In the UK there were reported to be a little over 4,600 local libraries, run by local authorities to national standards in 2002/3 (statists.com). The latest estimate I found (theguardian.com) was that in October 2017 there were 3,850 and that approximately 500 of these are now run by volunteers, rather than the local authorities and paid librarians. I’m sure these are still run to a very high standard. But they are not obliged to run to any national standard. I’ve also observed, but not found any data, that many local libraries have increasingly limited opening hours.

Why should I, or anyone, care? Ignoring the argument from academia about the use of libraries rather than the internet for research (which is a big enough subject for another post on its own) I think there are three big reasons that libraries are vitally important.

  1. They provide free (or at least free at the point of access) reading materials. I grew up going to the local library once a week and getting library books. If I didn’t have that access I doubt I would have been able to read anywhere near as widely as I have. For some the library is the only access they have to books.
  2. They are a community resource. As well as the location where books, music and these days free internet access can be found, libraries also offer some combinations of meeting rooms, social spaces, classes and courses, a warm and safe space for people to study, a place to read newspapers and magazines etc. etc.
  3. A skilled librarian (paid or volunteer) is a joy to talk with. They can help you to find a good book to read, research materials, local knowledge and a wealth of other things. Google is simply not a skilled librarian, it is a blunt tool. A Google search will find you a million hits, a librarian can often offer the one thing you actually want.

There is another reason why I, as a writer, think that libraries are massively important. I guess that everyone knows that if you buy a book from a retailer the author gets paid. What you may not know is that if you borrow a book from a library the author gets paid. We’re talking pennies a copy (7.67 pence per loan on a library book in England and Wales up to a maximum £6.600 per author according to theguardian.com). But, it’s income. By comparison, if you buy a book from a charity shop the author gets nothing. (I’m not having a go a charity shops, I buy books from them all the time. I just don’t think that people always realise that re-sold books don’t make any money for the author.)

Authors are not, generally, rolling in money. We’re not all JK Rowling. Far from it, most authors, even those published by big name companies and whose name you may know, make pennies per book sale and less than minimum wage if you divide their income by the number of hours it takes to research, write, edit and promote a book. So why not throw an author a bone. Even if you borrow a book and return it unread (not that I recommend it) the author is still getting their 7.76 pence. If you have an e-reader and subscribe to an unlimited service (such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited) the author is paid per page view, so the author gets a return on your loan. If you only read a few pages (or if you read offline and your reader doesn’t register the page views) the author gets less in return, but will still get something.

At the moment there seems to be far more supply of authors than there is demand for books. The economics don’t stack up. But if the good authors are not making money (or at least some return) for their efforts they’ll stop writing. If you want to keep reading quality books, but can’t or don’t want to buy full price titles from retailers, please keep supporting your library so that they can, in turn, support authors. By all means buy books from charity shops, lend them to your friends and pass them around – above all authors want to be read and build an audience – but once in a while, and as often as you can, think about feeding an author and borrow or buy a book through a route that means they get some return please?

All numbers and links in this item are for UK or England and Wales. If you want to find your local library in England and Wales go to www.gov.uk/local-library-servicesIn Scotland it’s www.scottishlibraries.organd in Northern Ireland www.librariesni.org.ukI’d love readers from other territories to add links below to their country’s library service if you have one.

I’m off to swap my library books. Please join me.

 

© Chris Johnson 2018

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I miss the old St Pancras

Hiding in the archway from the rain

The darkness, walls embedded

With the soot of a million trains

 

The newspaper stands’ patina

The noise, deisel fumes, dust

‘Lend us 50p mister?’

Seats all plastic and rust

 

The new station is clean and tidy

Well policed, welcoming, smart

But it’s lost some if its character

And replaced it with modern art

 

I miss the old St Pancras

The gritty, noir place of my youth

Today I closed my eyes on the platform

And returned there for a moment or two.

 

I was lucky enough to be in London on Thursday, a trip I make periodically for work. Whiling away some time waiting for a train I tried to recall the ‘old’ St Pancras, the one I remember from exciting trips as a teenager and early work trips. The poem pretty much wrote itself over a coffee.

(c) Chris Johnson 2018

Meg Johnson and I have a book out! It is called ‘Rose Scar’ and we’d love you to read it.

The graffiti stood out. It was the only colour on the concrete city wall. Children threw insults at men in grey uniforms trying to clean it off. They had the wrong tools for the job. But it had to be done. So they ignored the children and worked on.

A mile away the men would have recognised the tattoo on a girl’s arm as she paid for her tram ticket home. It was the same image they were washing off the wall. On the other side of the wall, the girl’s parents were totally unaware.

Set in the near future, Rose Scar tells the story of the tattooed girl and how her search for her parents leads to action, adventure, a dangerous romance…and massive chaos.

Praise for Rose Scar: ‘A very good story line, great imagination and very well written. It would appeal to to all ages from teenage upwards. There’s mystery, suspense, romance, bullying and politics, very topical too!’

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You can get an e-book or paperback from Amazon around the world (UK links below):

Amazon.co.uk Paperback version

Amazon.co.uk e-Book version

Kindle Unlimited customers can read it for free!

If you do read this, or any other independent author’s work, please leave a review. Reviews are worth as much to indie authors as sales.

 

(c) Chris Johnson 2017

The following story is a guest post, written by Meg Johnson. It was inspired by this Writing prompt from Pinterest.

Meg has co-authored a book ‘Rose Scar’ which is due to be published soon.

 

 

Mr Henry Brookwood was reading the newspaper for the tenth time that day.

‘Absolute rubbish. They make me out to be a fool!’ He shouted. He scrunched up the paper and threw it across the room. ‘I saw them. Why don’t they believe me?’

His secretary entered the room, picked it up with a sigh and put it back on his desk.

‘Go home Miss Berling, and take that rubbish with you.’

‘Thank you, sir. Good night.’ As she got her coat and hat she glanced at the story that had so enraged her employer.

Once again last night the wealthy Mr Henry Brookwood from Brookwood and Sons contacted this newspaper and the police. He claims that is late wife, Clara, and two sons, Charles and Samuel, are still alive and walking the streets at night although they were found dead in the Brookwood household only five days ago by the maid. The police are investigating their murder. Mr Henry Brookwood has declined to be interviewed by this newspaper, but has sent regular letters.

 

Henry worked late into the night. Every time his thoughts turned to home he found something else to do. No point in going back to that empty house, or worse, a house full of grieving friends and relatives all after tittle tattle! He convinced himself. Finally, with clocks striking midnight across the city, he packed away his papers. He placed on his coat and his top hat, grabbed his cane and left his office at Brookwood and sons locking the door behind him. No one would be around this late at night he thought. No need to speak to anyone.

It was a cold and blustery winter’s evening with a typical London fog. As he walked his mind started wandering. It drifted to thoughts of his wife and sons from years before when Samuel was just a baby and Charles was a young boy starting at school. As the happy thoughts came back to him Henry saw the fog clear for a moment in the wind. On the street ahead of him he saw his young wife and holding the hand of a young boy, and pushing a pram. He shouted and walked a little faster but as he got towards them the fog moved again and they disappeared.

Henry’s shoulders sagged as he walked the next few streets slower than before. His eyes moistened, making it even more difficult to see. His mind wandered again and he thought of the times he’d spent teaching his teenage sons about his business and that they would one day takeover after him. His thoughts were disturbed as he heard his name being called. It was the voice of Clara calling out to him, he was convinced. He stopped and looked around him, blinking to clear his vision. At first he could see nothing, but then he heard his name again, this time from across the street. As he looked the fog drifted away and he saw his wife and teenage sons. But by the time he ran across the road to them they were no longer there. Henry turned and in despair walked the rest of the way home as fast as he could. He tried to shut out all thoughts by singing hymns to himself.

When Henry finally got home he got the keys from his coat pocket to open the door. At first, hands shaking, he fumbled the key into the lock but couldn’t turn it. He realised that it was already unlocked. Strange he thought the maid should have already have gone to her rest by this hour. I will need to speak to her about that. he thought as he walked to the drawing room, planning to take a small brandy and cigar to try and help him sleep. But as he opened to door he saw four police constables standing, hats in hands looking down at the floor and the police commissioner standing by the fire.

‘Henry Brookwood I am arresting you on suspicion of murder of your wife, Clara and your sons, Charles and Samuel.’ The Commissioner stated calmly, adding, more quietly, ‘I’m sorry Brookwood, old man. I can’t stop this, so thought it was better to do it myself.’

But Henry had stopped listening. All he could her was the cries of his sons shouting Father, you’re home! and his wife patently telling them to stop shouting. They sounded so real to him that he was smiling as he was handcuffed and led away.

 

(c) Meg Johnson 2016

 

IMG_0046sOne of my stories was rejected this week. I got some really good feedback, and a request to submit more work to the same publisher – so I’m happy enough. But it did get me thinking. I wrote the piece with the specific publication in mind. I read a couple of their recent publications, then followed a story arc and broad plot that aligned with, rather than copied, their apparent preferred style. Essentially, I wrote to their genre. But did I write a cliché? The feedback said that the publisher didn’t want my story as the pay-off was something they’d seen before. Fair comment, and really useful to know when I either re-write that piece or write something else for them (or anyone else for that matter).

But it does re-raise a question that I’ve been asking myself for a while. I write genre fiction. Most fiction writers do (whether they like it or not). But we all want to avoid clichés (I think it’s illegal to write that without adding ‘like the plague’). Readers want the hero to complete their quest, the white hat to win, the anti-hero to both succeed and reform or the troubled detective to solve the murder. That’s genre. But when does writing genre slip into cliché or even worse, plagiarism? When does one hero become a poor imitation of another, and a third, and so on?

Very few writers set out to plagiarise others (except, perhaps, for some re-tellings of classic stories – which is probably not plagiarism…) but there are only so many broad plots, only so many ways that a small cast of characters can interact and only so many twists which actually make sense.

Here’s the question, then. How do I square the circle? How do I (or anyone else) write in genre and to house style without becoming repetitive or essentially copying what’s gone before. How do we write something new without going so far out of genre that we fall outside the requirements of the publisher and audience we’re aiming at?

I’d love to hear your thoughts – as readers, do you want to be shocked or do you want your stories to follow the usual rules of your preferred genre? And writers, do we need to be brave and break common genres? Or are we writing into ever decreasing opportunities to retell the same broad plots? Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comments!