On Nightingales and Hidden Libraries

“If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad”- Lord Byron

I do like a surprise library.
A library like Brigadoon but that continues to exist after you have had your first adventure in it.
I was walking upbeat through Nottingham.
I had hit my word count target for number of words per day for the new book. I am aiming for 500 more words a day than Graham Greene’s daily target, knowing full well that, unlike Graham Greene’s precision verbal aim, I would probably be junking 50% of the words after careful consideration. I am currently writing without careful consideration. It’s dynamite pockets of fingertip blistering typing to be reviewed when I have hit 120,000 words, at which point I will find out if I have written a book, an epic beat poem, or an impenetrable conundrum. The, the chainsaw of self-doubt will hack away at the paragraphs.

The only blot of on this tram route walk was the unfortunate timing of looking down into a concrete corner directly into some pale sick that was being pecked at by a pigeon.
I did not order scrambled eggs this morning.
The day before, biological expulsion had also got in the way of my appreciation of Fournier’s The Funeral of Shelley at the Walker Art Gallery. Staring into the detail of Shelley’s face above the burning pyre, I was scrutinising the cool fleshiness of his death mask when the man behind me farted in a loud and relaxed manner. My nostrils flared as the molecules around me psychosomatically became decaying flesh on a compost heap.

The surprise library was The Bromley House Library. Unobtrusively positioned in the midst of the loud shops trying to lure you onto the rocks of their latest bargain blouses and flat televisions, the doorway whispers, “shhhhhhh, there’s books in here. Ring the bell. come and see”.

So different from all else around you, walking through the door, you feel as if you are in an Edwardian children’s ghost story where the adventurous but lonely girl finds a house still possessed with all that lived in it one hundred years before.

The library is two hundred years old and was, and is, a photographic studio. Photographs by Eadweard Muybridge are on the entrance hall wall and the back door opens onto an unexpected garden so peaceful despite its mere metres from bustle that you expect the last nightingales of Nottingham to be singing in it. Upstairs, the library begins. It’s labyrinthine steps and stairwells place it somewhere between the imagination of Borges and Escher.

There is no computer on top of the lending desk, but ledgers and cardboard library cards.
In glass case, there is a display of letters of complaint.

On 11th May, 1840, WB Carter aired his grievance that he had been asked to replace a book in which he had written corrections in the margin.

In 1894, Mrs Allcock humbly suggested that the Sub-librarian be sent to night school as “the handwriting on the covers of the magazines is dreadful.”

While A Bradley and WJ Bromley found the light in the library so bad that you could only read the names of the books if you were directly under the lamps.

The spiral staircase warns that there should only be one person on it at a time.

Beyond the still functioning darkroom and the studio with the painted rural backdrop for pleasant Victorian portraiture was the room of biographies. I knew this was a good place because right in front of me was Dance and Skylark, Naomi Sim’s story of her 50 years married to Alastair Sim (and if you are looking for someone who really embodies “British values” amongst all these Mcarthyite cries that you are traitor if you want affordable Marmite and sceptical rigour over the lie led BREXITing, Sim may be a good place to start.)

Bromley House Library is also home to Nottingham City of Literature, which has many projects to celebrate writing and celebrate Nottingham authors from Lord Byron via DH Lawrence to Mary Howitt (and Alan Sillitoe of course. I am on the mood to read Saturday Night, Sunday Morning again).

I am not a clubbable man, my last one was the Young Ornithologists, but if I was a midlander, this is where you’d find me, among the dark leather spines and fixing solution.

I left with a copy of These Seven (have you read These Seven Nottingham Writers), containing stories by John Harvey, Alison Moore, Paula Rawsthorne, Brick, Shreya San Handley, Megan Taylor and Alan Sillitoe, and handful of postcards, and a homemade brownie in tupperware, and that is how days should be.

“The art of writing is to explain the complications of the human soul with the simplicity that can be universally understood” – Alan Sillitoe

I hope that Josie Long and I can record a Book Shambles at Bromley House Library. Out latest podcast is a hiking and existentialist special with the superb biographer, Sarah Bakewell. So far in series 4, we have also interviewed Alan Moore and Noel Fielding. All 34 episodes are HERE.

I have compiled a new horror anthology with Johnny Mains. It has stories by Stewart Lee, James Acaster, Alice Lowe, Isy Suttie, Josie Long and many more. It is HERE.

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6 Responses to On Nightingales and Hidden Libraries

  1. beestonia says:

    Was great to have you drop in, Robin. Very much look forward to contacting you very soon to share some ideas regarding the library /Nottm City of Lit. Cheers!

  2. acpryke@hotmail.co.uk says:

    Was great to see you last night, with that other bloke at the theatre. Glad you entertained yourself during the day

  3. Naomi Dolby says:

    Where abouts in Nottingham is this place? I haven’t been to have a good wander around Nottingham for some years, but I live relatively close and I love libraries, the older the better!

  4. So pleased you found us and enjoyed your visit. We would love for you to record a Book Shambles here. Get in touch anytime. Geraldine – Events Co-ordinator at Bromley House geraldine.gray@bromleyhouse.org

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