Me and my library;Interview;Francine Stock

23rd July 1999 at 01:00
I've spent a great deal of time in libraries lately doing research for my novel, A Foreign Country, which has just been published. I went back to Oxford where I was a student many years ago, and to the British Library and the Public Record Office.

It was strange going back and using the beautiful Taylorian library 20 years on. When I was a student, I have to say I used my little desk there mainly for daydreaming and, more importantly, as a vantage point from which to gaze at all the young men coming in.

There is always an extraordinary element of discovery in libraries, especially when a book is brought out for you which may not have been looked at for years. It feels almost as if it has been kept for you.

When I was a kid, I used to go to the local library in Bramley, near Guildford, with my Dad every Saturday morning. He was a voracious reader. He liked thrillers, and I worked my way through everything in the children's section quite early on. They didn't have a terribly good selection at the time, but I used to get out a biography or two, tales of stoical women who had done wonderful things.

Now I'm repeating the habit with my own children - Rebecca who is nearly eight, and Eleanor, nearly five. The elder one is a very keen reader, and our local library in Roehampton has a surprisingly large children's section, although it is quite a small building in the shadow of a huge council block.

The best thing about the Roehampton library is that the staff are enormously helpful. If you are on the lookout for something they haven't got, they will find it for you wherever it is in the borough, for 79p a shot. I'm a great evangelist for libraries. I think they are fantastically good value.

I do buy books for my children, but the elder one can easily get through a book in a day-and-a-half - it took her 10 days to read the whole of the Narnia stories - and at that rate it would be impractical to buy them all.

We're in the library every week. There is a computer in the children's section and they also have cassettes. In the holidays they have readings.

My children love going there. You'd think with television and video and all the other distractions maybe they would be less interested in libraries, but they are always very excited about going. At the end of the day, to read a good old fashioned book is what they most want to do.

Francine Stock is a regular presenter of Radio 4's daily arts programme, 'Front Row'. She was talking to Pamela Coleman.

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