Posted by: stelladuffy | May 1, 2012

Day 1 in Gladstone’s Library

I’m sitting in the library, at half past nine at night. I’m alone in this section, the only sound is my (probably too loud key-tapping) and I’m full of every feeling of love-for-libraries I’ve ever had. A feeling so strong that I’m slightly dizzy with it. The wood panelling and staircases remind me of the wooden banisters at the old Woolwich Library, where my sister used to take me when she was at Mulgrave Primary and I was at Woolwich Common Nursery School and the combination of six older siblings and Mum and Dad being voracious readers and Miss Hogg and the other nursery school staff meant that I was reading very early.
Our council flat on Ogilby Street did have books, (it also had potato wine, but that’s another story), but nothing like a library’s-worth. And nothing like this library’s worth. I’m sitting in the gallery, at a corner desk surrounded by volumes on English History, thinking how very happy my mother would be to see me here, in this spot, getting on with my work. She loved her history and she loved that I make books for a living.
This afternoon I went for a walk in the rain and, seeing what looked like a couple of rows of servicemen’s graves, I felt drawn to have a look. They were all WW2, and they were mostly Air Force, and so I looked along the rows, looking for the RNZAF grave … and sure enough, there he was. A young man, a pilot, all of 22 years old, killed on 23rd November 1941. My dad’s plane was shot down on 8th November 1941. Dad was 20 then. He might have trained with that young man. They might have been friends.
I thought I might find some ghosts here, in the quiet (and maybe I will yet – it’s only Day 1!) but the ghosts I can feel very strongly are Tom and Peg, book lovers both, who had so few opportunities themselves and would be so happy that their girl had this glorious chance to sit in a silent library and call it work. I have five of my own writing projects to work on while I’m here, and two projects I’m helping other people with, some talks and readings and workshop – and I’m very very quietly whispering ‘bring it on’.


  1. Ah, this is beautiful. Makes me miss my Dad. He’d have been proud of me, too, I think. Thanks for putting this down.

  2. thank you. when they’re gone (and mine died 24 years ago, so he never knew about my writing work) we have to imagine how they’d be – and I do imagine them proud. thank you for thanking me! I bet you’re right about your Dad …

  3. lovely post
    from the ages of 8 until 14 i lived in a council flat in Barnfield gardens Plumstead and one of my school friends lived near woolwich common. My friends family had a complete set of old bound encyclopedia’s and i would read them when round her house. I always loved books and despite being in a single parent family we always had a few books at home. Christmas and birthday present were always books! and despite dyslexia i became a life long reader. At 16 i went to work in a library and have been surrounded by books all my working life.
    Just a quick update about Greenwich Libraries. Sadly since becoming a royal borough Greenwich council have transferred the management of the library staff to a private company to run which may result in cuts in wages etc.

  4. yes, too many in charge of libraries funding seem to pay no attention to the fact that not all of us grow up with libraries in our homes.

  5. What a wonderfully evocative post to read! I’m always filled with the same overwhelming headiness when I’m lucky enough to spend a little time in such a library. Enjoy every minute – with your books and your lovely Mum & Dad! xxx ps you should feel very proud of yourself!

  6. thank you, lovely. xx

  7. Reading this reminded me of studying for A levels in a dusty, old, wood panelled public library. My parents loved books and I still have books belonging to my late father. Such memories – wonderful. Enjoy your stay and thank you.

  8. The only trouble with Gladstone’s is that it’s becoming so popular! I love working in the library late at night when the rest of the world has been folded away. I live about forty-five minutes drive away but still stay for a couple or three nights whenever possible. Where else will you find a library with beds and cake? Blog on, young author – tell us more!

  9. there are more, and I do LOVE being called young! (49 and looking forward to 50 …) thanks Tom.

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