Alan Gibbons: National Libraries Day
In the run-up to National Libraries Day, Bali Rai was lucky enough to collar the incredibly busy Alan Gibbons and ask him a few questions about his work and reading for pleasure.
Hi Alan, it’s great to hear from you. Let’s start with your Campaign For the Book – a project that I know you are passionate about. How long has the campaign been going and what prompted you to start it?
I launched the Campaign for the Book in 2008. The Save Our Libraries group in Doncaster invited me to speak because the local council was planning huge cuts in the service. We organised a demonstration and I called on friends and colleagues in the literary world to write protest letters. Soon after a Head teacher sacked a librarian in Chesterfield and closed the library. I organised a second protest and saw a pattern developing. In 2009 I set up a 200-strong conference in Birmingham to launch the movement.
And what's the state of play at the moment?
The librarians’ body, CILIP, estimates up to 600 libraries are under threat of closure. Last February we called a day of action. There were 110 Read Ins up and down the country involving thousands of people. On February 4th there is National Libraries Day to celebrate libraries and librarians. There have been some high profile legal actions to prevent closures. Campaigners were successful in Somerset and Gloucestershire and rebuffed in Brent. With more cuts in the pipeline, the fight to protect libraries is intensifying. The Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee are taking evidence at the moment about the crisis.
How important is 'reading for pleasure' in your opinion and why?
UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) says reading for pleasure is more important than social class in determining economic and academic success. People who read for pleasure find learning easy. You make sense of your identity and your place in the world. Most of all, you have a friend for life, a key to different worlds and experiences. Most of all it is fun.
Can teenagers do anything to help with the campaign?
See if your school or public library is organising a event on National Libraries Day. Check online to see what is going on in your area. If there is a local campaign, why not join in? Finally, write to your MP saying why you love reading and libraries and ask them to add their voice to the campaign.
You're one of the hardest working authors in the UK - where do you find the energy?
I think it is because I am passionate about what I do. I love telling stories. I enjoy the performance element of talking to a large audience. Getting people excited about reading is incredibly rewarding.
What advice would you give teenagers who dream about becoming authors?
Authors always say read but any young person who wants to be an author already does. I would say read your favourite authors twice, the first time for enjoyment and as a fan, the second time analytically. See how they do dialogue, develop character, and build tension. Copy their tricks then develop your own voice, incorporating their wisdom.
Tell us a little about your latest book.
An Act of Love revolves around two young men, best friends, Imran Hussain and Chris Hook. The so-called War on Terror puts strain on their friendship. When Chris joins the Army and serves in Afghanistan Imran thinks he has made the wrong choice. Then a planned terrorist attack on Chris’s barracks brings them back together. But will it be too late to save the lives of dozens of people?
What can we expect from you in the near future?
My next novel is Raining Fire, out next summer (Orion Children's Books), about the riots that erupt in a northern town. The lives of two brothers, Ethan and Alex, are torn apart by unemployment and gun crime. Can they rebuild their lives in the face of gang violence?
What are you reading at the moment?
I have just finished Clare Tomalin’s brilliant biography of Charles Dickens (Charles Dickens – A Life, Viking Books) and I have just started reading Newsnight journalist Paul Mason’s book Live Working or Die Fighting (Vintage).
What's the one book that everyone should read in your opinion?
To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee. It contains the line: 'You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view ... until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.'
We are all brothers and sisters under the skin. The world will be a better place when the only thing we care about when we look at another human being is the quality of his or her character.
That’s great, Alan – a pleasure to hear from you. Good luck with the new novel and thanks again for giving us your time.
Find out more about Alan Gibbons and the Campaign for the Book
National Libraries Day is on February 4th 2012. Get involved!
Alan Gibbons has been writing children's books for 17 years. He is the winner of the Blue Peter Book Award 2000 'The book I couldn't put down' for his best-selling book Shadow of the Minotaur. He has also been shortlisted twice for the Carnegie Medal and twice for the Book Trust Teenage Prize. He has won the Catalyst Award, the Leicester Book of the Year, the Angus Book of the Year, the Stockport Book Award and the Salford Librarians' Special Award. His books have been published in languages including Japanese, German, Italian, French, Thai, Spanish, Danish, Dutch, Swedish.
Alan was a teacher for 16 years. He is now is a full-time writer and independent educational consultant and a campaigner for library services. He lives in Liverpool.