Now that Jeremy Corbyn has been elected leader of the Labour Party, I very much hope that included in his government policies-to-oppose tray, is a memo to crank up the protests against the closures of public libraries.
Following a short imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs in 1981, the institution where I managed to educate myself and read about the world was Brixton library. Armed with just a biro and A4 notepad, I made my first tentative attempts to write my debut novel, Brixton Rock, in the reference section of Battersea library, Lavender Hill. I returned to Brixton library in 2011 to launch the sequel to Brixton Rock, Brenton Brown.
From a vantage point of a hillock in Brockwell Park, Brixton, you can observe the ever-growing city skyline, full of shiny new buildings groping for the clouds. Millions upon millions are invested in these pillars of wealth and we’re told by the prosperous and our City office leaders that it showcases London as a rich, modernised and progressive city. Yet libraries are being closed by the score all over Greater London and beyond.
Children who are not fortunate enough to have any internet access in their own homes, are being denied the chance to log on and research whatever material they require for their homework at their local library because it is no longer there. I know a frail elderly Portuguese gentleman who lives alone and speaks very little English. He would hobble to his local library once a week to keep in touch with his family in Portugal. That library now stands empty and awaits a bulldozer to clear the ground for avaricious property developers.
When you consider all the coffee houses, bars, shops, gyms, pubs and other establishments that fill our High Streets and shopping arcades, the library is the only place where you’re not obliged to spend a penny. They are the great equalisers of education. I once told a young man that he could read every book that Barack Obama studied if he joined a well-stocked library. It doesn’t matter what little money you have in your pocket, you can learn as much as the rich and powerful folk.
I know there are good people up and down the country fighting these closures and as I still watch the ever-rising London skyline, in my eyes the city will never be as rich as it thinks if it fails to offer its inhabitants a decent library service.
I was lucky enough for Jacaranda Books to send me an advanced copy of Stephen Thompson’s No More Heroes. The narrative is about an ordinary man who comes from an ordinary town but by sheer ill-fortune, gets caught up in the 7/7 London bombings. The protagonist is thrust into an extraordinary life following his heroic deeds immediately after the London underground atrocity. Some of Thompson’s first person descriptions are so visceral and vivid that I almost forgot that Thompson is indeed a novelist and not a first-hand witness to that horrific event.
I am also very much enjoying Irenosen Okojie’s Butterfly Fish, where Joy, the main character, struggles to keep her life on an even keel following the death of her mother. As part of her inheritance, she receives a mysterious artefact that propels her on a mysterious journey. The metaphors and allegories that Okojie conjures, compels the reader to take their time and luxuriate in the narrator’s voice, like a perfectly set warm, scented bath that you never want to leave. I fully expect Butterfly Fish to be among the contenders for any of this year’s literary prizes.
I’ve also been racing through Catherine Doyle’s young adult novel, Vendetta. Set in the Chicago suburbs, the chief protagonist, Sophie, lives out a mundane life until she encounters five brothers who have recently moved into the neighbourhood. Pacey, perilous and addictive!
I just want to sign off my editorship with thanks to the Fiction Uncovered team for allowing my rants to appear on their website and as we enter the autumn months of grey skies and cold rains, if you would like some Caribbean cheer and sunshine, why not come and see my debut play, Shame & Scandal, appearing at The Albany Theatre Deptford on the 9th & 10th of October. www.thealbany.org.uk/event_detail/1618/Theatre/Shame-and-Scandal
You’ll be more than welcome!
That’s all folks!
Born in London of Jamaican parents, Alex’s first book, Brixton Rock(1999), tells the story of a 16-year old boy of mixed race, in 1980s Brixton. Brixton Rock was adapted for the stage and performed at the Young Vic in 2010. Its sequel, Brenton Brown, was published in 2011.
His second novel, East of Acre Lane (2001), has a similar setting, and won a London Arts Board New Writers Award. A prequel, Island Songs, set in Jamaica, was published in 2005, and a sequel, Dirty South, in 2008.
Other novels include In The Seven Sisters (2002), in which the scene moves to Surrey in 1976, where four boys escape from an abusive life in a children’s home; and Checkers (2003), written with Mark Parham, was published in 2003.
In 2010, he wrote the one-man autobiographical performance, Uprising.
Alex Wheatle lives in London. He was awarded an MBE for services to literature in 2008.
He can be found on Twitter @.