Thursday, 8 December 2011

Upwards and onwards

Trespassing into the lofty heights of the University Library is a new adventure for me.  After climbing the steps in the shadow of this industrial behemoth, the revolving doors do not welcome me. Trapped in my little glass segment I push hard on the brass bar and slowly force myself through this portal to another world.

It’s taken several hundred years to give university assistant staff the same borrowing rights as academics, so here I am, making the most of my newfound privileges. But I’m just borrowing time and space and peace and quiet to think, write, edit, re-read and tweak. I’m replacing the noise and distractions of home with young whippersnappers half my age but with twice my IQ. I’m feeling older by the minute.

The map the kind librarian has given me of this vast building and its treasures is useless to me; as a maplexic it just adds to my sense of disorientation as I take random turns and find myself amongst darkened book-stacks and come across pale, earnest students surrounded by ancient tomes. I skulk around, hoping no-one will ask what I am researching or what I am ‘reading’ or, more likely at my age, ask me what I’m lecturing. It’s all so far from the truth. It wouldn’t be so bad if mine were a literary pursuit, but trash fiction? I’m blushing already. A story perhaps more suited to the library’s fondly named ‘tower of porn’ where no visitors are allowed. The tower that stands tall and proud and makes its presence known in many views across this University City.

Eventually I find the reading room, its high windows offering glimpses of the sky, and that tower.  It takes a while to find my perfect place, to settle in and to stop bristling when people come within sight of my Work in Progress.  But, after the fidgeting and settling, my mind is finally free to relax and focus on the job in hand. The odd sniffle, the shrugging off of a coat, the movement of a chair, the rustle of paper and the gentle tap-tapping of keyboards become companionable sounds of endeavour.

It is my first visit, but strangely this is where my story began to take shape several years ago. It is where my research first led me to a book called Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexican Earthquake[1]. My partner, who has borrowing rights for life as an MPhil, was dispatched to get the book out on loan for me. It was its first ever outing. It is a book which left its mark on me and which has hopefully filtered subtly through to my protagonist’s elusive father whose life was derailed when he was caught up in the 1985 earthquake.

120,000 words later, this is where I have come to finish what I started. Or maybe it will never be finished. THE END has been written but that was many edits ago. Maybe I’ll still be here in thirty years time; that mad old woman with the tangled mass of curly grey hair, always sitting in the same corner, scowling at anyone who comes near, muttering under my breath about f**ing agents who don’t know talent when they see it.

[1] Poniatowska, Elena, 1995, Nothing, Nobody: The Voices of the Mexican Earthquake, Temple University Press

Photo of University Library by Nick-in-exsilio


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