We were very lucky to have Jenn Ashworth, author of several
books including the most recent Fell,
talking to the Time To Read group. She is a passionate advocator for libraries
and a brilliant speaker so we all fell silent – not a normal thing in the
meetings - when she started speaking. We were not disappointed.This is a summary from my notes that the author has checked.
"being she truanted in public libraries she gained a lot out of it"
Jenn started with her upbringing and a confession or two,
for she had a “troubled and troubling” childhood and often truanted. However,
being she truanted in public libraries she gained a lot out of it. “Libraries
were a place to go for free and that were warm and safe” she said, saying they
offered “a strange combination of safety and freedom”. The author found the
time she spent skiving at the Harris Library in Preston as “a way to be part of
"The best things the librarians did for her was not telling her what to read"
The best things the librarians did for her was not telling
her what to read. So she read everything, from
Jane Austen to Stephen King to a guide to how to get published simply
because she did not know this was not the right thing to do. But the librarians did teach her one thing. Forgiveness.
Jenn sometimes did not return books and repeatedly lost her library card but
that did not prevent the library from allowing her to take out more, for which
she is very grateful.
"She remembers forgetting she was in a library for a couple of hours due to that book. How had Melvin done that?"
There was a book, “The Baby and Fly Pie” by Melvin Burgess,
which made as big an impression on Jenn than the forgiveness shown. Although it
was a depressing dystopia, it allowed Jenn to be “lost in that world and not in
mine” and that was what was so important for her at the time. She remembers forgetting she was in a library
for a couple of hours due to that book. How had Melvin done that? How had the
book managed to transport her to a different world? Jenn had to find out. She
stole the book from the library.
"Authors can go to festivals to sell books but authors don’t go to libraries for that to the same extent. Talking to readers, in a way that libraries can facilitate, is why they write."
What libraries do is incredibly important and have
life-changing effects. Authors are usually deeply and personally grateful to
libraries and can be their biggest champions as a result. Libraries develop
relationships with readers and the wider community in the way that other
purveyors of books do not. The staff often have a unique personal relationship with readers and with reading groups. Authors
can go to festivals to sell books but authors don’t go to libraries for that to
the same extent. Talking to readers, in a way that libraries can facilitate, is
why they write. A writer wants to make connections and want to write to explore
what it is to be a human, messily in relationships with other humans, the
landscape and the world - and to help the reader think about those things for
themselves … and libraries can be very
helpful in that. The local connection libraries have are important. Jenn comes
from the Northwest and knows that the region has a strong literary community
that is under-represented in the publishing and prizes worlds.
Then there were some tips on how to get the best out of an
Be clear on what the author is doing, what
they’re good at and what genre they write. For example, Jenn, like many others,
finds the teenage age group challenging and would not appreciate discovering a
group of teens being dragooned in to one of her talks.
Be clear to the author as to what you expect
them to do and why you want them. If it’s for an end-of-year celebration for
reading groups, who may not have read the author’s books, tell the author that
and they will prepare very differently than if it is for a group of fans who
have read every word of their writing.
If an event is pairing the author with another
one, there needs to be a reason. Just availability or geographic closeness is
not enough. The authors will read eachother’s
books and discuss them so there needs to be a thematic or other
Make sure the branch library staff know who is
coming and not to be afraid of them. Authors very rarely bite.
Authors need to make an entrance at the start of
the talk to make the opening crisp and obvious. For this reason, have them in a separate room
(be it staffroom or broom cupboard) beforehand.
"Authors know what libraries are like. They have not come for the building but for the audience."
Give authors advice on travel and parking. Think
about how easy it is getting to the venue will be and offer to pick up from the
station if necessary.
Get in touch with the author’s publicist as soon
as you can. An author will give an image or two but the publicist can help with
graphics, how to do publicity and social media.
Above all, get whoever is introducing the author
to have read the book. The library staff have the personal connection with the
audience and if they don’t have a connection with the book, the audience will
see that and take their cue from them.
If an introduction is delegated to front line
staff, make sure they want to do it and know what to do. A terrified
introduction does not a successful event make.
Authors do not expect libraries to be swish. There’s no need
to apologise for not being so or if the building is a bit small or grubby.
Authors know what libraries are like. They have not come for the building but
for the audience. They know that a library is not a place where people simply
come to get culture but to make culture.
"a library is not a place where people simply come to get culture but to make culture."
Jenn then finished with a story. When she worked in a prison
library, she talked about a book she had published. Her audience talked about
her book and then offered to do a rooftop protest and show the book to the
television crews filming it from helicopters. You don’t tend to get such offers
from festival audiences. Those who attend library events tend to be more
helpful. Although, of course, rooftop protests are not recommended.