Living in a Library

‘…  cakes and biscuits will be provided free of charge.’

It’s a deal. In fact it was a deal before the final incentive. I’ll be spending February in Gladstone’s library on the Welsh border not far from Liverpool. There is a fairytale quality to the idea of a residential library, a sense that anybody who chooses to stay the night is not only living with the books, but also somehow in the books. Who knows where a library dream will go at night?

I’m about to find out, mostly thanks to the energy of William Ewart Gladstone himself. Into his eighties, past even his old man’s prime as the Grand Old Man, he founded this library so that his books, and subsequent scholars, should be able to share a home. He transported many of his 32,000 volumes by wheelbarrow from his house at Hawarden, and of those 32,000 books he annotated about 18,000. The man is in his books, the books are in the library, and during February I’ll be there too.

I’ll be finishing off a novel, Acts of the Assassins, which is a kind of sequel to Lazarus is Dead. Many of the books from Gladstone’s collection are works of theology, and part of the liberal revival is to understand that spiritual questions are not made moot by the rise of science. The challenge is to reframe these questions so that they seem relevant in a modern context.  This is partly what I’ll be talking about in a lecture on February 5th. What can theology teach fiction, and what can fiction learn from stories that start a religion? How are different versions of a story the same story?

Towards the end of my stay, on Saturday 23rd February, and wearing my hat as Director of the National Academy of Writing, I’ll be offering a day-long Creative Writing workshop. The aim will be to create a checklist of what any type of story (no matter the genre, fiction or non-fiction) needs to function. Once the ingredients are in place, there are some helpful procedures to improve the draft that appears on the page.

Both these events are open to the public, and places can be booked here.

Otherwise I’ll be dreaming those dreams, otherwise known as writing a novel.


Gladstone’s library ‘comprises a residential library and meeting place which is dedicated to dialogue, debate and learning for open-minded individuals and groups, who are looking to explore pressing questions and to pursue study and research in an age of distraction and easy solutions.’