26 Apr In the British Library
This week I’m writing to you from the grand institution of the British Library in London. I’ve done much of the research here for my novel, trawling through records from eighteenth-century India held in the India Office Records. Now I am in the editing stages and I hope, on the homeward stretch…
The BL is home to some of the world’s most famous books. The original Magna Carta, some of Leona Da Vinci’s sketches, the Gutenberg Bible, Mozart’s hand-written musical diary and over 14 millions books. Some rare books are only on display during exhibitions; others can be read and looked at in its many reading rooms.
My favourite place to write and read is in the cavernous Rare Books Room.
Amazingly (and rather disappointingly) I haven’t had to wear white gloves to look at some of the works I’ve requested. Many have thick yellowing pages and are written in faded ink, still visible 250 years after they were written.
It’s always a thrill to read an original diary and imagine the person who wrote it. It makes history real and brings the past streaming into the present.
What I love most about the Library is the atmosphere of furious study. Everyone is focused, everyone is busy. It’s like when you enter an ancient church and the air is thick with the sacred.
As soon as you enter the Library, a stone’s throw from King’s Cross station, and walk up the marble steps, you know you are going to get a serious day’s work done.
On every available seat, people are working and the places fill as soon as the doors open. Today, I saw one woman breast-feeding with one hand, typing with the other.
Inside the reading rooms, the atmosphere is hushed. You can’t dawdle or daydream here. You can only get down to the task in hand, only stopping for a quick tea and homemade cake in the café on the second floor.
Sitting here makes me realise how important it is to break out of our ordinary writing routines. I’m guilty of if myself.
Back in Sydney I go to my office, day in and day out. I rarely make a trip to the beautiful old New South Wales Library or take my work to a café.
But it’s like when you go to a yoga class and push yourself much harder than if you practise at home on your own.
Writing around other people makes you squeeze that extra bit out of yourself. Far from it being a distraction, a change of environment can boost your output. Just as long as you don’t spend too long eating cake… Thoughts?