Recording history today for the future

Central Library’s Edinburgh and Scottish Collection have a long history of collecting material relating to the changing life and times of the city.

Today, we also collect digital submissions from people who can upload their own pictures and memories to Edinburgh Collected, our online community archive (www.edinburghcollected.org).

During these strange times of lockdown living we are asking the public to help us record the visual signs of how life in Edinburgh has changed so that these momentous times are preserved for history.

Saturday at the Grassmarket, shared by Sufly9 on edinburghcollected.org

We’re particularly keen to see the little acts of creativity and messages of thanks and positivity that are helping us all to keep smiling.

We’ve received some lovely picture memories so far but we’d like to capture a complete picture of Edinburgh at this time. Do you have any photos of your neighbourhood that you’ve taken whilst out for your daily exercise or going to the supermarket that you could share?

Anyone can create an account and add pictures and memories to Edinburgh Collected. Once added, we’ll add your contributions to the ‘Edinburgh 2020 – coronavirus pandemic’ scrapbook.

Stay home, shared on edinburghcollected.org by jintyg

Our colleagues in Museums and Galleries and in the City Archives are also collecting material related to the coronavirus pandemic.

Museums and Galleries Edinburgh are looking to collect objects for their museum collections which represent experiences of people in Edinburgh during the pandemic. They’re hoping for donations of everyday objects that have helped you get through the lockdown, e.g. certain equipment you’ve used to keep you safe, a note from your neighbour or the rainbow you made for your window.

If you have something to offer, please email anna.macquarrie@edinburgh.gov.uk. Explain what the item is, what it means to you, and include a photo if you can. (Please note, staff won’t be able to physically collect any material until it is safe to do so and venues reopen.)

Edinburgh City Archives are collecting diaries and journals covering this period. They will collect these in various forms; whether that is paper or digital, text or audio-visual, published on a website/social media or kept privately in an app, book, or document.  If you keep any of these and would be willing to donate it to the Archives for posterity please visit their webpage for more information: www.edinburgh.gov.uk/archives/edinburgh-city-archives-1/2

What libraries mean to me with Val McDermid

Crime writer Val McDermid is a perpetual favourite with Edinburgh Library borrowers. Her books, with their atmospheric covers and poetic titles, tell stories of crime, justice and retribution in Scotland. She has also written an updated Jane Austen novel, set during the Edinburgh Festival, Northanger Abbey, and picture book My Granny is a Pirate.

A long term champion of books and libraries, here McDermid tells us what libraries mean to her, and why the written word is what will ultimately carry us through.

Val McDermid, photograph by KT Bruce

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a reader, and as a writer? Are the meanings different?
When I go in to the library with my borrower’s card, I feel like Little Jack Horner with his pudding and pie – I stick in my thumb and pull out a plum! There’s always a moment where I encounter something new, and that’s half of the pleasure of reading.

As a writer, libraries have been a huge part of learning my craft. Not just by experiencing the work of other writers and stealing their tricks, but also as a place for research. I started publishing back in the days before Google, when research meant physically searching reference sections, calling up books from the stacks and inter-library loans. And there are still times when only a library will do. Newspaper archives, for example, are a nightmare to search online. The indices of historical biographies lead to all sorts of interesting paths! So I still see them as a valuable resource.

What is your earliest library memory?
When I was a toddler in Kirkcaldy, my mum used to push me across our sprawling council estate to the Templehall Library where she would read me picture books and nursery rhymes.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
I’m frustrated because I’ve got an idea for something new and I need the National Library of Scotland’s archives to help me develop it.

For regular library users, I’d recommend discovering what digital resources your library offers – audio books, ebooks etc. Find an online book group that shares your tastes, or challenge yourself with one that doesn’t!

The hard thing is finding something to compensate for the social life of the library. These days, libraries offer so much more than access to books!

A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read?
Even the First Minister, a devotee of fiction, is admitting to finding it a struggle right now. I’m doing a mix of old favourites and the new books that still keep arriving through my letter box. What always works when all else fails are short stories. You’ll find all sorts of treats here. Favourite authors often have collections of short stories, and I return to Ali Smith, Katherine Mansfield, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Isaac Asimov and PG Wodehouse regularly, among several others. And perhaps the perfect book for right now is James Robertson’s 365 – a story a day for a year, each one exactly 365 words long!

This question is from Bronwen who runs the Art and Design Library, and is connected to the question above. Is it better to read a challenging book or a comforting one at this time?
It’s a matter for personal choice. Read what you fancy, is my motto. And if a book hasn’t grabbed you by page 20, swap it for something that does! I’m enjoying a mix of comfort and challenge right now, and unusually for me, I’ve got a couple of books on the go at once. One of which is always either an old friend or a new book from an author I know I can trust!

Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time?
I am writing – this is the time of year when I always write the current book. But I am making slower progress than usual. It’s harder to concentrate for long periods, I find. At this time of year, I do very few events normally so I can concentrate on writing. But paradoxically, this year I have had more calls on my time than ever before!

Most of us are taking advantage of the daily outside exercise where we can. I find I’m noticing things I’d not picked up on before. A writing exercise I’d suggest is composing a few paragraphs – or a poem, if that’s what you prefer – about something you’ve noticed on your walk, run or bike ride. If you can’t get outdoors, spend some time looking out of the window, paying attention to what or who you see. Writing about something outside yourself offers more resources – and it can also be a useful way of reflecting your thoughts and feelings.


How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now?
Social media is doing a great job of making us feel connected, and of forming new connections. But it’s not a replacement for human company and contact. Screen time is also, strangely, more tiring than face-to-face encounters. However, making the most of what it can do will carry us through this. And when it’s all over, we will appreciate old – and new – friends so much more.

In the meantime, the written word can be our comfort and our companion.


With huge thanks to Val McDermid and to Hope our #stayathome interviewer from Central Lending Library.

What libraries mean to me with Douglas Wright

In our latest Q & A session we talk to Douglas Wright, library adviser in the Music and Art and Design team at Central Library.

Douglas Wright from the Music and Art and Design team.

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a music lover, musician and reader?
It is a bit of a cliche to say that a library gives you a world of choice or enables you to chose from the world, but it does. You can choose to be with old friends or make new ones. The old friends are the novels and classics that we all return to, to read or listen to, time and again or the new friends like the Sean O’Boyle’s Concerto for Digeridoo found on Naxos.

We use Naxos streaming service at work and I also use it at home. What I have noticed that I have in common with my colleagues in the Music Department is, when we switch on Naxos I the morning we go to the ‘Recently Added’ page and just choose anything from there. Often they are great treats like the Digeradoo Concerto but sometimes we are forced to think again. Like a Beatles /Bach Mash up which didn’t make it to my playlist.

As a music lover I have been part of a team who have been able to promote live music making in the library. We have also had many author talks by musicians or on musical topics, all of which have been a thrill to be part of. The team’s involvement in Make Music Day 2019 was a highlight, I think, for us all. Make Music Day 2019 was also the first time I had played my Ukulele in public and the first time in a long time I had done anything as a musician.

It was nice to dip my toe.

The biggest thing the library has done for me is introduce me to ebooks and I am a huge convert. For the past five years my wife and I have kept a list of our reading for the year. I have always tried to source all my books from my library but I look first to see if we have a copy of the book I wish to read on Overdrive, our ebook service, so I can have it on my phone and effectively have it with me all the time. I have just made myself aware that I have my music, my ebooks and my audiobooks on my phone so I carry the library or a library with me all the time, I think I need to question my own reliance on my phone, but that’s for another day.

What is your earliest library memory?
I was born and lived in Park Road, Kelvinbridge in Glasgow till I was eighteen. Kelvinbridge which is in between St. George’s Cross, Hillhead and Maryhill. On Saturday mornings, we, my Mum, Dad and brother would walk the short distance to St. George’s Cross in Glasgow where we would shop, pay bills, pay some money to my dad’s tailor account and then go to Woodside Library which was beside Jimmy Logan’s Metropole Theatre. My Mum and Dad would leave us in the children’s section and go and choose their selection for the week. I seem to remember that we had three tickets so we would make our small selection which at that time, for me, were books like Paddington, The Wombles and The Famous Five. From then on, I have a sketchy relationship with libraries.

Drifting in and out of love with them, spending years never going near one and then at other times never being out of them.

My relationship with Central Library really started when I had children and started using the Children’s Library. My children are now 26 and 22 so that was a little while ago. Often, if we were all at the library I would sneak downstairs to the Music Library and then as the children got older, we would all sneak downstairs, to chose our music.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
There are many things I am struggling with and without at the moment. I have to say until asked that question, the Library or a library was not one of them. Now thinking about it, I think it is the thing I have been trying not to think about, I have been for the past few weeks distracting myself with things, tasks and ‘shiny objects’. Trying not to think about that bit of my day that’s missing, my ‘normal’. I have gone down a bit of a road there and to try now and get back to the things, tasks and shiny objects.

I have not been reading as much as I did but I have discovered the joy of audiobooks. I installed the BorrowBox and uLIBRARY apps and have listened to a number of books, which allows me to potter about our flat, as Bing Crosby says, “busy doing nothing working the whole day through, trying to find lots of things not to do”. So the advice would be, always listen to Bing, he will know what to do. I try not to throw advice about, there are people worth listening to, and that’s not me. Seriously, Bing, listen to him.

I am not a great fan of the 21st century, despite my increasing reliance on my phone, and it is not great for me – as a Library adviser who is there to look after and ready our physical collection for our membership to borrow – it is not great for me to say that we have a wonderful set of services online with a lot of those services able to answer to your needs 24 hours a day. We do, and for a lot of people, they have never been more important.

Having said all that, one thing that is said to us, the Music and Art and Design team, most often, is how much people, our membership, enjoy dealing with a person, in the library. That is of no solace at this time and if we are struggling without our library, the only real consolation we can have is that this will end, and hopefully for most of us it will end peacefully and will return to something nearer to a kind of normal.

A lot of people are struggling just now – music has the capacity to soothe by reflecting our emotions but also to challenge – what do you recommend as a music lover to those that are struggling?
One person’s soothing balm is another’s annoyance, So recommending something comes with dangers. My go-to favourites might not be to other people’s liking. I might pick Shostakovich who offers beautiful tunes within edgy, prickly, early 20th century Russian angst, but that is not everybody’s taste. I am also quite stuck with classical music, well, classical music from the romantic era. I once heard John Amis, music critic and broadcaster, talking about music and putting forward the thought that, as one ages music lovers gravitate more to Mozart and leave the youthful romantics in their past. I am about to enter my 59th year and I am still waiting to appreciate Mozart.

The great classical/Romantic composer of my choice would be that lovable cranky, cantankerous, angry, curmudgeon Beethoven. All things I aspire to be – cranky, cantankerous, curmudgeonly and angry – I look forward to all of those traits in my unapologetic dotage.

I have also been pushing myself to other genres, I have tried and enjoyed some of the works of Miles Davis, jazz trumpet legend and I have, strangely, for the past few months, been listening to country music. Recently, I watched a major BBC 4 documentary series on country music and I listened to some of the artists featured in that. That could, of course, be a throwback to my father’s record collection, which included country and western, folk and some dodgy sectarian accordion bands.

On Radio 4, there is a segment of a show called ‘Inheritance Tracks’ in which people describe a piece of music which has been handed down to them and which they hand on to someone they love. I am pleased to say that I have already achieved that with a song by Johnny Cash, the great country and western singer/songwriter, called “A Boy Named SUE” which I got from my father. I played this to my son years ago and he loved it and thought it funny, and it is still on one of his play lists.

Whichever way you inherit your music there are pieces of music which are given to you, which you connect with, somebody or something or an event or a time, place when you were happy, sad, anxious. A song which evokes a memory of a loved one or a beloved thing or in my case I song I sang whilst nappy changing.

Music tinged with emotions which perhaps might be too strong to be dealt with at this time. Can I say the best piece of advice I was ever given was, never listen to advice. Although, that was said about child rearing, but apply it to your music choices. Go to our Naxos website and chose the first CD cover that jumps out at you not because you have heard of the composer or artist but because the CD cover is yellow like the sun or it has your favourite word in the title.

I am reluctant to suggest anything except, try anything, and if you don’t like it, try something else and keep trying till you find the things, book, songs, symphonies, opera which will be your new or old friends.

Are you listening to music just now? What are you listening to? What would you recommend as a way through?
This is now going to be a large cop out, I am listening to music at the moment but I realised I haven’t actually chosen anything. I have been listening to BBC Radio 3 or to Classic FM, so, letting others choose for me and it has been wonderful. I have listened to a programme about building your CD library, one which was focused on the wonderful Symphony of Psalms by Stravinsky, a work I had forgotten I had studied years ago for my Higher Music and I was amazed how much I remembered. I listened to a strange production of an Opera by Cherubini. Lunchtime concerts of string music and operas in the afternoon. At this very moment the Bavarian Radio Chorus are singing Alfred Schnittke’s Three Sacred Hymns, which I would never have chosen but are sublime. Morning request programmes with music from classics to Romantics to American Minimalists.

How can we connect as librarians, borrowers, readers and musicians just now when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement or do we need more? How can music help to overcome this?
There are parts of this question to which I really don’t know the answer, if there is an answer.

I think, we continue to be a part of the things that are already happening, online groups, concerts, being part of doing things collectively but separately.

Music always unifies in some way and will find a way to be part of the healing we will all go through.

It seems, everything which is happening at the moment requires some kind of social media, it concerns me there are people without access to all that is going on, for whatever reason and their isolation may be even greater. For me, social media is only ever a tool, a little bit of all the things we do. I have been trying and failing, to write something about all the things that social media is and isn’t, all the things it does and the things it doesn’t do. I have ranted and railed, agreed and disagreed. Scrubbed out and started again. All I have come up with is, what it doesn’t do, is let me pick up my granddaughter when she falls over in her back yard, me, like millions of other grandparents in the world, but it does allow us to see her and hear her and sing with her. Until we are all together again, it will have to do.

With many thanks to Douglas for sharing his thoughts on what libraries and music mean to him. 

What libraries mean to me with Helen Martin

In today’s library Q & A session, we ask Music library borrower, Helen Martin what libraries mean to her.

Helen Martin

As librarian and singer with the Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, my job is to source music for every concert.  As soon as I am told what music is required, my first stop is the Music Library at Central Library. I’ve been librarian for three years now, and am becoming more knowledgeable as I progress, but the Music Library staff have been such a great help, a source of information, and very patient with the mistakes that I have made along the way.  I have to ensure that the edition is correct, and sometimes there are other considerations – the Music Library helps out every time.  They have also been a great help on the rare occasions when they have been unable to source something for me, in pointing me in the right direction.

Edinburgh Royal Choral Union practising

What do libraries mean to you as a music lover and reader?
I have always been a supporter of libraries, and love the easy access to books and music that the libraries provide.  I also enjoy the atmosphere in libraries, the bustle and hum of people reading, looking at books, etc.  I do a number of activities that require access to song books, and again, the Music Library has been a great help and source of what I require.

What is your earliest library memory?
As a child and a teenager, it was always wonderful to have a constant source of books at my disposal.  I was an avid reader, and without libraries, this would have been impossible to do, without access to libraries.  There wasn’t extra money in our household to buy books.

Are you struggling to cope without a library?
I am missing access to the library, but happily over the years have built up a reasonable collection of books, so I have enough reading material to keep me going.  It is also a good opportunity to reread some of the classics, or indeed catch up with some that have passed me by.  People are being inventive at this challenging time – there is a book exchange going on in a street near me, with books being put out in the garden for people to take.  I haven’t used it, but I’m sure it is a help to people struggling.

A lot of people are struggling just now – music has the capacity to sooth ….
Are you listening to music just now?
Edinburgh Royal Choral Union (ERCU) has set up a ERCU Facebook page where as well as posting messages, people are putting links to various concerts, YouTube videos, etc.  The Royal Scottish National Orchestra have been streaming concerts on their Friday Night Club, on YouTube, and I greatly enjoyed, amongst other things, Saint-Saens Symphony No.3 Organ, featuring our Chorus Director, Michael Bawtree playing the organ.  I also enjoyed their Brahms German Requiem, which we sang a few years ago.

We have been watching the nightly streamed opera from The Met, which has been fantastic.

There are lots of opportunities to watch different performances online at the moment, which definitely help during these difficult times.  I’m greatly missing my choir, but social media, and these different events are a comfort.

How can we connect when the Library is closed? Can social media be a replacement?
I don’t think social media can be a replacement for the wonderful work done by libraries, although it can be a help.  Perhaps, like the ERCU Facebook page, there can be recommendations and links put out by the Music Library of things they think their readers might enjoy.  But we miss you, and look forward to seeing you again, when things finally get back to normal.

Many thanks again for all that you do.

With huge thanks to Helen for talking to us about what libraries mean to her.

What libraries mean to me with Molly Kent

In today’s library Q & A session, we ask artist, student and library advisor, Molly Kent what libraries mean to her.

Molly is currently in her final year at Edinburgh University studying for her MA Hons Fine Art and Art History. Molly is currently curating her degree show which uses the traditional medium of rug tufting to create an immersive installation space on the topic of doubt. The work draws on contemporary existence regarding social media and living in an internet-driven environment through the visual aesthetics of digital glitch. It also highlights the importance of a time-old craft, evolved and made relevant to the field of contemporary art through various areas of research. Making use of bright and neon colours, unsettling phrases and organic shapes, each piece intends to mirror the feeling of doubt through sensory experience and highlight the commonality of doubt, albeit often brushed under the rug. Rugs, that we’d normally see as domestic objects, begin to morph and climb walls, resembling bacteria and virus structures, as if mutating before us. It plays on the idea that doubt can be perceived as an ailment that overtime shifts and morphs into something new continuing its hold over us.

Rug tufted artwork by Molly Kent

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as an artist and as a student?
Libraries have often been one of the main starting points of my research when it comes to approaching a new series of artwork. While my current work centres on my personal experiences and emotions, the medium I am currently working with is new to me. Libraries have offered me an otherwise unattainable insight into the process of rug making, with both my university library and Edinburgh City Libraries holding a series of books that weren’t available online. As well as a wonderful holding on contemporary arts more widely, the library gives insight into other practices as well through exhibition catalogues that inspire new methods and presentation.

In particular, Edinburgh City Libraries has a great holding of books that go through the step by steps of rug hooking, including what fabrics, yarns and adhesives to use. Information into the practical side of rug making is somewhat scarce online and the insight gathered from these books has been invaluable to my practice. In addition to this, being able to experience a whole host of artistic expressions from so many areas of visual culture through the rotating monthly exhibitions in the Art and Design Library sparks creativity from often unexpected works – opening up ideas to branch off existing works into new multidisciplinary methods.

Also, I grew up in libraries, so to speak. Often taken after school to access books that we couldn’t at home, and as a safe place to work, libraries have become a haven for me over the years. The ability to immerse myself in so many different topics, enabling my research and artistic practice to reach new avenues is invaluable.

Rug tufted artwork by Molly Kent

What is your earliest library memory?
My earliest memory of libraries would be from back home in Birmingham, at my local library after school. My mom would take me in so I could read to my heart’s content, often getting through a book a day. Talking to the librarians was a highlight and over time I’d be allowed to help out around the library, especially after my mom started to work there.

When I was around 12/13 years old I would be helping to run craft sessions. These sessions helped me find my love for creating and helped others express themselves through art too. I continued to help with the craft sessions when I started working at my hometown library at 17 years old.

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
Without a doubt, yes. As I’m coming to the end of my degree, it’s especially difficult not to be able to dip back into all the books I’ve been looking at for the past year or so, or find inspirations in new ones. Books have always been one of my main sources of creative inspiration and the loss of access is difficult. As well, having worked as a library advisor for the past 7 years, and having a good understanding of catalogue systems, it’s easy for me to find books on particular topics and areas quickly. Now, with just the internet and e-services, it’s more time consuming and far more difficult to find relevant information quickly.

I’d advise looking into the eBook services, particularly magazines and periodicals we host online now. Being able to browse art magazines and see what’s going on worldwide in contemporary arts is vital, and especially seeing how galleries and artists are responding to and working within the new confines of a COVID-19 landscape. In addition to this, for myself, Instagram is a great place to look for inspiration and community in these strange times. I’ve been able to connect more widely across the UK, and globally, and as I’ve put more time into sharing my work there. I’ve made new connections that otherwise wouldn’t have been possible.

A lot of people are struggling just now – art has the capacity to soothe by reflecting our emotions but also to challenge – what do you recommend as an artist to those that are struggling?
It’s difficult to pinpoint because we all process things differently. For myself, I am creating more now that I am home and challenging myself to produce something new every day. But for others, trying to navigate this new way of living could be difficult and we shouldn’t feel the need to use this time as one of productivity. If you have the spark to use this time for creativity, my recommendation is to start now. If you’ve ever wanted to draw, paint, sculpt etc. work with what you have currently, be it only a pencil and paper and start making. Or, if you’ve ever wanted to know more about art or any other topics, there’s a whole host of courses being published for free online by some of the biggest institutions online. I’ve been eyeing some courses from Harvard for when I finish my degree next month, as something to keep my brain engaged and continue my learning.

Are you able to practise as an artist just now? What are you working on? What would you recommend as a way through?
I am lucky enough to have a home studio (read: my partner and I have a  home office that is completely overrun with rug-making materials) so I have been able to continue my artistic practice. I was lucky enough to have had my degree show sponsored in part by Paintbox Yarns via Lovecrafts and was sent yarn to work with. So, thankfully, I have plenty of materials to work with. Just before quarantine started I was able to upgrade my rug tufting frame so for the past few weeks I’ve been working on some large scale rugs.

Rug tufted artwork installation by Molly Kent

How can we connect as librarians, borrowers, readers and as creatives just now when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement or do we need more? How can art help to overcome this?
I don’t think social media can be a total replacement for the physical, in-person communicative experience. Some galleries are creating stunning digital exhibitions, and it’s great that more investment is being made into online engagement with individuals, particularly as this will greatly benefit social groups who were excluded from some mainstream artistic spaces. But currently, it’s a fantastic place for us all to connect. I’ve seen digital book clubs, live-streamed art tutorials, even art tutorials taking place via Zoom. This is all so we can continue learning, sharing and providing one another with feedback to keep our work developing.

Ultimately art can bring everyone together, there’s no need for a high brow understanding of the ins-and-outs of art history. If art makes you feel something or peaks a curiosity you hadn’t otherwise explored, now is a great time to engage with institutions, artist-run spaces, and individual makers within your locality or internationally. Then, when libraries re-open it will be wonderful to bring together a newly engaged community focus into these pre-existing spaces.

Rug tufted artwork installation by Molly Kent

With huge thanks to Molly for talking to us and sharing what libraries mean to her.

Libraries on lockdown – keeping connected online

During these strange times while our buildings are closed, our libraries are keeping in touch with their communities online in innovative and inspiring ways.

Here a just a few of the things we’ve spotted. Follow your local library on Facebook to keep in touch with them whilst we’re all staying safe at home.

Moredun Library have moved their usual Bookbug session for babies, young children and parents and carers online! You can tune in every week on Tuesdays at 10.30am to join Susannah with rhymes and singing on their Facebook page.

 

Muirhouse Library are regularly producing printable activity sheets for children. Visit Muirhouse Library’s Facebook page to see all their beautifully illustrated instructions for getting creative.

Snippy Sticky Foody Folk collage activity from Muirhouse Library

Central Children’s Art Club created a fantastic drawing tutorial showing young artists how to draw Polpo, the Club’s octopus mascot.

 

And this Thursday evening, 23 April, to celebrate World Book Night, Carol from Stockbridge Library will host a special family-friendly book quiz streamed live on Facebook from her living room!

There will be four rounds of questions and a couple of riddles and short readings thrown in as well. There’ll also be a short interval at 8pm so that everyone can join in with the Clap for our Carers.
Get your virtual team together and tune in from 7.30pm on Thursday!

 

What libraries mean to me with Claire Askew

In our second library Q & A session, we ask author Claire Askew what libraries mean to her. Claire’s first novel, All the Hidden Truths looks at what would happen if (God forbid) there was a Columbine style college shooting in Edinburgh. Her second novel, What You Pay For explores conflicts between family and duty, love and morality, and doing the right thing, when everything seems wrong. Both feature the same detective, DI Helen Birch.
Look out for the third book in the series, Cover Your Tracks, coming soon in August 2020.

Claire is also an award winning poet, a teacher and a witch. She lives in Edinburgh. She is currently working on her fourth novel and can be found on Twitter as @onenightstanzas 

Claire Askew

What do libraries (including Edinburgh City Libraries) mean to you as a reader, and as a writer? Are the meanings different?
I’ve been a library lover ever since I was a small child, when my mum would take me to the library most days (though she usually corrects me: I took her to the library, she had little choice in the matter!) But Edinburgh City Libraries will always be extra special to me, because I worked for a year as a Scottish Book Trust Reading Champion in 2016/17 and was lucky enough to meet so many fantastic readers, locals, visitors, and library staff.

I worked mostly out of Craigmillar Library, but could sometimes be found in Portobello Library too. I’d always believed libraries were essential to communities, but that year’s placement really opened my eyes to just how vital library services are. In Craigmillar, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the library is at the heart of everything, for everyone aged 0 to 100+. It’s not just a place to access books: it’s Bookbug sessions and weekend breakfasts for kids and game club and knitting group and so much more besides.

What is your earliest library memory?
When I was little, my brother and I convinced my parents to get a puppy. Millie, the black Labrador, was adorable but completely un-trainable, it seemed. My mum borrowed a book from the library called “How to House Train Your Puppy.” I vividly remember having to go back to the library to apologise profusely and pay for a replacement: Millie had peed all over the book!

Are you struggling to cope without a library? What advice would you give to those who love the library and can no longer go in?
I live in Stockbridge, and have been moping forlornly past the closed doors of Stockbridge Library on my daily walks. But I’m lucky: I don’t rely on the library to access the internet or to see friends – I know that some folk will be really, really missing those services! But I’m taking comfort in simple activities like re-reading old favourite books, writing in a journal, and knitting. I think there’s a lot of pressure on people to ‘use this time well,’ and I wish we could all just focus more on getting through this in whatever way feels best to each of us. It’s really hard when you’re missing out on essential parts of your life, but hang in there, be safe, and do what makes you feel happy.

A lot of people are struggling to read books right now. They have time, but they find their attention span shattered by the strange and frightening situation we’re in. What are you reading at the moment? What books would you recommend to those struggling to read?
I’m struggling to read, too, and I’m allowing myself to revert to ‘easier’ reads and ignoring my ‘to read’ pile! I’ve gone back to my favourite teen read, in fact: Soul Music by Terry Pratchett! I’ve read it so many times in the last twenty years that I know it practically off by heart, but it’s an old friend and feels very comforting right now. I know because we’ve all got lots more time it’s tempting to think ‘I ought to finally get round to reading War and Peace, or some other massive tome’ – but it’s probably a better idea to read something escapist and fun that doesn’t feel like a task!

Are you able to write at the moment? Would you recommend writing as a way to get through this time? What are some gentle easy writing exercises that people can give themselves at this time?
I’m writing a little, but only a little. I do have a novel I need to finish (the fourth in the DI Birch series,) but I’m going easy on myself. Even if I only write a sentence or two a day, that’s still progress in the right direction.

I’m taking a lot of comfort from writing a journal, too, though, and particularly from trying to make a daily gratitude list. At the end of every day I write down three things I’m grateful for.

Sometimes they’re big things like being grateful for having had another day of good health; sometimes they’re small things like being grateful I spotted a cute dog out of my window!

I’d really recommend it as an exercise – it helps me remember there are still good things in the world!

How can we connect, as librarians, borrowers, readers and writers when the library is closed? Can social media be a replacement, or do we need more? How powerful is the written word right now?
Other than social media – which is seeing all sorts of exciting things happening at the moment, from Zoom poetry readings to online book clubs – it’s hard to know what else to do!

I have liked hearing what other people are reading, though, and I’ve wondered about the potential for mass read-alongs. There are mass watch-alongs of movies and Netflix shows happening online, where people all watch a movie at the same time and then chat about it afterwards. Could we do a slower version, with books, maybe?

With many thanks to Claire and to Hope our #stayathome interviewer from Central Lending Library.