|Although it looks as if Barry has fallen asleep here,|
he's actually just checking his notes. I think.
The librarians and booksellers were lovely - which made the whole thing much less daunting. They were all really friendly and so interested, which made it impossible for me to feel as if I was there to network or make any particular kind of impression. I ended up simply chatting. And since the conversations were mostly about our favourite books, we could have gone on all day. At one point, I mentioned Marcus Sedgewick and half of them just swooned - which was adorable! Shortly after that it happened again when I mentioned Kevin Brooks.
Chicken House author Dan Smith read first - from his book Big Game, and he was just so good! Charming and funny and incredibly likeable. His excerpt was really well-written and exciting too. God, it was gutting. I wished I could've followed anyone else.
After me came Sam Hepburn, reading from her political thriller If You Were Me and I realised it wouldn't have made any difference who I followed. Every damn author turned out to be just as good as Dan. Sam had one of those fabulous reading-voices - slow and measured and full of theatrical enunciation, dramatic pauses and stage-whispers that carried effortlessly right across the room. She made me realised how fast I'd gabbled!
After Sam, came Lisa Drakeford - a debut author like me. But who - unlike me, appeared to have absolutely no qualms about describing her book to a roomful of people. It's a prize-winning story about a teenage pregnancy, called The Baby. Inevitably, the excerpt she chose to read described a teenage girl who didn't know she was pregnant - giving birth at a party in front of her closest friends. Try competing with that for dramatic impact!
Lastly, was Emma Shevah, whose writing is so hilarious, I really shouldn't have been surprised at her stand-up comedian-style delivery. She read from Dara Palmer's Major Drama and I honestly don't think we would've laughed harder at Eddie Izzard or Jo Brand or any of the famous comedians. Emma was that good!
The photos were all taken by lovely Annie Everall, Director of Authors Aloud UK. And the event was held at the Ikon Gallery - a very gothic-looking former Board school which is now stuffed full of contemporary art and well worth a visit.
Since I had a while to wait for my train back to Cheltenham and I was inspired by all the librarians, I went to have a look around the new Library of Birmingham. It was astonishing.
It looks like a stack of birthday presents, it cost £188.8 million and is one of the most popular visitor attractions in the country.
It's a bit like being inside a massive high-tech space station. Those electric blue escalators take you up through a gigantic dome of books - right to the top, where there's a long glass tube for firing rockets filled with books at the moon. Probably.
There is a discovery terrace and a skyline viewpoint and a secret garden on the roof. All with amazing views of Birmingham. And then - amidst all this high-techery, you can walk straight into The Shakespeare Memorial Room - which was built in 1882! John Henry Chamberlain created it to house (obvs) the Shakespeare memorial library.
When the Central Library was demolished in 1971, the room was dismantled, stored, re-assembled and eventually put here - right at the top of the snazzy new Birmingham Library.
But perhaps the best thing of all about my day in Birmingham is that I got to add to my lanyard collection. Two now hang on the back of my bedroom door - and they honestly feel like medals!