Beyond the heavy wooden doors, oaken floor-boards are greyed by age and the walls clad in dark green enamel tiles. Downstairs doors swoosh open like a Tube carriage to reveal locals sat at computer booths along the wall. But I am drawn to the magnificently curving staircase with its stone-flagged steps and wrought-iron balustrade, topped with brass railings worn smooth by a century's hands. It's as generously wide as the idea of the building itself and as I ascend, my boots send out a satisfying ring on stone. This echoing atrium reminds me of all those Victorian libraries, favourite haunts of my childhood, Hogwartian portals to multiple worlds.
Today I am visiting that rare beast, a public library that has survived numerous culls by the Philistine hordes of government. What tugged me back to explore Leicester's Central Library was a rather lovely event staged by librarians there last week, one of a series of Write-On readings which are celebrating local writing. On a rainy Monday evening they welcomed us in to hear readings from Dahlia Publishing's shortfiction anthology, 'Lost and Found'. I was hugely impressed by this series of events showcasing Leicester authors. It's hosted by the Library on a ZERO budget but with lashings of goodwill. A really good turn-out despite the deluge outside and they made us very welcome with tea & biccies at half-time too. They have more readings planned and it's a great initiative for booklovers and writers to be supporting. And now there's an excellent review by literary blogger Emma Lee.
So a week later I am ascending to the realms of Literature, History and Non-Fiction though I find Newspaper collections, Maps and Musical scores here too. This upper floor is wrapped in a warm hush. No 'SSH' signs - just the quiet of minds absorbed in discovery or work. I wander off for a browse and find an excellent section on Writing Craft, next door to a more comprehensive Poetry section than I've seen in any bookshop. They even have a copy of my first book Firebridge to Skyshore which is rather thrilling because in a way it all started here. In libraries where a shelf-lined maze of learning and legend devoured the hours like a Narnia adventure. Installed in a comfy chair, I spend a very happy, productive afternoon, thumbing through chapters and stitching characters for my latest fictional venture. Next week I've promised myself I'll root out my old library card and become a Borrower once more ...
Meantime my current bedtime reading is Neil Gaiman's 'Odd and the Frost-Giants', a perfectly-formed icicle of a book. The hardback features an original children's tale by Gaiman and gorgeous illustrations by Chris Riddell encrust its pages or open picture-windows framed by silvered carvings. Gaiman's language probes the narrative with all the delicacy of that icicle. His hero, a gawky 12 year old boy with a winning smile and broken leg, is named Odd for the 'tip of a blade'. His companions are grumpy Norse gods who've been magicked into a depressive bear, a conceited fox and a monosyllabic eagle. The frost-Giant has eyes 'the colour of lake ice just before it cracks and drops you into freezing water'. Its shaggy mane has the tortured forms of a frozen waterfall I remember from Iceland. His breath is frosty steam for a voice 'like the howl of winter wind'. Beyond this enchantment of place, Gaiman's tale delivers wit, peril, humour, ingenuity and just a smidgen of sadness. It's a book my younger library-immured self would also have adored.