Story goes, in November last year I found out I was being made redundant from my job as a Mobile Librarian. In early December at the end of a long day, during which I'd attended a rather angry meeting about being made redundant (the meeting itself wasn't angry, per se, but I was), I'd been standing in my kitchen (see right) leaning back against a worktop, when a thought struck me.
Thank f*ck for libraries.
Without libraries, and books, I had no idea where I'd have been right then. So, maybe rather than being angry about it, I should be thankful I'd gotten to work with books at all. I've had plenty of jobs in my life, but the library was the first job where I didn't wake up in the morning and think to myself; Shit. Have I got to go there again?
So yeah, thank f*ck for libraries.
And thank f*ck for books.
Thank book for books.
Thank book for libraries.
The chain of thought is excruciatingly simple now I examine it, but at the time, it felt revelatory. I had visions of going on Dragon's Den with it.
Dragons: What is it?
Me: It's ThankBookFor.
Dragons: Well, what does it do?
Me: What do you mean what does it do? It's ThankBookFor.
*Silence for several beats*
Dragons(in unison): I'm out
It really wasn't anything at that point, just three words squashed together in a way I thought was cool, with connotations of a pretty severe swear word thrown in.
Two colleagues and a close friend later, ThankBookFor was a thing. We were now a team. I had plans. Grand plans.
I contacted the oldest lending library (Chetham Library in Manchester) in the English speaking world and spoke to them about putting on an event. They were very positive.
I phoned Edinburgh Central library and talked about doing something while the fringe was on in August. They too were very positive.
I phoned the 2015 Bookshop of the year and started arranging an event. Again, positive vibes.
The rest of the team tried to rein me in but I was having none of it. WE COULD DO IT ALL.
Enthusiasm had got me this far. But I was trying to run before I could walk.
We'd arranged to put an event on in a library that belonged to the authority three of us worked for, whilst I managed to convince Gemma to record a podcast with me. The event didn't happen, for reasons I can't go into, but the podcast did. After about 4 recording sessions and 20 hours worth of 'editing', we had our first podcast.
Fast forward 6 months and we've nearly finished our first series. We have a full compliment of guests for the second series, plus a couple of people who've agreed to be interviewed for series 3. We have a website, a Twitter profile, a Facebook page, email addresses, a logo (designed for us by our second podcast interviewee, the wonderful Liz Tipping), business cards, and have submitted an Arts Council Funding bid. We've got an event planned for the start of July (more about that a bit nearer the time) in a library that isn't part of the authority we work for. We've even got a bloody constitution!
We've met some amazing people who share our love of stories and books. From the authors who create them, to the publishers who publish them, to the librarians and bookshop owners who peddle them. From the people we already knew (and loved) to the people we'd never met before (but now love). Stories bought us together and gave us a bond that ThankBookFor mercilessly exploited to create entertaining podcasts. We'll be asking for a subscription fee next month*.
Basically, everyone has been amazing. People I've never met before are responding to my, frankly cheeky, requests to do podcasts. And it's all because of stories. Because of a shared love of how deeply they can impact the lives of the people who encounter them.
Stories are personal things. Everyone interacts with them in their own way, bringing their own experiences and biases to the narrative, and then, drawing their own conclusions. The same story can be read by the same person at different times and teach them different things, or produce different opinions and reactions.
What's wonderful is how we share those experiences and stories with others when they affect us, and how we regard the act of reading itself as a quality when we come across it in other people. It's how we find ourselves drawn into universes that don't really exist. Only they do exist. They absolutely do, and I know this, because I've been there. We've all been there. We've all read those books that make us imagine the lives of the characters we met after the story has finished.
We've all been shaped by the things we've read, the stories we've encountered. And no matter what we do from that point on, we'll always be aware of those stories, of the choices made by those characters and the ramifications of those choices. The characters make them, so we don't have to. We see the affect those choices have on the characters, the way they are shaped by them, and much like with the example of our peers, we find ourselves shaped too.
Because stories shape us all.
*We won't. Still free.
I'm busy working on my blog posts. Watch this space!