A guest post by Fleur Hitchcock. The video above is of Fleur discussing her new book, Dear Scarlett.
This week is national libraries week, and tomorrow, 9th Feb is national libraries day. It’s also, personally, Dad Day – because the 9th February was my dad’s birthday – so it feels fitting to me to roll the two into one and celebrate them together.
My childhood memories of libraries are very strong, probably because it was an experience so often repeated. My dad liked nothing better than a visit to the Winchester County Library, where a balcony ran around the upstairs, loaded with fiction, and downstairs walls of closely packed reference books jostled for space on the sagging shelves. And I liked nothing better than going with him. We used to sit and read in the library, with all the old men in tweed coats who smelled of pipe smoke and Fisherman’s Friends and it was, in my view, bliss. Two of my favourite things together, Dad and books, all to myself.
After that we filled our arms with books and took them home. At some early age, I was issued with my own library tickets. They were yellow cardboard pockets, my name inscribed on them in Dad’s careful script, four for fiction; one for non-fiction.
On choosing a book, you handed one of these precious cards to the librarian, who took an index card from the front of the book, marked it by hand with the date and kept it in your cardboard pocket in her files, until you returned the book. So, over the years, the cardboard pockets became more and more battered, illegible and precious. It was after dad died, that I found all the library pockets in his desk, trussed with a decaying elastic band.
Sadly, I don’t know what happened to them but I wish I still had them. So I thought that to preserve that particular memory of books and cards and someone’s handwriting, even though I had lost the actual objects themselves, I would put them into Dear Scarlett.
Scarlett isn’t me, she’s very different. She’s probably the girl I wanted to be when I was eleven. She doesn’t suffer from peer pressure, she’s feisty, she can climb ropes, and she’s brave. Soon after she turns eleven, she inherits a box from her dead Dad. She knows almost nothing about him, except that he was a jewel thief, so she expects to find out more from the box. But the objects he leaves her are apparently random and meaningless.
He leaves her a key, a set of tools, a film canister, a copy of Gone with the Wind, some postcards, and a yellow library card. The library card is worn and yellow and has his name inscribed in pencil – it’s just an ordinary piece of card, it’s nothing special, but like the library cards of my childhood, it helps Scarlett to unlock a world she never knew existed.
You can find out more about National Libraries Day at www.nationallibrariesday.org.uk or on Twitter with the #nld13 hashtag. Dear Scarlett is out now and you can read the first chapter below: