My library and me

One of my proudest memories as a writer, and some of my earliest as a reader, happened in a library. The same one, in fact; Rhiwbina Library in the suburb of Cardiff where I grew up, a wonderful place that has provided a thread of continuity throughout my bookish life.

The library stands on what I would guess was a piece of spare land next to the railway station. From the brick and grey panelled architecture it appears to have been built in the late fifties or early sixties; probably a contemporary of my parents’ house. With polished parquet flooring and windows that flooded the rooms with light, it was paradise to a bookish child like me.

My memory – often dodgy – tells me that children’s books were in the room to the right of the entrance; endless shelves filled with Borrowers, Moomins and Enid Blyton, which necessitated a careful choice before I could take some of them home. At the desk their little pink cards would be tucked into my little brown card pockets, to wait in some magical filing system until it was time to bring them back and swap them for new ones.

I couldn’t wait to have a grown up library membership which would entitle me to seven little card pockets. By that time I was in sixth form and my horizons had expanded as far as the magnificent Victorian gothic Cardiff Central Library. My footsteps would echo up the stone steps as I went in search of romantic novels, or to find a desk in the research section to look things up for school projects, or even just to while away the time before the bus home. But my regular weekly book fix was always collected from Rhiwbina.

I went to university, moved away, joined libraries elsewhere. My visits to Rhiwbina library were limited to accompanying my mother, and ultimately selecting and returning large print books on her behalf when she didn’t feel up to venturing out herself.

The last time we visited Rhiwbina Library together I had my author hat firmly on my head. It was in March 2014 and my debut novel, The Cheesemaker’s House, was doing very well in Cardiff’s libraries – and I like to think it wasn’t only because my mother was telling all her friends to read it. So I was invited to give a talk at Rhiwbina and as my mum, her friends, my childhood friends, and a surprising number of complete strangers, listened, I told the tale of my road to publication. There was something about sitting on the table, swinging my legs, that took me right back to sitting on a chair in the children’s library downstairs, similarly unable to reach the floor with my feet.

The final chapter perhaps should have been returning my mum’s last borrowings – this time in CD form – after she died, and handing in her plastic card. I did it on the morning of her funeral, and the staff, who had known her for years, were wonderfully kind.

But it wasn’t quite, because three years later I was back to give a talk about romance writing with RNA colleagues Evonne Wareham and Sue McDonagh. Who knows, perhaps one day I’ll return to Rhiwbina Library again. I certainly hope so.