Since I wrote this post about a moment of great inspiration I wasn’t even aware of at the time (when I met Neil Gaiman in 1989), I’ve been hosting some guest posts from other writer friends where they share their moments of equally great inspiration. You can read all the posts so far under the Great Inspiration category here. Today we have a tale of library magic from Andrew McKiernan:
It is impossible for me to separate my desire and inspiration for writing from my original desire and inspiration to read. They both stem from the same source.
When I was a kid, my grandmother was the cleaner for our local public library. I think I went with her a couple of times when I was really young, maybe five years old, but all I did then was make pretty patterns with date-stamps on blank loan cards. Our family moved away for a few years, then came back into the area when I was 9. By that time I’d moved on from mashing date-stamps to Little Golden Books and non-fiction about dinosaurs and space. I hadn’t really read much fiction.
So, I’m 9 yrs old, and two or three nights a week my grandmother would drop by to pick me up. She’d take me with her to the library and I could just hang around while she cleaned. To my 9yr old self, was very different to what I’d experienced 4 yrs before. Picture it. It’s night and the library is closed. Empty. The lights are all off but for a few dim security signs. And all around me, from wall to ceiling and row upon row, are books. So many books!
I wanted to read them all. I wanted to be the sort of person who wrote them.
The main pleasure for me — apart from the awe of being so small in such a large, dark place — was the freedom I had. I knew there was an ‘Adult’ section of the library that I was too young to borrow from. And the strange ‘Adult Reference’ section, whose books were so important that nobody could borrow them and they weren’t allowed to be taken from the library at all! On cleaning nights, these sections were mine and mine alone. My grandmother lay no restrictions upon me. She (with full knowledge of the librarians) allowed me to borrow any book I wanted. Any book!
It was in those years (between ages 9 and 12) that I discovered Charles Dickens and Robert E Howard and HP Lovecraft. Most importantly, I discovered a copy of a book that I knew was ‘NOT FOR KIDS’. My mum had read it. My uncle and aunt and grandmother had read it. I’d seen them with it a few years before and the girl with the bloody face on the cover intrigued me like no other book. When I finally found a hardcover copy of Stephen King’s Carrie, the exact same bloody-girl was on the cover. I sat down in the dark between two aisles. Alone. Surrounded by books. I carried a small torch with me and I used it see the pages. I began to read.
I think it was there, at that moment, that I knew I wanted nothing more in life than to tell stories and to read the stories of others.
Libraries will always be a very special place for me. Every one I enter, I imagine what it would look like at night, in the dark. How the ambient light might illume a few feet in front of you. The lined-up spines of books moving past you in the darkness as you walk the aisles. How the lack of vision makes the books smell so much more pungent. So enticing.
And, just like when I was a kid, I imagine that one of the books on that library shelf just might be mine.
Andrew McKiernan is a writer and illustrator. You can read all about him on his wikipedia page here.