If literary creation has a sound, it is silence, with only the soft, rhythmic disruption of a page being turned or a note being scratched out or some helter-skelter typing. That is the noise-scape one encounters at the London Library, discreetly set on St James’s Square, whose members have included Eliot (George and TS), Darwin and Dickens, as well as current pen-men Sir Tom Stoppard, Sebastian Faulks and Ian McEwan.
With a million books on open shelves which you can borrow, the London Library has engendered and encouraged literary creativity for over 170 years. It does, of course, come at a price — £445 per year — which for writers just starting out, who have to survive in London, can be too much.
The London Library is not unaware of this, which is why it started its Carlyle membership scheme. Named after the library’s founder, the scheme normally covers 30 per cent, but sometimes up to 60 per cent, of a year’s membership for up to three years. For those who are seriously pursuing a literary career on slender means, it can be crucial. Recipients include young journo-novelists as well as people who have come to writing late in life. The London Library can fund a certain number, but small contributions from donors can allow more people access.
Emmanuella Dekonor is a Ghanaian-Londoner who holds an MA in creative writing from Birkbeck University and an MBA from City of London University. Her novella The Sleepover was long-listed for the Paris Literary Prize in February 2011.
‘I was made redundant from my paid job in February last year, and being a single parent I regarded full membership of the London Library as out of my reach and was happy to do my writing in noisy cafes,’ she says. But after she received a Carlyle membership, ‘Almost overnight, I discovered a world that is comfortable and quiet, where writing is taken seriously and where I have easy access to as much research material as I will ever need for my current project. And of course, without the need to make one cup of coffee last for hours, I have found that I am much more productive than before.’
How You Can Help:
£800 will allow an emerging writer to enjoy three years’ access to the library, developing his or her work and benefiting from the connections that London Library membership brings.