where the writers are
A place to 'be'
Gina and myself Nov '09

I’ve found it surprising to realise how ‘noisy’ and chaotic most of my life has been. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, however it’s been interesting for me to look back at my life and see that even as a child I always sought ways to find a place just to ‘be’, no distractions, no chaos; just me, my thoughts and I.

From around the age of nine or ten I used to spend a fair amount of time at the library in Acocks Green, Birmingham. For me, the transition that I felt as I stepped into the hushed reverence of the library from the busy roads and nearby shopping centre was almost magical. The library was my sanctuary and over the years, if I needed solace, this is where I could be found.

I would sit there, sometimes all day, and read random snippets of almost anything. The Encylopaedia Britannica was a favourite. I would just get a random volume, open it at any point and start reading. I remember picking out books on everything from fantasy, war, athletics, christianity, the occult, philosophy, films, postage stamps from around the world, history (medieval, Victorian, European, etc, etc.), vampires, biology, technology, health, space exploration, travel, languages, myths and legends, etc.

Although the number of books I would go through were immense, I’m not well read at all. I rarely read entire books and didn’t even borrow books to take home, well, not often anyway. I was not an academic by nature, nor was I a great student. I was (and still am) just fascinated with almost everything.

When I was 11 years old and received my first bus pass, I started to visit Birmingham Central Library, the largest of it’s kind in Europe. I spent endless hours in the reference sections, not realising that my soul mate, Gina, was probably there at exactly the same time reading books too. To a degree I also felt that same sense of belonging at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, but always felt I needed to ‘move along’. Perhaps the presence of security people does that. Even if I were alone in a room of exhibits, I would still feel like I was being shooed along by a guard. Hah! I don’t know.

Gina used to frequently visit the Museum and Art Gallery with her Grandfather, so again, we would have been there at the same time many times before we met in 1986.

For some reason, I find it funny, perhaps even a little ironic, that environments such as libraries, museums and galleries that are so peaceful, are filled with items that fire our imaginations, drive furious debates, inspire us to react passionately, whether that be in a good or bad way, coax us to examine and dissect what we read or see, or drive us to discover more and more. I wouldn’t want it any other way, of course, but the thought still puts a smile on my face.

Now, all these years later, thanks to Gina, our home is a wonderful mix of these institutions that we love so much. A beautiful blend of library, museum, art gallery and the warmth of a home, all set within the walls of a Victorian mansion. She has filled this place with history, knowledge, art, poetry and love. It truly inspires a feeling of peace and safety, and is the backdrop for almost endless conversations, laughter or passionate debates when Gina is not focused on her writing. She has made our home a truer reflection of our hearts and minds than I could ever have even imagined and I am very grateful for it.

I find peace in many ways; meditation, being close to nature, watching Gina sleep, reading, etc, but being with Gina in our home brings me the greatest peace of all.

It's where we can just 'be'.

27 Comment count
Comment Bubble Tip

The Pleasure and Peaace of Sanctuary

Fascinating report of the perpetual self-educated seeking student. Makes me wonder what would happen if we put all children in such environments, called it a school, and gave them the freedom to explore what they wanted to learn. Or maybe just make sure such sanctuaries are added to the planned structured curriculum.

Comment Bubble Tip

The Montessori method

Hi Sue,

I always appreciate it when you take the time to read and post on my blogs. Thank you.

Your suggestion jogged my memory and there is an educational method that is very much based on natural development of children called the Montessori method. Taking a quote from the Montessori website, this is how they describe it:

"Montessori is not a system for training children in academic studies; nor is it a label to be put on educational materials. It is a revolutionary method of observing and supporting the natural development of children. Montessori educational practice helps children develop creativity, problem solving, critical thinking and time-management skills, to contribute to society and the environment, and to become fulfilled persons in their particular time and place on Earth. The basis of Montessori practice in the classroom is respected individual choice of research and work, and uninterrupted concentration rather than group lessons led by an adult. Group lessons are seldom found in a Montessori classroom, but learning abounds."

(Source http://www.montessori.edu/)

I have never met anyone who is or was educated using this practice but a close and trusted friend of ours spoke very highly of the Montessori way.

Reading through the ideas of this practice, it's a fascinating concept. As a matter of fact, there's a Montessori school just half a mile from our home, the first I have ever seen in my life. :)

Comment Bubble Tip

Such a beautiful story =)

Such a beautiful story =) I'm speechless.

Comment Bubble Tip

Hi Stephanie

Aww, I'm speechless at your response. I'm glad you enjoyed my post. I hope you are having a lovely weekend. :)

Comment Bubble Tip

there is a certain kind of peace in solitude . . .

. . . that can't be matched. Like you, I have also found books (and the people in them) to be excellent company in my very necessary periods of solitude. It's also great when you find a living, breathing person with whom you can feel peaceful!

Comment Bubble Tip

Hi Evie!

I never thought I'd find someone to share that peace with, I'm very grateful for it.

Books are my friends and I couldn't agree more about what excellent company they, and the people in them, make!

When we first came to Weston-super-Mare, we spent quite a bit of time in the archives of our local library. Gina wanted to research the area and went through every newspaper available on microfiche that was from the 19th century. The earliest one we read was from 1846 (I think) and they were amazing and very, very funny sometimes too. Let's just say that hey people of Weston have always had their fair share of colourful characters. :) 

Thanks for stopping by, Evie. I always appreciate it. :) Hope all is well with you.

Comment Bubble Tip

Mmm... libraries...

Books and libraries have always been peaceful places for me too. And your descriptions make me want to go there immediately!


Comment Bubble Tip

Hi Miriam

They are fabulous places, aren't they?

I love everything about them. The echoing sounds of footsteps, the whispering as people try to maintain the quiet, the smell of all those books, the light that is always a bit different as the books swallow up the light, the look of all of those wonderful tomes on the shelves. LOVE LIBRARIES!!

Comment Bubble Tip

Ryoma, your home sounds like

Ryoma, your home sounds like a wonderful place that you do not take for granted, that feeds you with its love and peace and I can feel the warmth from your words. As for libraries, it is good to know that there are still some that abide by the code of silence. I was in a library here in Galway recently and found the noise level to be way out of bounds, so much so that I left feeling regret and resentment for what once was a sanctuary of peace. best, m

Comment Bubble Tip


Thanks for your lovely response, Mary.

Your comment about silence brought back a memory of a visit I made to Leamington Spa library, when we lived there many years ago. I was reading in their reference section, sitting at a table of around 15 people. All of us were concentrating on our books, when one of the librarians came into the room with a young woman who was obviously asking for assistance. The librarian was so loud that it was unbelievable! He would have been heard clearly in the middle of a rock concert, talk about shouting. He wasn't even saying anything aggressive, it was just the usual commentary about the type of books the young lady was looking for, availability, how he could get certain titles through the system for her, etc.

That poor young woman next to him was so red with embarrassment that you could have toasted a muffin on her face. She looked like she wanted to run, screaming with arms flailing in the air. Everyone in the room looked athe librarian with shock and disgust but he didn't care. Wild.

Comment Bubble Tip

Interesting. I think that

Interesting. I think that many people have lost the lust for silence and peace, have become so distracted by the hectic, loud, chaotic world that exists now. It is good to read about yours, about your appreciation for what is lost for far so many in the human world at least!

Comment Bubble Tip

I think it's possible that

I think it's possible that most people do want silence and peace, but don't know how to achieve it or maintain it. The other problem is that it only tales one person to be loud or intrusive to shatter the status quo, much like the mad librarian at Leamington.

There are some great blogs this week on the subject of peace. I've only read a few of them but it's fabulous to see the various interpretations and opinions. Wonderful.

Comment Bubble Tip

Ryoma, I love libraries too

I love libraries too and it's interesting how they each have their own personalities.

I so loved reading your beautiful post. Your writing carried me away and left me feeling filled with such warmth.

Comment Bubble Tip

Hi Rebbecca

Thanks for stopping by to read and post. We really hope you are alright.

No surprise to us when you write that you love libraries, and yes, their personalities are all so different. Thank you for your kind words about the blog. I look forward to bumping into you on RR again soon.

All the best to you! 

Comment Bubble Tip

Peaceful Journey

Hello Ryoma,

A beautifully written and peaceful journey you have lived: "A beautiful blend of library, museum, art gallery and the warmth of a home, all set within the walls of a Victorian mansion"

May all of your senses continue to be filled with the richness of peace and your depth of wisdom for the love of reading, writing, and art - And of course with Gina!

As you have filled our senses as well:-)

Thank you Very much for your beautiful essay: " A place to "be" I truly enjoyed and resonated with your peacefulness, too.

And I love how your title fits so "perfectly!"


Catherine Nagle

Comment Bubble Tip

Dear Catherine

Thank you for posting such a lovely message. I am glad that you enjoyed this blog. I take very little credit for how wonderful our home is. Gina's creativity, love and warmth fill every inch of this home, and it shows. I am very, very lucky.

Comment Bubble Tip

Library Peace

This is so much akin to what I just said in my interview with Starbase 66, that I am surprised, not surprised, delighted and charmed to find such a companionable parallel in your vivid portrayal of library (and other) romance. I don't know if you know about a book called Reading Rooms - I mentioned it in the interview (though I couldn't remember the author - shame on me) and subsequently heard from a number of people that they had ordered it. It is out of print but well worth the pursuit. Reading Rooms (by Susan Allen Toth!) is a compendium of essays, excerpts, vignettes, snippets of what writers (and readers) have had to say about libraries over the decades. My favourite is an excerpt from the book Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown, in the Betsy, Tacy and Tib children's series by Maud Hart Lovelace. This depiction of a child's first encounter with a solitary pursuit and the understanding of her parents, who orchestrated it because they took her writing and her individual personhood seriously, never fails to move me. But there are hundreds of people's encounters with libraries and I cannot imagine that anyone on the Red Room would not find resonance in it. In any case, this is a lovely post. Thank you.

Comment Bubble Tip

betsy, tacy, and tib!!!!

I loved these books to pieces as a kid!  I own them all now, though I initially read library copies, checked out over and over and over...  Somehow, they don't come up often when people are reminiscing about childhood -- perhaps because they're dated in a certain way (though no more so that the *Anne of Green Gables* books)?  It's a pleasure to be reminded of them...

Peace (as if the whole world was a library).

Comment Bubble Tip

There's a club for both of you

Harrison and Evie, I want to draw your attention to a Red Room club for all of us who know the value of books like these.

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

Comment Bubble Tip


And good to "see" you, Huntington!

Comment Bubble Tip

Me too!

I have two sets! One from childhood and one new-ish. I firmly believe in the literary value of children's books (quite apart from the fact that I just love them!) and often incorporate this philosophy in my writing. In Felicity and Barbara Pym ( an epistolary novel for lack of a better classification - a series of nonfiction letters to a fictional student) which comes out next May, I write this piece:

"...You can tell a lot about a nation by reading what it writes for its own children. Along that line try Noel Streatfield, Milne of course, M. Nesbit, C. S. Lewis, and of course P.L. Travers—think of Mary Poppins’ values!
It may seem unnecessary, but it is not. There is an unconscious cultural code in these books that upholds certain standards, believes in certain values, and incorporates certain attitudes and prejudices of the time—sometimes blatant, more often than not extremely subtle. They teach the young the subtext of their language..."

In any case, that is not why I loved Betsy, Tacy and Tib. But it is why I see their value in adult life.

Thank you for this note, Evie.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Comment Bubble Tip

Hi Harrison

It's a pleasure to meet you here. Thanks for your lovely responses and thanks for the link to your interview which I'll listen to later, I'm intrigued! I have a new book to look up now! Fabulous, and the fact that Evie is so enthusiastic about it too (Hi Evie <waves!>) makes me want to look into this even more.

Your posts are very much appreciated and I look forward to following your blogs from now on. :)

See you around on Red Room!

P.S. Making a note to myself - Find Klingon dictionary and old Star Trek books from study. 

Comment Bubble Tip

Hi Huntington.

Thanks for the link to the YA Club. I confess, the clubs are an area of the wonderful Red Room that I have not explored properly yet! Your link has reminded me to remedy that, urgently! Thank you. :)

Comment Bubble Tip


Thanks Harrington - Am barely managing to squeeze in new Facebook and LinkedIn, Americymru, NAWE, AWWE, ALSC 85 Broads, Welsh Academi, friends and groups between the books, PhD, articles, family, university applications, NCIS Board duties and all those things one has to do when moving back from Wales to America, but I promise I will check out that one club! Hope your unpronounceable but delicious sounding dish is a mega hit at the Thanksgiving table! Thanks for being such an attentive manager/director/host!

Comment Bubble Tip

Thank you, Ryoma!

You won't need the dictionary! I'm really pleased I looked into the "blogging" phenomenon. Still not sure I understand it. Writers write, they don't "blog" to my way of thinking - so I was never interested in this activity. But it turns out to be writing after all - and what writers one meets! What ideas, what experience. That is, I must say due to the standards maintained by the Red Room. (Thanks again, H!) I don't see this level of writing and thought on other sites I have happened upon or been urged by students or friends to "check out."

I am very pleased to have stumbled across this amazing library peace post and look forward to a deeper acquaintance with your work. I am also pleased beyond description to have met someone else whose relationship with his spouse is as extraordinarily joyous as mine is with mine. A very happy Thanksgiving to you - and to everyone on the Red Room.

Signing off for the holiday ~


Comment Bubble Tip

High standards

Red Room certainly maintains a standard that I personally have not found anywhere else on the web. Gina, my art historian and novelist wife, suggested I try it around 3 years ago but it wasn't until she joined Red Room last year that I took an interest. I only joined to keep her company on Red Room and now I am totally addicted to it! Hehehe.

I wanted to look at the Klingon dictionary because seeing the link to your interview reminded me of working with a fabulous manufacturing team near Cardiff for two years. Many of them were fellow Star Trek fans and I was allowed, for the only time in my career, to 'shoot' people with a phaser if they were late for meetings. When I left the company, they gave me a bundle of Star Trek goodies which I still treasure today.

See you around on the Red Room.

Comment Bubble Tip


Good memories. I actually am signing off now, but just a quick note to say that if you do like Star Trek, then you may be interested in my husband's interview on the same site. It's his show. He was head of Desilu, later bought by Paramount (of which he then became head) and was Executive in Charge of Production of Star Trek, Mission Impossible, and many other shows before he moved on to MGM. Just fyi.

Good evening to you, your lovely wife et al!