Today is World book Day in Ireland and the UK. I am so excited because today is the day I get to spend time with pupils in Scoil Iosagain chatting about the magic of reading and writing.
In a previous column I hinted at my mad passionate love affair with books and how I have spent whole days in bookshops but my affair with books didn’t start in bookshops.
It started on my mother’s knee or, in my case, hanging on to it (there were seven of us) as her enchanting voice would transport us to another place in time. From a very early age I was hooked. Recently, a cousin of mine uncovered a photograph of a very young me totally lost in the world of Enid Blyton. Her world—full of croquet and ginger ale—was much more exotic than mine so I believed writers did not belong in ordinary every-day life. But after reading some Heaney and MacLaverty a little later—they had a knack of making every day things sound exotic—I tried my hand anyway. When I won my first ever poetry competition on Radio Ulster I thought I had it made, so much so I wrote to Michael Longley and asked him how I could get published. He answered my query with an eloquent note written in his own joined up hand writing. It was short and sweet ─ something about time and metamorphosis and sprouting wings. I had no idea what he was on about so when it didn’t include a list of publishing houses I allowed my dream to fade for a while. Little did I know about metaphors at the time. I was barely nine years old!
Still, scribbled notepads and dog-eared books filled my days. Sunny summers were spent reading among whin bushes and thorn hedges with a bag of Tayto crisps and a bottle of orange squash except for every other Tuesday. That was the day the mobile library van rolled in and set up shop three miles away in my nearest village. With gasping breath and rasping thirst my sisters and I ran and stumbled, tripping over the tuffs of grass growing in the middle of our narrow country road, climbing the steep hills and racing down the other side full of anticipation and fear in case we missed it. From the minute we caught sight of its cream sides we fell silent and climbed up the steel steps into a world of wonder and joy. We never spoke until we stepped down again with an armful of books to face the three-mile walk home with our entertainment for the next fortnight. Pure bliss! The heels must have been cut of me but I don’t remember much about that. I only remember the books, the smell of them, and the unbearable choice of having to pick six out of hundreds of desirable books lining the insides of mobile heaven.
Today I will relive the excitement of youthful reading once again through the eyes of the children in Scoil Iosagain, their eagerness to share their reading and their stories and the magic of books. I can’t wait. I am a bit jealous though. Their school has the most amazing library and they only have to walk across the road to the very charming and child friendly community library, one of many in Inishowen. The thing that really turns me green with envy is the fact they can pick ten and they are open Tuesday to Saturday every week including Wednesday evenings so you can return as often as you like and you can stay as long as you want. They don’t charge rent ─ I can vouch for that.