’t get my hands on as others were currently using the books, and I need time to see and study it all. Realistically what I am hoping to do is make a full weekend of it. Today’s travel meant that door to door to get there I left at 6.25am and arrived at 11.15, to get home I left London at 7pm and as I type this I am not yet home…it is 11.15pm. The hours in between were productive but I realise I could achieve more with some solid sessions using the full hours of the library. So the saving begins, a piggy bank shall be put on my table and the coins will start going in. There is a travelodge by the library that will do me nicely for resting my head, the megabus can be my carriage (£4.50 in total for my ENTIRE trip, thank you that rosy cheeked, slight bulbous man in the yellow hat) and from morning until night for two days I shall work, work, work. I don’t know when this will be as wanting to pen a story and working in a shop does not many pennies make, but it WILL happen, so I will keep you up to date with the progress of that!
When I do get home tonight (maybe tomorrow morning…please tonight bus driver!) I will rest my head happier than I have been in a long time. I have Sunday as my day off work so I shall be rereading my notes then and seeing what my characters want to get up to that day! I hope you’ll stay with me for the ride!
As usual, please chat below or over on Twitter! I have a few book reviews lined up for the coming days and weeks but I would love to hear what you guys are reading, if you have ever been to the British Library or seen a skull that has been passed around by loads of famous people.