Thursday, August 29, 2013

Booking my space in the new Library of Birmingham

For many years I used to have this gig I particularly relished. I wrote a thing called On This Day in Radio Times magazine: in with the listings for each morning in the week, I'd have a little spot to write about broadcasting history. It was filler - literally. The pages had to have a spot where regional differences in TV schedules would be listed and only some Radio Times regions had those. Everyone else got On This Day.

It was bliss.

I can't remember what I was paid now but, always the professional, I worked out how long it meant I should spend on the job each week – and then completely ignored that. Always and forever, I'd spend vastly too much time on it and sometimes I would just go off on one having a blast researching old issues of Radio Times for the fun of it.

But I used to do this in Birmingham Central Library. It was for a few years, too, so while I knew the library before then, I really do now. I can close my eyes and take a little trip through every nook and cranny.

One day around March 2007, though, I was deep into the job and was reading features published in Radio Times on this day decades before. Actually, precisely 49 years before. I was writing copy that would be published in April 2007 and I devoted the entry to a show called My Word! which was airing in April 1958. It was a quiz show, very popular in its day but not especially remembered now. Yet it gave me a shiver and I quoted the start of the feature in On This Day:
"Drop in at Birmingham Reference Library almost any Friday and you will see a thick-set, bearded man poring over dictionaries and volumes of poetry."
Flash forward fifty years, substitute Radio Times for the poetry, shed the beard and a few pounds please, and some traditions continue: Birmingham Central Library’s cherished collection of RT is pored over by me for On This Day.

In 1958, though, the man was Edward J Mason, who devised the radio show My Word!, “a cross between a quiz and a riot” which began a new series tonight on the BBC Home service.
I wrote that in RT and I blogged about it here at the time because it gave me a good shiver. A nice one.The kind of shiver when you realise what you've just done. Because as I sat there on the fourth floor of Birmingham Central Library, I registered those words and I actually looked up. I looked up from my desk over to where Edward J Mason said he was sitting.

Not only wasn't he there but nor was the seat. Or the desk. Or, in fact, the library. Because the whole library had moved in the 1970s and that's why I'm telling you about this again today. Because the whole library is moving once more.

As of next week, the new Library of Birmingham opens and as much as I will miss the old one, there is a real thrill in the city. I have a meeting on Monday night and a colleague just sent his apologies: he's going to the opening event. I am green.

When I had this shiver back in 2007, it was to do with my being part of a long tradition. The idea that, sure, my work that matters so much to me won't matter a pixel to anyone when I'm gone but maybe there'll be someone else researching in the Library of Birmingham and coming across something I'd written. It'd be a message just between the two of us and I'd like to think that if it can't be useful or interesting, at least it'll say hello.

But the shiver I get today in 2013 is anticipation.

For not only is the new Library of Birmingham finally opening, but the Birmingham Rep is being recalled to life after years tucked away in various venues. The two are bonded together now and I expect to spend a considerable amount of time in these twin, bonded buildings in the very near future.

The really near future. Really near.

Because I'm booked to present at an event there.

On October 10, 2013, I will be presenting The Blank Screen: a workshop on productivity for creative writers. It's 18:00-20:30 in Room 103, Library of Birmingham and is part of the Birmingham Literary Festival. (Have a look here for details. It's presented in association with the Writers' Guild, it's £28 or £23 concessions. Bring pen and paper, okay? Not for notes. I've written a book just to save you needing to take notes. But you're going to work.)

We have a new library. And as much as I deeply loved the old one, that was where I used to do research for other people and by chance of when it's come, the new library is when I've moved on to doing more work for myself. My own research, my own books, my own yapping with you. I'm ready for the new place.

Yet I will miss the old one and I hope that I'll continue to imagine the long history of Birmingham writers all somehow breathing anew in the space.

But Room 103, eh? I don't know the room yet. Haven't a clue about it. I don't know the building yet. But I will.

Damn right I will.


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