Our live literature tour Word on Tour has been popping up in libraries across the South West as we visit 26 venues between January and September. We've been at events in Bideford, Okehampton and Tiverton and a celebration of libraries have been at the heart of them all.
We’ve been collecting postcards from each of the venues on the tour and storing them in our Word on Tour index box. We’d like to share some of the thoughts of writers and audience members with you.
If you would like to help us add to this collection, why not join us at an event near you? Take a moment to consult our map, then book your tickets. Next stop, The Hayridge, Cullompton on Wednesday 21st February from 7 – 9 pm.
Ahead of her event at Cullompton library with novelist Jane Feaver on 21st February, asked Nell Leyshon about the importance of libraries and reading in her life and in her work.
1. Here at Literature Works, we think that a library card offers access to whole other worlds. This is mirrored by the protagonist in your novel, The Colour of Milk. For Mary, reading has transportive power. What made the notion of placing reading at the centre of the plot so compelling?
Reading has always been absolutely central to my life. I found books to be extraordinary things: they look so small and innocent on the shelves, but once you open them and learn to read them, they contain multitudes. Reading is such a complex thing: it leads to knowledge which leads to power. It comforts. It allows us to escape. It teaches up empathy. It lights up the imagination. One of the things I love is to read alone. I can have my own private responses to a text. Every single time I pick up a book I think how extraordinarily lucky I am to be able to read. I think all of that went into The Colour of Milk. Mary was excluded from books, and found her own way into them, writing her own book in the process.
2. Word on Tour celebrates libraries in rural communities across the South West. In recent years, we’ve seen a return to fiction which centres on rural traditions and pastoral life. Was there a particular reason for your decision to write about a rural community in the 1830s?
I originally planned to explore the industrial unrest which took place around 1831, but once I started writing in Mary’s voice, I had to remain true to it, and Mary wasn’t that interested in the theme: she had her own battles to fight. I write about rural traditions (I am at this exact moment) because the relationship between people and the land where they live fascinates me. I love writing content which is elemental. I was also brought up in rural England: born in Glastonbury, we moved when I was 12 to a small village on the edge of the levels. I spent all my formative years in the South West, in rural areas.
3. In your novel Memoirs of a Dipper, reading is treated in a very different way – the reader almost becomes a target for the protagonist, Gary. Your own writing only highlights the importance of words, of the notion of a shared experience, a record. Was this a deliberate device of the novel or a consequence of the genre and subject matter?
I think it was a consequence of telling a very direct story in a very direct voice.
4. Can you recall the first book you borrowed from a library?
I can remember the carpet, the feel of the chair. I can remember the tickets, the lovely rubber date stamp, the wooden drawers with brass buttons. I remember my insistence on going for story-telling. But I can’t remember the book. I imagine it was a Miffy book, or maybe Madeleine, or Babar the Elephant. I still melt when I see the illustrations from these books, and the layout of the pages. They still exist inside me.
5. You’re based in the South West. Do you find that the region impacts upon your writing – what does a day’s writing look like for you?
It definitely impacts on my writing. It’s in my memory and also all around me. I live by the sea in Dorset but still go back to see family in Somerset. I was there two weeks ago watching the murmurations on the Levels. A day’s writing depends on which projects I’m working on. I write full-time now – no more teaching or workshops. So recently I’ve been finishing my new novel and getting up every day at 5.30 to catch the quiet hours. I then go for a walk after lunch – it’s either that or fall asleep. I do work long hours, especially at the moment. I don’t know why, but I have a healthy appetite for writing right now.
6. Can you tell us a bit about what you’re working on now?
I’m working on so many different things. Finishing the novel. Just about to rewrite a play. I’m about to work on a TV script. I’m lead writer and director on a site specific piece in Bournemouth with some outsider writers, which should be amazing. I’m performing my one woman show at the RSC in Stratford in June. And I have another novel whispering away in my mind… actually it’s louder than a whisper.
Thank you Nell!