Writing can be a lonely old business, with little cause for celebration – especially for us self-published authors – so when I found out that the first of November was National Author Day, I thought it was time to do something about that. But what, you ask?
Since moving to Leeds I’ve been very aware that the British Library has a facility thirty minutes down the road from me, in Boston Spa. It’s where they keep the national archive, the collection of everything published in the UK which each publisher is required to add to whenever they put anything into print (more on the Legal Deposit scheme later).
It’s where I sent Dexter & Sinister when it came out, and, being a library, it is open to the public, meaning I could go visit my little book baby in person. So I did, but not without seeing if anyone else wanted to come with me first.
Now, unsurprisingly, giving people just a month’s notice of an event in one of the lesser-known parts of the world on a weekday during a pandemic, the response was modest, but I did manage to rustle up a few willing participants. Sadly, thanks to said pandemic, that number dwindled on the day to just myself and one other, a chap called Mark Weaver. Still, not to be deterred, I set out that Monday morning in full steampunk get-up to go visit my little book baby in person.
It’s strange to think that most people don’t know about the Legal Deposit scheme. If it’s published in the UK, be it book, newspaper, or magazine, the publisher has a legal responsibility to send a copy to the British Library to be stored for future generations. Many people also don’t realise that if you use Amazon KDP, Smashwords, etc., then YOU are the publisher, and it is YOUR responsibility to send in your own work. Amazon may print the books, but you’re the one publishing them.
What the Legal Deposit scheme means is that the British Library holds a copy of literally everything. Every book you’ve ever read, if it was printed in the UK, should be somewhere in their archives. And that meant that not only could I visit my own little opus, but I could visit something by an author that inspired me as well. And so I did.
Can you guess which of the books below was my bonus prize?
Before going to the library I reached out to David Clayforth, who runs the Reading Rooms there, to see if he could help arrange things for what I thought at the time would be a much larger group (always plan for the best!). David came through wonderfully, sorting out a room within the Reading Rooms for us to use, checking that we would all be able to get reading passes for the event, and, most importantly, arranging for the books we required to be available. I cannot thank him enough for his help in this.
David also arranged for us to meet with Angie Jude, who runs the Legal Deposit scheme. Angie was very generous in discussing the scheme with us, how it works, what it’s for, and how important it is not just now, but for the future as well.
This is Mark and I meeting with David and Angie. Authors on the left, librarians on the right.
We also got to learn a lot about the library itself. How the site is where it is because it’s at a mid-way point between Scotland and the south of England, how it was a munitions factory during the war, and how it is entirely staffed by inmates from a nearby prison (okay, that last one isn’t true, although that is was a group of foreign dignitaries thought when they came to visit apparently, lol).
After Mark got to hand over his latest novel in person (quite possibly a first for Angie, as Legal Deposit Manager),
we then got to spend some time with our little book babies.
It will come as no surprise to anyone who knows me that I chose to say hello to The Colour Of Magic. Terry Pratchett has been such a strong influence on me it’s safe to say that, without him, and his Discworld novels, I wouldn’t have come as far as I have. I often tell people that Richard Stark (Donald Westlake) is the author that showed me how I write, but Terry Pratchett is the one who showed me how I wanted to write, so to be able to pay tribute to that by holding a copy of the book that started it all, and sticking it next to my own published first novel (possibly the one and only time it will happen) was quite special.
Anyway, after visiting with our respective novels, Mark and I parted ways. It was lovely to meet him, and chat books and writing and all that. To share stories and insights, and yes even to moan a little about things, lol. Hopefully next year we can organise something even bigger and better, with more participants, and more aspects for everyone to enjoy.
It’s probably no (cosmic) coincidence that National Author Day is on the same day NaNoWriMo begins. Maybe we can do something in connection with that, bringing together the past and the future. Or possibly we can have some kind of Legal Deposit Amnesty, where authors who have forgotten their Legal Deposit obligations can hand over their novels without fear of arrest from the Library Police. There are so many possibilities!
So, if you’re an author, and you want to be involved next year, follow me on Twitter to be the first to know when National Author Day 2 comes around. And if not, follow me anyway. Who knows, you might like it. 😉