Every story needs an inspiring setting. For one novel currently being penned at the University, that backdrop is the University’s historic John Rylands Research Institute and Library.
When I first moved to Manchester I was stunned to discover this incredible library with such a surprising history,” remembers Rosie Garland, singer with Leeds post-punk band The March Violets and writer-in-residence at the John Rylands Research Institute and Library.
“It’s always been one of my favourite places in Manchester and the idea that I’m now working in it and writing about it as the Library’s first writer-in- residence is a dream come true.”
Growing up in the south, Rosie’s passion for language was nurtured by happy weekends spent in public libraries. She now considers herself an honorary Mancunian, with a passion for opening up the city and its facilities to everyone. This certainly fits the ethos of the Rylands – a gift from Enriqueta Rylands to the people of Manchester as ‘a library for all’.
“I’m a performance poet as well as a writer and I come from the DIY ethic of punk. When I moved to Manchester in the 1980s, its industrious, ‘can-do, will-do, stuff-you-if-you-say-I-can’t-do’ attitude was a good fit, right from the start,” remembers Rosie.
“I’m interested in the outsider and someone who won’t, or can’t, squeeze into the one-size- fits-all templates on offer and the friction that ensues when they try.”
The story unfolds
In 2009 Rosie was diagnosed with throat cancer and credits The Christie hospital in Manchester and the NHS for nine years all clear. “It’s something which really informs my outlook. Life is short, so do it now,” she says.
The University seems to be a natural place for Rosie to have come to find inspiration – it after all has form when it comes to attracting new and established literary talent.
Since 2007 it has championed contemporary fiction, poetry and creative writing through the Centre for New Writing in the Faculty of Humanities. Famous writers here through the years include Sir Martin Amis, Colm Toibin and Jeanette Winterson, while the University’s Chancellor is the celebrated poet and writer Lemn Sissay.
But it’s by looking a little further back into the University’s past that Rosie hopes to bring her story to life. She’ll be working with researchers from the John Rylands Research Institute and archivists, using the Special Collections as inspiration for her new novel.
She says: “It’s a very different way of responding to our collections and the building itself. The novel I’m currently writing is set within the Library in the 1980s. The leading character is studying for a librarianship diploma and has a summer job working on a catalogue of the collections.
“I’m spending a lot of time uncovering new facets of the Library and I would love to hear from anyone who knows more about what the Library was like during the 1980s. If anyone has photographs or memories of friends or family who worked here, it would be wonderful to hear from them.”
A life of letters
Rosie has an array of published books and literary accolades under her belt, including debut novel The Palace of Curiosities, which won the Mslexia Novel Competition and was published by Harper Collins in 2013, and Vixen, which was a Green Carnation Prize nominee. So what does Rosie have to say to any aspiring wordsmiths out there?
“My previous work spanned a variety of jobs from cleaner to teacher, from helpline volunteer to manager at a national children’s charity. I’ve worked full-time as a writer for the past five years. It was never a plan, dream or even an aim,” she smiles.
“Somebody out there loves your work. Maybe they just haven’t seen it yet.”
Find out more about the John Rylands Research Institute and Library.
Follow Rosie and chat with her on @rosieauthor and on Instagram at @rosiegarlandwriter