Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Libraries and Inspiration

One day I wondered what happened to Martyn Godfrey; Google told me he passed away more than fifteen years ago. It was one of those weird, uncomfortable moments the Internet makes possible. I felt surprised, saddened, and irrationally guilty I hadn't found out earlier. I hadn't thought much about him for more than twenty years, but he made a big difference to me as a child.

Some context is needed, for those who may not know who Godfrey was. Martyn Godfrey was born in Birmingham, England in 1949. He moved to Canada at the age of eight, worked as a teacher, and had a successful career writing childrens' books, largely fantasy and science fiction. In 1989, he was the Edmonton Public Library’s writer-in-residence.

Old Strathcona branch of the Edmonton Public Library.
Source: Wikipedia

Godfrey passed away in 2000. He was only fifty-one years old; he would be sixty-six now. He left us tragically young, but he gave joy and inspiration to a great many people. A copy of his eulogy is here.

The eulogy mentions the dedication in Godfrey's book The Last War, and just that dedication line brought a lot of the story back to me. Most of all though, I remember Godfrey not for anything he wrote, but for something he did.


I very clearly remember Godfrey making a visit to my school class in Edmonton. When he was writer-in-residence, I was eleven years old and in sixth grade. I was beginning to grasp that writing books was something people did for a living. Authors weren't just names on the book covers; they were flesh-and-blood people who made up stories and wrote them down.

Now this funny, cool grown-up was sitting in front of us, explaining how he wrote books and fielding questions.

It made a powerful impression on the eleven-year-old me. I vividly remembered this man with a moustache and long, dark curly hair, and I was gratified to learn my memory was accurate:

Martyn Godfrey.
Source: LibraryThing
At the time, I made up my mind to become a professional writer. As things turned out, my day job involves writing software and scientific reports rather than fiction; but I also write for fun, and it gives me enormous pleasure. My blogging, Nanowrimo and other writing efforts owe something to Martyn Godfrey, who made the time to visit his young readers and talk with them. 

I haven't given up on reworking one of my Nanowrimo ideas, or something else, into a manuscript fit for publication. I'm not normally one for New Year's resolutions, but in 2016 I am trying to organise myself better and make more progress on that front. If I ever publish a novel, Godfrey will deserve some credit for that too. He will never know he had such an effect on me, more than a quarter of a century later; but he was an inspiration, and I thank him for it.

I also thank the Edmonton Public Library, which is very much still with us. I haven't lived in Edmonton for many years, but I cannot overstate how important the EPL was in my childhood. I have always been a voracious reader, and the library enabled me to read more, and more widely, than I possibly could have done otherwise. It's not just a place to borrow books, important though that is; supporting projects like a writer-in-residence makes a real difference to the readers.

I'm delighted to see the program is still going, and the 2016 incumbents are taking up their places. I hope they can inspire today's readers in Edmonton as much as Godfrey inspired me. 

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