We are all Librarians

Copyright, Rockywrite

Litopian Twitterati

Not open for further replies.

Paul Whybrow

Full Member
Jun 20, 2015
Cornwall, UK
I actually trained as a librarian back in the early 1970s, working in the profession for six years. I always loved books, and as a lonely child they were my constant companions. I'm a firm believer in the library movement, as historically it offered a way of allowing ordinary people to access knowledge. Governments would rather that we didn't know things, and simply believe everything that they tell us. In the current economic recession, many libraries are being closed or are operating on restricted hours. My local branch is only open two and a half days a week these days. As Ray Bradbury said "You don't have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get people to stop reading them."

After feeling stifled by the way that libraries operated in a very static way, I jumped into a crazy way of earning a living, by becoming a motorcycle dispatch rider in London. I've done about forty different jobs since over the years, sometimes with the thought in the back of my mind that this would be a good way of learning things to write about later. I moved back into what might be called disseminating knowledge, through writing self-help and technical articles for magazines and by training as an infant teacher.

Since returning to creative writing a couple of years ago, I've become aware that I never left librarianship behind at all. The whole world runs on a system of classifying and organising things, as regimented as the Dewey decimal classification system by which most libraries shelve their books. We understand how people, ideas and machines work by comparing them to other things. One of the first things that strangers ask of each other on meeting, after exchanging names, is 'what do you do?' That becomes the first step towards pigeonholing someone, so that they can be understood. We paint folk with the colour of what we understand being a butcher, social worker or car mechanic means.

This habit affects writers in distinct ways. I wrote a psychological thriller as my first novel for several reasons, including the commercial one of it being a successful genre of writing that sold well online. I like crime stories, but don't exclusively read them, and nor do I only write them. Most of my fifteen short stories and novellas are about other things, with just one concerning a case of mistaken identity in a murder investigation. Yet if The Perfect Murderer achieved any commercial success, I would immediately be labelled a thriller writer.

It must be very frustrating for successful authors who get defined in this way, expected to write more of the same sort of story - to become a brand. It's not that their other tales fail to work, it's simply that the first one that readers glommed onto was a Western, a sci-fi short story or a torrid romance. We all do this sort of thing every day though - just think of the elevator pitch, which is used to quickly describe your new novel. 'It's a space romance, set in the 25th century and based on William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, but featuring a love affair between a human-being and an alien creature.' This immediately gives you a load of cultural reference points, which may tickle your interest or not.

Even our everyday life involves being a librarian. What about the cutlery drawer in the kitchen? The knives, forks and spoons are separated out, probably in a moulded tray. You may have other items arranged around the tray - corkscrew, spatula, coasters, scissors - and you know where everything is, so you can find it straight away.

Running wild and free may be fine as a liberating concept, but to get through life without hassle we need systems, fences, boundaries and other organizational tools that make sense of chaos. We should definitely consider who we are and how our status, past experiences and current circumstances can be used to sell ourselves as writers. We are as much classified by the public, as our books are.

Our potential readers might fail to be charmed by the idea of a novel written by an author who's worked most of their life as an accountant, but be immediately attracted to a blurb which mentions how you've made 200 parachute jumps. This transforms you from boring bean counter to exciting risk-taker immediately.

Who are you? Where do you fit in on the shelf?
I think my head would explode if I didn't have organization around me. I am a hyper-organized person. For example, I have an Excel spreadsheet that breaks down all of my big projects (writing and other things like reading, studying, and exercise) to the week. This helps me see my overall structure and accomplish things faster. Also provides data, and I love data. That's just how I'm driven.

Per my writing life, I usually only write the one genre (thrillers). Though a couple of my short stories have ventured into other genres, almost everything else I write is either theillers or suspense. Which is fine for me. It helps my readers know what to expect next from me, and I don't hace the pressure of trying to diversify into something I'm not as good or comfortable in writing.

Though it's true that I do enjoy reading something by someone who has jumped out of airplanes, I have found they *generally* (not all) are not that good writers. They were picked up solely for their background and not their writing ability. Lee Child writes some great thrillers IMO and he worked in TV most of his life. He's never come close to doing what his character Reacher does, yet he's one of the most popular thriller authors right now. And I love his books. So me personally, I don't care what the author did before writing (or is still doing), so long as he/she writes a book that makes me not want to put it down.
I'm not a terribly organised person in certain aspects, but in others everything has it's place. My cutlery drawer in chaotic, there's just not enough width for the little tray, but my cupboard is organised by tins, jars, condiments and coffee/tea. My wardrobe is whatever I can fit where, but my clothes airer/dryer is layered with the heaviest items at the bottom and lightest at the top.
My jobs have been till operative, bar staff, kitchen porter, nursery nurse and painter/decorator. I plan to open a business selling clothing I make myself, though that's a few years away atm. I'm not sure anyone would be interested in my life to date, it's not terribly exciting, but if they ask, I shall tell.
I moved into my house 8 years ago. 6 months ago I decided to undertake a thorough spring clean. I'm minimalist by design... but a book worm by nature. My clutter was books... I put them all into the garage and counted them ... i'd 1,257 books - way too may. So I sorted them with the intention of converting my loft into my study/library. Best thing i've ever done. Sent many hundreds to the local charity shop. Organised my new book cases into - Folio (My Pride and Joy) theology, reference, biography, Irish History, Irish Lit, Poetry, novels, cookery, travel and history. My new library has 897 books.... it will grow. Added three more today.
Last edited by a moderator:
It was as a difficult decision - took me a week to decide which books to keep and which to let go. I can honestly say that I have read all the books I've kept and those which I will refer to again ... but, many a beloved paper back I departed with, including my Harry Potter novels and tattered editions of Morris West.
Not open for further replies.

Copyright, Rockywrite

Litopian Twitterati