Partners in Crime

Writers' panel at Paddington Library for National Crime Reading Month. L-R: Graeme Cameron, Claire Seeber, Simon Toyne and SJI Holliday
Writers’ panel L-R: Graeme Cameron, Claire Seeber, Simon Toyne and SJI Holliday

Paddington Library last week hosted a panel of four crime fiction writers as part of National Crime Reading Month. They discussed their work and crime fiction in general with a large and engaged audience.

Normal by Graeme Cameron Books by Claire Seeber Books by Simon Toyne Black Wood by SJI Holliday

Authors SJI HollidayClaire Seeber, Graeme Cameron and Simon Toyne enthused and entertained the crime fans with their views on writing, and offered for sale signed copies of their books.

The month-long reading campaign is co-ordinated by the Crime Writer’s Association.


Tweet a Short Story competition!

National Libraries Day 2014Are you feeling creative?

To celebrate National Libraries Day on Saturday 6 February and National Storytelling Week (30 January – 6 February) we have a short – very short – story competition!

  • Tweet a short story in 140 characters
  • It must include the hashtag #NLD132
  • Entries must be tweeted between midnight (12.00am) on Saturday 30 January and 12.00 noon on Monday 8 February

The winning story will be crowd judged:

  • £30 First Prize for the tweet with the most re-tweets
  • £20 Second Prize for our favourite library or book-themed tale

We will contact and announce the winners via Twitter: follow@WCCLibraries to find out more.

London in fiction – for World Book Night

The Hidden Girl by Louise MillarOn World Book Night Pimlico Library hosted a talk by two psychological thriller authors, Louise Voss and Louise Millar, who are part of the Killer Women group.

Focussing on the representation of London in their fiction, the authors also discussed their respective routes into writing and the creative process.

There was a lively discussion on many topics. The audience was particularly interested in the fact that Louise Voss co-authors books with Mark Edwards. They were intrigued by the writing process and the experience of writing alongside another author.

World Book Night 2015 at Pimlico Library, with authors Louise Voss and Louise Millar

As it was World Book Night, after the discussion attendees were given free copies of either the Cityread London title Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch  or the WBN title Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by MC Beaton.


Writing about Russia

Paddington Library hosted an interesting event to celebrate World Book Night on 23 April. Four authors – Vanora Bennett, Francis Spufford, Peter Higgins and William Ryan – who specialise in writing fiction and non-fiction about Russia, conducted a panel discussion about the pleasures and challenges of this fascinating subject.

World Book Night 2015 at Paddington Library

The authors gave first hand accounts of their visits to Russia and the sacrifices and hardships the Russian people have had to endure. I got the impression that Russia and the former Soviet Union are topsy turvy worlds in which nothing is what it seems. At the end they signed copies of their books. To explore their works, visit the library catalogue and search for books by Vanora Bennett, Francis Spufford, Peter Higgins and William Ryan

World Book Night 2015 at Paddington LibraryThe four writers kindly gave their time to support World Book Night and as part of the celebrations, members of the audience were all given a free copy of Elizabeth Fremantle‘s historical novel The Queen’s Gambit which is about the life of Katherine Parr, the 6th wife of King Henry VIII.


Charmed in Charing Cross

Day 17 of Ben Aaaronvitch’s epic trek, visiting every London Borough to talk about his Cityread book Rivers of London, and it was time to revisit the ‘scene of the crime’ – or as near as you get to it in library terms – when he came to Charing Cross Library (and his biggest audience yet in Central London). On arrival, he announced that he had broken his glasses, but this didn’t affect his performance or signings!

Ben Aaronovitch at Charing Cross Library for Cityread London, April 2015

After introductions Ben ran a question and answer session for a full and enthusiastic audience, nearly all of whom had read at least the first book. From his answers we gleaned the following important information:

Book jacket - Rivers of London(a) He intends to continue writing books in the Peter Grant series as long as people keep buying and reading them

(b) the next book The Hanging Tree is due in November and will be set in London

(c) there will be a TV adaptation (no date yet).

He talked about how he keeps track of his plots and characters – a mix of a whiteboard, spreadsheets and blu-tacked notes. Growing up in an inner London borough gave him the background and he has friends to provide the specialist knowledge of jazz (see Moon over Soho) and police procedure. He mentioned a liking for matching cultural jokes and music tastes to the ages of his characters – Nightingale of course never gets the jokes!

Ben stressed the importance of geographical correctness – streets and rivers are real, but buildings such as restaurants mentioned in the text might be ‘transposed’ from another location. Characters tend to develop as the stories progress. While he knew how Lesley’s character would proceed, others tend to take on a life of their own, although he did give a hint of Peter Grant’s possible career progression in answer to a question on this… There was also the hint of a possible diversion into writing Scandinavian style noir as he is making a trip to a Swedish convention soon.
CityRead London logo

[Malcolm and Katrina]

Celebrating World Book Day with Michael Jecks

Michael Jecks at St John's Wood Library for World Book Day 2015On World Book Day St John’s Wood Library had the pleasure of welcoming Michael Jecks to celebrate with us over lunch. Michael is the author of 32 medieval murder mystery books featuring Baldwin De Furnshill, Knight Templar and his sidekick Bailiff Simon Puttock. His latest book, Fields of Glory, is the first in a trilogy about the Hundred Years War and features King Edward lll and The Battle of Crecy.

Michael first introduced himself and talked about his books and writing. We broke for lunch (lovely sandwiches and tea, coffee and cake) and then had a Question & Answer session. We had 24 visitors and the event was praised by all – thanks Michael!


It was a library, Jim, but not as we know it

Browne system issue tray. Image property of Westminster City Archives

Happy National Libraries Day!

Ask any person on the street “What is a library?” and they will probably say something like “A public building with books you can borrow”. That is indeed the case, but a modern day library offers much, much more, and a library card is the key. How? It’s all down to the development of computers and especially the Internet and World Wide Web in the 80s and 90s.

St. Marylebone library book label and pocket

Just a generation ago, things were very different. With no computers, most libraries issued books using the Browne system. Books had a pocket holding a card which gave the book’s number and author/title details. Readers were given a number of pocket tickets with their name and address details. They tendered one of these for each book borrowed and the book’s card was placed in the pocket ticket and then filed in a rack before (or behind) a date due marker. On returning a book, the racks would be searched for the matching card and the ticket returned. Returns and renewals could only be done at the library where the books were borrowed. Readers with overdue books would get posted reminders.

City of Westminster catalogue card

The library catalogue was a large set of drawers in which were inserted 5in x 3in cards for each book – one filed by author, and one by title or class number. The catalogue would only show books at that library, and would not show whether the book was in or on loan. When new books were added or old books withdrawn, the cards had to be manually filed or removed. By the 1970s, new technology saw the introduction of a system-wide catalogue on microfilm or microfiche. But it would still not show whether the books were in the library or on loan.

City of Westminster tokens

With fewer alternatives available, reading was a far more popular activity, and the library was so busy, especially at lunchtimes, that in 1952 Westminster dispensed with the Browne system. Instead readers were given plastic tokens which they handed over for all but the most expensive books. There was no record of who had out what books, so no overdue letters could be sent, but once a year each reader was written to and they had to produce all their tokens or pay a forfeit. This system was to last until a computerised management system was introduced from 1984.

City of Westminster renewal letter

As well as books, readers could borrow gramophone records, although there were strict rules about their care. The records themselves were not on the shelves. Instead there were display racks of the cards from which borrowers made their choice and then exchanged the card for the recording – supplied in a carrying case.

City of Westminster Gramophone library rules

Reference libraries had shelves upon shelves of atlases, dictionaries, directories, encyclopaedias etc, often out of date even before being published. Some directories even came in loose-leaf binders so that update replacement pages could be supplied. [I remember it well. Ed.]

Westminster Libraries still lend books, but now you can browse the catalogue of all the branches from home or while out and about on your phone, check the availability of books and reserve them online. Not just for Westminster but also Kensington & Chelsea and Hammersmith & Fulham libraries too. You can renew items online and return them to any library in the three boroughs.

Westminster Libraries catalogue, February 2015

We no longer have gramophone records (or the cassettes which followed them) but we do lend CDs, DVDs and Talking Books on CD. You can even get something to read or listen to without visiting a library building at all, as we have e-books, e-magazines and e-audiobooks too.

E-books from Westminster Libraries

When you visit ‘in-library’ there is more on offer than just what we lend. There may be reading clubs or writing groups, author talks, computing or English classes, careers advice sessions, and a range of health promotions. There may be children’s homework clubs and holiday reading clubs and craft events. It varies from library to library, but the website will have all the details – and if you follow us on Twitter – or just keep an eye on the right hand column of this blog – you’ll get updates on all our special events as well!

BTL Ravel workshop with Pimlico Academy students, April 2014

Those groaning shelves of reference books are much reduced now, replaced by public computers to use and study space with free wi-fi access. But don’t go thinking that there is any less information available – far from it! With the 24/7 library your library card gives you access to a staggering wealth of information for free on our subscription databases. Business information, the arts, family history and worldwide newspapers are amongst the resources available – much of it accessible from anywhere that you can get online and, as it says, available 24/7 – not just when the library is open.

Marketline - one of our many online resources

People have predicted the end of libraries in our present digital, connected world. Well they may have changed in ways unimaginable a generation ago but they are still a thriving, valued part of the community. Who knows what changes another generation will bring? I expect and hope there will still be something people call a ‘library’. But will it contain books? – well perhaps the trend is already starting…

Charing Cross Library 1948

[Malcolm, who has seen and embraced it all in his 40+ years at Westminster]

Paddington Book Festival continues…

Paddington Book FestivalAs the brilliant Paddington Book Festival runs into its seventh week, Barrie Taylor – Chair of the Paddington Festival group – tells us how he first came up with the idea:

“The book festival felt like a natural extension of the popular Paddington Festival. This film festival in Paddington, which has been running for two years, had been a great success and I saw an opportunity for a festival celebrating the written word, in our libraries and in the communities of Paddington. This was how the idea of a book festival was first conceived.”

So far there have been some great, well-attended events with expert authors discussing Tudor and Stuart Africans in London, Victorian women travellers and the current situation in Syria.

If that wide range of subjects wasn’t enough, coming next are events for both children and adults: former Home Secretary and successful author Alan Johnson is at the Beethoven Centre next week [event now FULLY BOOKED], followed by ‘How to Write Everything’ author David Quantick at Paddington Library.

Later in the month we have a brilliant ‘Funny Bones’ event at Queen’s Park Library, based around the ever popular Janet & Allan Ahlberg book.

Come and join us and make the most of Paddington Book Festival and your library service!