My First Conference

I’ve had some rather wonderful news that my proposal of a short paper at LILAC, the Librarian’s Information Literacy Annual Conference, has been accepted. I’m going to be doing a presentation on IL on a Shoestring: Using a Whole Team Approach in developing Information Literacy resources. This is, as you can imagine, very very exciting for me. I’ve been to various library and information professional world conferences and camps over the last few years but this is my first ever presentation at one.

LILAC is in Sheffield at the end of April, so if you’re interested in information literacy and are attending the conference do come and say hello! I’ll be mostly banging on about why you should use all the skills within your team and why IL should be accessible and fun.


Radical Library Camp

This weekend, despite waking up with the evil yearly start-of-term cold, I made my way over to Bradford for the first Radical Library Camp. I’d never been to a Library Camp before, just conferences, which are usually marked by loads of interesting if predictable sessions on how to do my job better, lovely buffet lunches and a shed load of freebies to cart back home with me and divvy up amongst my colleagues.

RLC was different from the start in that you had to ‘pitch’ a session, so the program was completely made up on the day. This was great as it meant I could make my own mind up of what to go to based on how I was feeling at the time and who I wanted to talk to-rather than turning up and thinking ‘what did I think sounded cool four months ago when I registered for this thing?’.

Library Camp sign

The day itself was held in The Bradford Resource Centre, an easy ten minute walk from the Interchange and a lovely community centre venue with a kitchen, different spaces of varying sizes and a real co-opy feel. Everyone chipped in for lunch, with a massive tureen of dal that instantly cured my cold, lovely fresh bread and salady bits, and enough tiffin to swim in. So much more informal and friendly that a buffet (though I LOVE A BUFFET, bring-a-dish meals, such as the ones at Sacred Harp meets, are def my new way of eating).

The sessions varied in their radical-ness from Libraries as a Monoculture, neoliberalism with Libraries, and LGBT provision. There were four sessions throughout the day with plenty to choose from.

Library Camp timetable

I attended sessions on library design, which was wonderfully informative and gave me a lot of food for thought (is comfort empowering? Is me sitting behind a desk necessarily adding to the amount of conflict I experience each day?-that one especially has made me want to experiment with not sitting down all day, though I strongly suspect I’ll just end up poking students and getting years behind my cataloguing).

Next up was BDSM resources in libraries, which is a subject I never thought I’d be discussing with other professionals but in light of censorship issues, our duty as educators to provide information about all sexualities and the misinformation provided by the 50 Shades of Grey phenomenon it turned out to perhaps be one of the most practically helpful workshops of the day. I’m now compiling a list of local charities to request resources from, for example, and thinking a lot about how collection development policies can be used to defend anti-censorship.

In the afternoon I attended two very angry talks about how copyright is dead-which included finding out about IFLA’s campaign on re-working international copyright law to better suit the needs of library users, and Libraries as Monocultures, which was run by @pennyb, who I’d never actually met and was wonderfully sweary and passionate.

Perhaps my favourite thing about RLC was getting to meet other people working in libraries, or who had an interest in libraries, and being able to not worry about being Amazingly Professional, not wearing a suit, not small talking, not worrying about being a spy in the camp. It was so relaxed, but also informative and inspiring and environment to be in and really felt like the beginnings of a movement of the future. I really really felt, ‘These are my people, and I’m in the Right Job’, which I feel a LOT but is always nice to have it confirmed!

I’ve volunteered myself to put together a zine of the day, which I will have to do in November after Lit Fest Season, but shall be nice and ready for Christmas.

I loved RLC, and really hope there is a next time!

Leeds LadyFest/Big Bookend/Summer summer summer time

After a month of doing seemingly nothing but uni work, I’m so happy to be getting back in the swing of things. I love learning about librarianship, but sometimes one can read too much about the importance of the reference interview…

This weekend is another great example of how ace Leeds is. On Friday I’m going to the Leeds LadyFest fundraiser at Wharf Chambers, which is a Rocky Horror themed party. They will be screening the film from 7.45pm, and will be selling bags of props to join in and get the ‘proper’ Rocky Horror experience. If you’ve never ‘done’ Rocky Horror before you should, it is hilar, and from £5 on the door in a safe environment you can dress up, or not, have a good giggle and raise money for LadyFest, which will be happening in October.

Then on Saturday I am so very very excited to be going to see one of my favourite historical fiction authors, Anne O’Brien, at the Leeds Big Bookend Festival, which is running across the city centre over the weekend and you should definitely check out. I discovered Anne O’Brien at last year’s festival, during the talk on women’s historical fiction, which was fascinating (in fact you can see the back of my (then ginger) head in this photo which I have shamelessly nicked from the Big Bookend website).

I read The Virgin Widow before the talk, which is about Anne Neville and takes a very different stance on her life and marriages to The Kingmaker’s Daughter by Philippa Gregory, which I believe is part of this here White Queen thang that’s on the telly soon. I read The King’s Concubine over Christmas and loved it. She writes very easy to read but really gripping accounts of various historical women, and wrote for Harlequin Romances for years so knows how to keep up pace and plot and is a fantabulous speaker and I am SO looking forward to seeing her again!

AND it is going to be sunny, and I get to sit in the park with a Nice Boy for a bit of this weekend IhopeIhope so on an extremely personally level literally nothing could be better! Hooray for Leeds!

World Book Night, so good I blogged it twice…

So World Book Night has come and gone for another year, and what a lovely WBN it was! Once again the Travelling Suitcase Library took over my local pub, Arcadia, filling it with books, and bunting.

A happy customer!

 I was giving away Malorie Blackman’s Noughts and Crosses, a powerful dystopian YA romance book, and I was also joined by the lovely Jimi, who found out about the event through the World Book Night website, who was giving out copies of Casino Royale, which went down a treat with the pub regulars.

World Book Night @ Arcadia

We were joined by the incredibly supportive Leeds Big Bookend Crew, whose festival I’m really looking forward to, and the Leeds Ladyfest Crew were on hand selling awesome merch, the bags really came in useful for carrying the books back!

The Ladyfest Crew and the Awesome Bags!

 And of course the Travelling Suitcase Library was its usual busy self, as most people turned up to the event with bags upon bags of books to swap.

Books Make People Excited!

 This year’s event was smaller than previous ones, World Book Night is now such a big event with so many people giving books all over Leeds-I was really chuffed to be handed some in Leeds Book Station by Leeds Met Library-it is hard for someone on their own to organise. I couldn’t do a buffet, and the least said about my buns the better. But for the people who came, and supported the event for the third year running (and it was SO NICE to have people bringing books they got last year and loved to be swapped again) we had a lovely evening, I got to wear a frock, and many people found a stack of books. M

Me, and my suitcase, looking a bit pink at the end of the night!

Thank yous… The Arcadia Team, Graeme, Sarah and Hayley for being so lovely and letting me take over for another year. Reb and Dave for being so incredibly kind and helpful, Fiona and The Big Bookend, L and P from Ladyfest and the Leeds Feminist Network Massive, fellow giver Jimi, B and friends, Luey, Lou, Tom and Jim, H, G/R, EB Snare and the Twitter Crew and P for just being wonderful.

Originally appeared on the Travelling Suitcase Library blog.

Completely Out of the Literary World?

Living in Leeds, according to John Freeman, the editor of Granta magazine, quoted in The Guardian yesterday, makes you “completely out of the literary world”.

Freeman was speaking in reference to the hometownof Sunjeez Sahota, a writer whose work I have not read, who was including in the magazine’s 20 most promising young writer’s list. I don’t know anything about how Sahota got into reading or writing, but I do know this-saying that living in Leeds makes you ‘out of the literary world’ is xenophobic, incorrect, and further evidence of a London orientated arts culture that rips the heart out of the North and then tells us it’s our fault for being so oafish and uncultured.

Leeds has a vibrant, and growing, literary culture. The people of Leeds swap books, go to bookish events, support local writers, and discuss what they are reading in a variety of ways, all of which are celebrated and welcomed in the city. Libraries, social clubs and bookshops work together to support and promote literary initiatives and, from LadyFest to I Love West Leeds, literacy and literature is interwoven with arts, music and other creative enterprises to form part of a pulsating, vibrant, local culture, often run by people doing it on a shoestring or no budget, for free, for the love of it, in their own time.

Leeds has two local literature festivals within city boundaries; Headingley Lit Fest, whose mission statement is to highlight Headingley’s historical and contemporary contribution to literature, and the ever-expanding Morley Lit Fest, which last year included events by AL Kennedy, Fiona Shaw and Monique Roffey.  These festivals are not only excellent examples of local people coming together to create something marvellous, they’re also very very good value for money – especially compared to that beacon of literature in the North, Ilkley Literature Festival-a mere half hour away from Leeds. We are hardly strapped for literary things to see and do.

 This year sees the return of the Leeds City Centre Big Bookend, where local writers present their work. This festival is also creating its own ‘writers under 40 to watch’ list in the form of the LS13 Writers competition, which no doubt Granta will be subsequently ignoring, it not counting until London notices you.

What I suspect Freeman means is that Leeds isn’t the home of any major publishing houses, and you don’t see many agents wooing fabulous clientele in Wagamama’s Trinity. Except there are, and they probably do, in between signing books in a pen shop (?).

This quote has made a lot of people, including myself, who had dedicated a hell of a lot of time, effort and my own money over the past three years on the Leeds lit scene, a bit miffed. But it’s also brought just how big the lit scene in Leeds is to the forefront of a debate, and that is something that, actually, we should be thankful for.

If you live in Leeds, and are as pissed off as me at this, join me in celebrated our literary scene on World Book Night, on Tuesday 23 April, in Arcadia, Headingley from 7. I’ll be packing the Travelling Suitcase Library to the brim with wonderful reads, let’s show em that Leeds Loves Literature, and no flippant comment from someone who should know better is going to change that fact.

Friday Reads

Blessed Child

This was donated to my work library, which is always lovely, and is by a Scando author I’ve never heard of and sounded mysterious so I was always going to get this out at some point.

The story of three half-sisters and their relationship with their grumpy womanising father, the story is told through a series of flashbacks to various childhood incidents during the girl’s summer holidays on the Baltic island of Hammarso. As each woman’s story is told the narrative builds up to what is promised in the blurb to be ‘an incident of such senseless cruelty’, that has preveneted the family from ever returning to the Island until after the middle daughter Laura’s mothers death and their father’s retreat to the island in old age, beautiful described by the character as ‘my epilogue.’

The problem is that the incidents of senseless cruelty are so very many and the horrors of childhood so very stark that when the blurb’s promise is finally fulfilled, it all seems a little inevitable, the shock value is lost, this book cried wolf too many times.

The writing is beautiful, sparse and yet full in the same way I’ve come to expect of Swedish and Norwegian literary prose, and made me want to visit the countries even more. Miss Smilla fans (of which I am not one) would do well to read this book.

The first third, the story of the eldest sister Erika is gorgeous. I read the first 80 pages sitting in Cafe Enzo drinking tea and eating eggs and reading it and had one of those moments where if you met your life in the street it would be love at first sight. However, the book rapdily goes wrong very quickly-the standard of the writing stays the same but nothing is resolved. There are numerous little plot points and devices that go no where-what happens to the pregnant woman in the car? What happens to Paap? Where is Marion now? These questions bugged me so much that ultimately, like many many readers on Goodreads, I left this book feeling cold. In fact, yesterday I was writing up my reading diary for the month and completly forgot I’d read this book, despite finishing it on Tuesday, three days ago.

This is a real shame because the writing is so good, if you liked Jon McGregor or Salley Vickers or even maybe Barbara Kingsolver or Ann Patchett I think you’d really like this book, but don’t put all your hopes on it.

This book also worked as a lovely companion piece for Annabel, which I read last week, as it was about growing up in the 70s on the other side of a very different world, childhood cruelty and parental relationships as well. I’d give both of these books a 3/5 but for very different reasons.


Friday Reads

I read this profile of Shirley Conran, the author of this 1982 classic bonk buster re-released last July with this marvellous cover, over the summer and mentally put it on my To Be Read list. Then at the ForBooksSake birthday party I got chatting to a very friendly lady who had a copy of Lace in her bag and was waxing lyrical about it, so when I popped in to Central Library the day before I’d booked two days off work and saw it on their Lovely Display I thought, that’s my holiday right there.

Lace is wonderful. Over-long, ridiculous in parts, wincingly old fashioned and gloriously un-PC this is what a bonk-buster should be. Sex, fashion, business, love, fear, political manoeuvrings and friendship combine in a sweeping story that goes back and forth between the lives of the four main characters, and the glamorous but tragic Lilli, who confronts them in middle age with her demand to know ‘which one of you bitches is my mother?’.

Friends since their confinement in a Swiss finishing school, Maxine, Kate, Pagan and waitress Judy go through pretty much every major life event and crisis it is possible for a woman to have. From post-natal depression, alcoholism, a husband coming out as a transvestite, career changes and sexual discovery the women support each other as only old friends who don’t need to see each other all the time to still feel that bond can do.

Shirley Conran gets female friendship right on the nose. The careers these women eventually have might seem slightly wish-fulfillmenty, but the beginning of the book, when they are 16, at school and trying to figure out men and sex for the first time was at once hilariously funny and spot on. I’ve been sat on the end of that bed discussing how far you take it on various dates, what it feels like and what it means and it is only as an adult you realise you knew nothing. I’m pretty certain when I’m in my forties I shall be looking at myself now and be thinking exactly the same thing and that is what Lace does, it allows you to laugh at your teenage self and look forward to the future.

The men are all explicably awful, abusers, manipulators, weak cheaters and heart breakers and parts of the book where the women literally stomp all over them are quite maddening as they demonstrate power though individual violence rather than solidarity, as I would prefer. Lace shows how even the strongest most independent of women can be flattened by a bad man. It also shows how easy it would be for someone in power to manipulate and control someone vulnerable, and trigger warnings for rape, abuse, underage abuse, and all that goes with that have to be given. A book that opens with a thirteen year old having an abortion shouldn’t really be read lightly. But parts of Lace made me laugh out loud, and parts made me cry as well.

Then there are the sexy parts. This isn’t Black Lace, it isn’t half as explicit as some of the other bonk-busters I’ve read (I’m looking at you, Jilly Cooper…) but damn is it sexy. Apart from the bit with the goldfish (which doesn’t actually happen), that bit is just plain icky. Personally though, I am all for visiting a champagne factory Any Time Soon.

I would have happily read this in a couple of days and done nothing else apart from eat lots of chocolate and drink expensive red wine whilst wrapped in a fur, as that is what this book makes you want to do (along with visit a champagne factory) so if you’ve got a couple of days to yourself this winter try and get somewhere with a real fire and 70s lighting and indulge in this book. I want to buy copies for all my girlfriends from school and if I had been a teenager in the early 80s I’d have been reading this under the covers with a torch. In fact I can’t quite believe my mother never snuck me this and am quite disappointed with her for not doing so!

I got my copy from the library, and it is a perfect library book as it feels more like a ‘treat’ when it’s got a plastic cover. Get it out, enjoy, and try not to be embarrassed by the ensuing blushes and bursts of laughter. And have the tissues on standby.