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‘A Huge Part of My Life’: Author of The Flatshare Beth O’Leary On Her Love of Libraries

May 1, 2019

About the author:

Beth O’Leary studied English at university before going into children’s publishing. She lives as close to the countryside as she can get while still being in reach of London, and wrote her first novel, The Flatshare,on her train journey to and from work. She is now writing novels full time, and if she’s not at her desk, you’ll usually find her curled up somewhere with a book, a cup of tea, and several woolly jumpers (whatever the weather).

Buy a copy of The Flatshare here // Read our review of The Flatshare here

Words // Beth O’Leary

I grew up as the youngest of six siblings – our house was full of love and noise and chaos. It was lots of fun, but for an introverted child like me, sometimes it was a little overwhelming. Books were my escape. I would curl up in corners with them, carry them from room to room, balance them open behind the taps as I brushed my teeth. And when I ran out, no problem: I’d just go back to the library.

When I go to the library now, I still get an echo of that pure wonderment I used to feel as a child when I would walk in to seek out my next pile of stories to read. And my current local library is actually the very same library I used to go to when I was young. When I began writing my debut novel, The Flatshare, I had just moved out of London and back to my hometown in Hampshire; I wrote the novel on my hour-long commute each day. One of the first things I did when I settled back at home was to return to the library where I had spent so much time as a child.

The library looks different now – not just because it’s changed in appearance, but because I remember it from the vantage point of a child, so in my head all the bookshelves are much taller! But whatever might have changed, the magic is still there. Any book you like, just take it – all you have to do is bring it back when you’re done. What a wonderful thing. I know I wouldn’t be a writer today if it weren’t for my (very patient) parents taking me over and over again to our local library.

My novel The Flatshare is full of books, too – one of the two main characters, Tiffy, is an editor at a quirky publishing house. At the start of the novel, Tiffy moves in to a flat with a stranger who works nights, so she never sees him, even though they are flatmates. But he gets a clue as to who she is from the books she puts on the shelves; meanwhile she begins to guess how busy he is from how quickly he’s managing to read the copy of The Bell Jar by his side of the bed.

Books always have been and always will be a huge part of my life. I read very eclectically: everything from high fantasy epics to Victorian detective stories to young-adult romance. My house is full to bursting with hardbacks and paperbacks, little Penguin classics and big illustrated editions. But almost always, on the windowsill in the living room, there will be a pile of library books, either waiting to be read or waiting to go back to the library – and on to their next home.

Library and Information Week 20-24 May 2019 is an opportunity for libraries and library users to celebrate the invaluable contribution that libraries make to society. The event is organised each year by the Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA). We’ll be sharing more stories about our love of libraries throughout May. 


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