Saturday, August 27, 2011

In which I discover a literary paradise in Perth & Kinross...

I haven't blogged for a while as I've been busy settling into my new home and adjusting to life back in the UK after an absence of 10 years, which takes more time than you would imagine. ("Why are we queuing?" asked the resident techie as we waited for the Perth bus. "We're waiting for the bus," I said. "No," she said, looking perplexed, "Why are we QUEUING?" "Er...that's what they do in Britain. You're not allowed to just trample the weak and defenceless...")
Up until now I have been so busy with move-related bureaucracy, school uniform lists, etc that I have not really felt moved to blog. Today, however, I visited a place so fabulously wonderful that I just have to mention it: the Innerpeffray Library.
There's a super tourist information office in my new home town, and I had noticed leaflets about the library. It's the oldest lending library in Britain (the world, for all I know), having been founded in 1680. I had glanced at the leaflet a few times and seen a photo of the building, and I suppose I had idly assumed that it would be situated on a high street and with a modern library tacked onto it. Ah no, dear reader. It is much more interesting than that!
I decided to go and see it today for the simple reason that everyone else had gone out. My husband was helping with a bush craft course and had taken the children with him. For the first time since arriving in Scotland I had a day home alone, so I thought I would drive over to Innerpeffray and take a peek at the library.
The first surprise was that the turning to the library (though well sign-posted) is single-tracked and somewhat desolate-looking, running past some delapidated buildings on one side and fields on the other. It eventually comes out at a small car-park next to a stone-built house. The path to the library and also to the adjoining Innerpeffray chapel is grassed-over and little of those buildings can be seen from the car-park. When I turned off the engine there was no sound other than the bleating of sheep in the next field. The location felt very remote; certainly there was no high street, no modern buildings.
I followed the signs to the library, leaving the chapel for later. The library is reached through a nondescript doorway behind the chapel. There is a flight of stairs and then you pass through a doorway into the first and biggest of two rooms, lined with glass-fronted wooden cabinets full of antiquarian books, some of them dating back to the 1600s. Now, here is the thing which amazed me: you are allowed to read all the books. Even the ones which are four hundred years old. Generally I am used to yearning hopelessly after antiquarian books which have been laid out under glass, so that you can (infuriatingly) only peruse the pages that the exhibitor has chosen to show. You can imagine therefore how thrilled I was when admiring a copy of King James' Daemonologie (1616), to have the librarian ask me whether I would like her to take it out of the case so that I could look at it!
I also looked at a seventeenth century atlas and picked out my former German home town "M√ľnster Eiffel" (now Bad M√ľnstereifel), and browsed a German encyclopaedia which included an interesting entry on the interpretation of dreams. (Apparently if you dream that your house has fallen down, your wife will die; and if you have no wife, a member of your household will die....)
The second and smaller room houses newer books, though since the library ceased lending in the 1960s even the "newer" ones are now pretty old. There are treasures here too: Kate Douglas Wiggin's entertaining Penelope's Experiences in Scotland, and H.Rider Haggard's Cleopatra, which opens with a peculiarly grisly discovery.
I could easily have spent the entire day in the library! As it was, I stayed until it closed for lunch and have promised myself that I will go back with a notebook so that I can jot down excerpts from some of the most interesting volumes. It's a fascinating place and most definitely worth a visit if you are ever in Perthshire and love old books as much as I do.

You can visit the library's website here: and follow the library on Twitter at @Innerpeffray.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Upcoming signing event

On Saturday 6th August I shall be signing copies of my latest book Wish Me Dead at Waterstone's in Perth (that's Perth in Scotland, not Perth in Australia...much to my daughter's disappointment, as she's mad about platypuses and there aren't any in Perth and Kinross). I'll be there from 12 until 2pm and I'd love to see you if you're in the area. Come and buy your signed copy, or come and chat, or simply come and tell me you guessed who the murderer was in the first chapter of the last book if you like...