Monday, 26 November 2012


A very satisfying part of my job is sorting the books back into order that YOU the general public have just shoved back in any old place.

Fiction should be in author order, but we also split it by genre and quick read displays are in no order at all, making it difficult to find specific books - it would almost be easier to sort them in colour order. Not all authors fit neatly into one genre: Charlaine Harris pops up in Horror, Supernatural Fantasy and Crime, for example and China Mieville is all over the place. I'm not entirely sure which shelf my putative best-selling novel will eventually end up on.

So the precision of the Dewey decimal system is very welcome in non-fiction. That doesn't always mean you can find exactly what a borrower wants: if someone wants a picture of a unicorn you’ll be all over the place - in mythical creatures, nursery rhymes, fantasy art, and end up in heraldry.

Now I've got the gist of the system the world feels more organised, but I still worry about stuff: in the health section: the back ache books are on the highest shelf, osteoporosis on the lowest, yet the yoga ones are perfectly easy to reach – when it should those you have to stretch for. The dementia books have been abandoned on a nearby table but at least the books on OCD are returned to the shelf in perfect order.

In the children’s library they have whole sections on volcanoes and dinosaurs, and at least half of the books are something to do with underpants (*sniggers*).  One day one of these little cherubs will be all grown up and sitting behind a big desk saying: "That library assistant changed my life. She encouraged me to read and that’s what got me where I am today: Professor of Underpants."

Friday, 23 November 2012

Things people say...

A fab book by poet and writer Jen Campbell (who blogs at 'this is not the six word novel') is through to the final round of the Goodreads Choice Awards 2012 (you can vote here).

Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops includes the classic lines:
'Have you got anything by Jane Eyre?'
'I read a book years ago. I don't remember who it was by or what it was called. but it had a green cover - do you know the one I mean?'

I've heard very similar lines in the library and now she's also looking for more examples for the follow up, I think libraries are included, so here are a couple of mine:
Borrower: Mumble, mumble, mumble...
Librarian: Sorry?
Borrower:  Mumble, mumble, mumble..
Librarian: I'm sorry, I still didn't quite catch what you said?
Borrower: I've come without my teeth.

But by far my new favourite was this one I overheard or a weary borrower losing patience with the library's Saturday assistant in his search for a specific volume by Anthony Trollope: 
Well can you just give me a list of all your Trollopes, please? 
Have you any classic lines you've overheard (or said) in bookshops or libraries? Jen would love to hear from you.

Monday, 19 November 2012

New windows

No, not THAT Windows.  I'm being double-glazed this week.

NO - not ME, you fools!  The windows.

I live in my friend's house, so she's in charge and has timed it nicely to mostly be happening while I'm at work, but coming home tonight reminded me of a poem I wrote a few years ago (new kitchen) which was published in the Ragged Raven Anthology 'Writing on the Water' :

Workmen in the house of women

Day one

All day we heard
their low rumble of laughter,
saw through upstairs nets
an overall, blue, moving,
felt the house resisting,
creaking it’s complaints
as they wrenched nails from wood
like pulling teeth.
All afternoon there was percussion,
voices, tools and feet,
and, in the evening,
we tiptoed to the kitchen
violated: brickwork exposed,
huge fingerprints like bruises,
boot-patterned dust,
and no milk.

Day two

Drilling like prospectors,
there’s a whine of protest.
Their voices separate into
the one who laughs the most, the one
who lies all day into his mobile phone.
Their sleight of hand is like magicians, surgeons.
They talk ‘top-coating,’ ‘bleeding.’
They are as tall as gods.
We bring them steaming offerings
and blush at banter,
imperfections laughed away
– echoing off the raw walls.

Day Seven

And they leave quickly
as though to urgent appointments,
abandoning unfinished business:
superficial sweepings,
surfaces still wet,
a scent that lingers –
putty, plaster, paint –
and it takes time to adjust
to the sudden freedom
and silence,
the hardening and tightening
as fresh wounds turn into scars.

© Clare Kirwan

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Just what I needed!

Me with the lovely Levi Tafari
I mentioned my fine plans of submitting vast numbers of poems and stories for publication in Out There). inevitably this has lead to an unprecedented number of rejections. I know it's all about the law of averages / diminishing returns / Sod but it still requires broad shoulders.
My prize was presented by David Lonsdale from 'Heartbeat'

So I am delighted that, after more than 90 rejections and failures this year, I can report a few successes: and chief amongst them is that I just scooped first prize in the Sefton Celebrates Writing Festival's Adult* Poetry Competition.

The poem's about the death of a (fictional) librarian. I was horrified to learn that Sefton Council (a near neighbour north of Liverpool)  is threatening to close most of its libraries and I think some of the fears for libraries generally leaks into the poem - which will be on Sefton Arts website but isn't yet.  I'm not sure how I'll get round the subject matter at work, but I won more than a week's wages so I don't care if I get some flack for seeming to kill off a colleague.

What was groovy about the award ceremony was that I got to meet the inspirational Levi Tafari. An 'urban Griot' of Jamaican and Liverpool heritage, he performs a lot in schools and has powerful, accessible messages about the beauty of diversity and the importance of being yourself: knowing who you are and what you stand for. I'll have to think more about this, but it was a timely encounter for me. It reminded me that I used to believe what you need comes to you if you are open to it.

* By adult I don't mean filth... It's just called that to distinguish it from the Children's Poetry Competition. But I will be coming back to filthy poetry in a future post.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Library Face

I've been a bit down in the mouth lately.

I woke up a few weeks ago and could hardly open my mouth (and if you know me, you'd know it is rarely shut!) and when I did there were shooting pains up one side followed by a dull ache that wouldn't go away.

It was Tuesday so although I was supposed to be on counter they sent me to the hospital. (If it had been Monday I'd have had to stay on counter even if my head had fallen off because... oh, don't get me started on the Monday/ Tuesday thing.)  So off I gurned  to the hobble-in centre and eventually saw a nurse practitioner.

It turns out I've got Library Face. It's all the vacillating between the rictus grin of welcome, the compassionate 'just this once' smile of the waived fine, the stoic grimace of knowing we're all getting 'at risk of redundancy' notices tomorrow. That, and the endless shushing... I've worn out my mouth.

Transmandibular joint disorder lumpiness

So there's no more smiling or singing (which is frowned on in the library anyway) and I'm trying to give up smirking.

Actually, its proper name is transmandibular joint disorder. It wasn't too bad on holiday, although I couldn't eat anything BIG. But it got worse as soon as I got back to work last week, which just confirms what I said all along: Library Face.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Where was I?

The Ottoman Diaries of an English Lady - in which our heroine is covered in sugar, has her toes nibbled, and is soundly lathered by a young Turk 

The Sea of Marmaris, south west Turkey
At a port on the sea of Marmaris, I was invited by that most knowledgeable of travellers, Mr Thomas Cook, to sojourn  in one of his summer residences - an opulent seafront palace decorated with gilt, marble and fine cloths. Everything is filigreed and festooned to such a degree the eye is dazzled and the senses smitten. The temperate air allowed me to divest myself of woollen undergarments and walk around with flesh exposed as is customary in these parts.

The subtle decor of the reception area
The sultry pleasures of the Turkish bath
The Turk is much taken by salads of herbs and flavoursome pastes more rewarding on the palate than the eye - all is accompanied by breads both thick and flat, hunks of meat cooked upon sticks over fire, and potatoes fried a la Francais - an import as inauthentic as it is welcome. I am much taken by the sinister-looking eggplant but the deserts are profoundly wicked, being comprised of pastries doused in sugar syrup.)

I visited a 'Turkish Bath' accompanied by the Doctor - a Scottish academic who has proved  good company in  recent adventuress. Upon arrival, the 'victim' inserts their feet in a tank populated by a score of 'Garra Rufa' fish which nibble the dead skin from every crevice. The Doctor declined, having spent some years in the Amazon basin, where piranha can strip a man to the bone in a few frenzied moments.

Next we were locked in a heated chamber and steamed like one of Mrs Beaton's festive puddings. The Doctor remarked that it was much the same clime as the Amazon, which dampened my ardour to make an expedition there.

A 'Turkish bath' involves no porcelain tub nor private meditations. I suspect the eastern sensibilities would find little to admire in the way we westerners stew ourselves like rabbits in our own gravy. Instead, it begins with a public scouring and flagellation. A young buck by the name of Ozgur - perhaps it was the flirtatious glint in his swarthy eye and not the vigour of his loofering that gave me palpitations? - rubbed all but the  most private few inches of me as I lay on a marble platform, writhing like a fish on a slab with each fresh-flung dish of scalding water. Stopping barely short of intimacy, Ozgur then produced a luscious foam from a length of cloth and - I blush to recount it, though I am assured it is the custom - lathered me like a baby. As he wrapped my towel around me, his gaze promised infinitely more should I but say the word.

The next stage, intended to invigorate and restore the anatomy through manipulation of muscles, was more intimate than any acts my husband e're performed. The boy said several times in his fetchingly limited English that I was 'very tense' - though how an English lady could be anything otherwise in such circumstances I am at a loss to imagine.

Greased and fondled like a brace of Christmas geese, we reconvened, the Doctor having been similarly pummelled by a young lady. We spoke little on our return to the dining room, both discombobulated by the unaccustomed sensuality of the experience.

(Mr Thomas Cook, I regret to report, has been turned by the sultry charms of the East to a dissolute life of hedonism with much drinking, eating and loud merrymaking. An air of indolence pervades his compound, though this is almost desirable after a perambulation along the promenade where all sorts of merchants - who can tell an honest son of Mohammed from the rogues, cheats and charlatans whose daily quest is to liberate the unwary traveller from their Lira with a pirate's hoarde of trinkets, boat trips to unlikely paradises and a confection they call 'Turkish Delight' which is no delight to the sticky-toothed consumer submerged in icing sugar?)