During the next two weeks I will be visiting all of Leeds’ thirty-six public libraries. By bike.
I am doing it because cycling is the big thing for kids in Leeds at the moment: the Tour de France starts in the city on July 5th and everyone is getting pretty excited about it.
Also, because I want the next big thing for kids to be libraries.
I’ll have half an hour in each library – four a day – to talk to a class of year three and four children, visiting from a local school. I’ll ask them if they use libraries and tell them about how Leeds Libraries changed my life. I am also going to read them a story I have written for the tour. About a girl who goes on a different adventure each time she borrows a library book. Which is kind of what libraries do.
There’s a full schedule of my tour on my website. It’s about 250 miles in all. The worst/best day is 40 miles. I’m a bit worried about that one, to be honest. I’m not a great cyclist. But I’ve done a bit of training. I should be okay.
The highlights – for me – will be Leeds Central Library and Oakwood Library. The places where libraries worked their magic. It’ll feel good returning to those. I wouldn’t be an author if it wasn’t for Leeds Libraries.
More importantly, I wouldn’t be a reader. I love reading. It makes me think. It makes me happy. It gives me something I can’t even put into words. I want to get that across. Somehow.
Earlier this month I went to the Somme, to visit the scenes where WWI was fought nearly 100 years ago.
I was there to make videos for a new website that will be live later in April. The website is called www.readingwar.co.uk and is an attempt to help children to understand what happened between 1914 and 1918 in Europe and beyond. It will feature my new book, Over the Line and another book, Tilly’s Promise by Linda Newbery.
Both of us have made videos about how we wrote our books. Some of mine are set in the places where the book is set. Delville Wood. The English Channel. A network of reworked trenches.
The most important video for me was when I revisited Sid Wheelhouse’s grave. Wheelhouse played for Grimsby Town and features as an uncompromising defender in the first chapter of Over the Line. I also described his death in a gas attack in 1916.
When I visited his grave two years ago – while I was writing the book – I was deeply affected. I knew I had to work harder to get his character and circumstances right.
But it wasn’t easy. How do you describe a man choking to death under gas attack over 95 years ago? I am pretty sure my first visit to his grave helped me to understand the gravity of what I was describing. I hope my second visit and the video I made are respectful too.
Reading War goes live next month. I’ll alert you on this blog. Over the Line is out now. You can get it in bookshops and libraries. I can post out signed copies too.