The Write Stuff

As you'll know from an earlier post I have a slightly unhealthy love of paper. Don't get me wrong, the digital world allows us to do incredible things (even if I did once tell my uni housemate way back in 1997 that email would never catch on) and 'meet' incredible people, not to mention the way it's completely changed the way we go about research, but it's just not paper, is it?


So, you can imagine my excitement when my friend and fellow blogger Sinéad (Finding Home) invited me along to The British Library to take a look at their exhibition Writing Britain: Wastelands to Wonderlands. I can't say enough good things about the display, which, with more than 150 literary works on display, examines how the landscapes of Britain permeate some of the greatest novels and poems of the past 1,000 years.


Sinéad and I went along on a Friday afternoon (following a bit of pre-agreed-with-boss work skiving) and almost had the entire room to ourselves. Which was lucky, because - and I don't think Sinead will mind me saying - we spent quite a lot of time squeaking as we realised we were looking at Charles Dickens's handwriting on the proofs for Hard Times, or the actual notebook in which Emily Brontë wrote her Gondal poems or Kazuo Ishiguro's manuscript for The Remains of the Day or Lewis Carroll's diary or…you get the picture.


For two people who love books and reading it was an opportunity to stand in front of some of the earliest drafts, manuscripts and printed editions of our favourite books - for me those included Rebecca, Alice's Adventures Underground, Jane Eyre and The Hobbit. Tolkein's manuscript has particular significance for me, as it was one of the first books my Dad read over and over again when my sister and I were little. That and Winnie the Pooh. Every night he transported us to faraway places - be it Hundred Acre Wood or Middle Earth. Both were filled with challenge and adventure and, ultimately, love and friendship.


Writing Britain


Reading has always been a part of who I am. I used to get up an hour early as a kid just to read my book and I even had a nerdy dance I used to do when I finished a particularly good one (it's safe to say I was reading the day they handed the cool gene out). I spend way too much money on books and have been known to take nine books on a two-week holiday. After several months of debate, I now own a Kindle, which is obviously a relief for the #orchidwhisperer (aka the husband) since we can now actually pack some clothes in our suitcase.


But, I still buy books and I still love walking into a bookshop - it's like stepping into the unknown. Will this be the day I find a book that changes something in me? Tells me something about me that I didn't even know? Those books are rare, but their very possibility is what keeps me reading. I also love looking at them on my shelves, remembering the joy they brought. Admittedly, a few offered up their fair share of pain as well - I haven't been able to get rid of my literary theory books from my first university stint. You can't do that with a Kindle. You can't catch the spine of whatever edition of Pooh Bear you own and experience that wave of pure, unadulterated pleasure as the memories of your Dad reading it wash over you.


Dad shares my love of books. I thought he was going to ex-communicate me when I told him I was getting a Kindle. On significant birthdays he's bought me beautiful old editions of some of my favourite books, including a calf leather-bound copy of Wuthering Heights. Every now and then I get them down from the shelf, just to stroke the covers, to look at an illustration, read the first line. I won't read them all through - they're too precious for that. But just being close to them gives me a sense of peace.


As a teenager, I had a Saturday job at Waterstone's. As I sat eating my lunch one day reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time, one of my colleagues came in and told me she envied me for my P&P ignorance - she already knew what pleasure that first reading contained and the book in my hand triggered her own set of memories.


Which is why I think exhibitions like Writing Britain are so important. There's a lot of debate at the moment about the future of books as printed artefacts and if I had children, I would take them to The British Library to show them that as connected as we all are in the here and now thanks to digital technology, it is paper and the words and illustrations on them that connects us to our heritage.


On that note, I'm off to stroke Emily Brontë, so to speak.


Writing Britain has now closed.