The Magpie’s Library is my most personal book to date. Although I never found a magical library I did, like Silva, always check wardrobes in case one of them led to Narnia. While growing up, I longed to escape to the fantastic worlds in my books.
So it felt natural to place a fantastic world in the everyday landscape of my childhood; Hayling Island. I lived there from the age of 3 until I left home at 18. Hayling is a small island attached to the south coast of England by a half-mile long bridge. It is home to about 17,000 people.
Hayling is bit of an oddity. It’s obscure enough that most Brits haven’t heard of it, and it came 26th in a best selling list of Britain’s crap towns. But it once had an iron age shrine and a Roman temple. The churchyard near my parents’ homes has the oldest yew tree in the country, and the grave of a Russian princess. It also has a funfair, beaches, many retirement homes, and of course, a library.
Hayling Library is next door to my primary school, and across the road from my middle school. I used to turn somersaults on the bar outside, and sit and read on the wooden train in the children’s section. I remember poring over encyclopaedias there for homework research and being far too competitive about summer reading programs.
The ridiculously stony beach is where I went to swim in the summer and be alone in the winter. A lot of Islanders did that, but there were conveniently enough beaches that it was possible to avoid running into the other people who wanted to be alone.
Funlands, Hayling’s funfair, has rollercoasters and twisters, waltzers and dodgems, but like Ollie, Silva’s brother in The Magpie’s Library, the main attraction there for me was the arcade, one of several on Hayling, with all its bright flashing lights and video games.
I’ve tweaked Hayling a bit, for example, moving the long-closed Havant Cinema to the island. But I’ve tried to stay true to the real place where most of my UK family live today (you know, apart from the magical magpie bit).
Many of my friends who were all desperate to leave the island in their teens have since moved back. We joke that they put a homing chip in our brains, and it activates in your 30s. So far, I’ve resisted the temptation to return, but I don’t get to visit Hayling as much as I want and I often miss it. So I did enjoy sitting at my desk in Canada and writing about the island that will always be home to me.