Biographies from the Basement: April 2022

Our colleague, Claudia is back with her monthly blog post about our special Biographies Collection at Kensington Central Library. Over to Claudia to tell us more –

Display at Kensington Central Library

During April we are having two displays of books from our special Biographies Collection. The first is to complement the wonderful exhibition provided for us by the Pilecki Institute: ‘Passports for Life’. This exhibition tells the fascinating story of The Ładoś Group – Polish diplomats who were involved in a rescue operation to help Jews escape the Nazis during the Holocaust. This exhibition of photographs, original documents and audio-visual displays will be on the ground floor of Kensington Central Library until Tuesday 31 May.

Fourteen Letters by Feliks Topolski

To give an insight into the contribution of Polish Jews to twentieth century culture before the Holocaust, we are displaying biographies of some leading literary, artistic and scientific figures including Sholem Asch, Feliks Topolski, Marie Rambert and Leopold Infeld.

A Day of Pleasure by Isaac Bashevis Singer

The leading figure in Yiddish language literature to date, and winner of the Nobel Prize in 1978, was Warsaw-born Isaac Bashevis Singer. No one documented the Polish-Jewish world with the detail, vigour and beauty that he did, and we have several wonderful books about him, alongside many of his best known novels.

A Contrary Journey with Jill Culiner event

If the history of Jewish life in Eastern Europe interests you, you may also like a forthcoming event on Tuesday 26 April at 6.30pm, when writer and artist Jill Culiner will be discussing her book A Contrary Journey, describing her travels in Ukraine and Romania, in the footsteps of Jewish Enlightenment poet Velvel Zbarzher. This is an online event; you can book your place on Eventbrite.

Display at Kensington Central Library

It is World Book Night on Saturday 23 April, and for our second Biographies Collection display this month we are homing in on some people whose lives revolved around books – but who were not necessarily authors. We have found an array of publishers, literary agents, book sellers, book collectors, editors, translators and general bibliophiles – and, of course, librarians. These bookish lives from throughout history and from around the world can tell us much about how books come into being, and what they mean to those who spend their days looking after them, preserving them and making them available.

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

Shaun Bythell’s memoir of running a second hand book shop in the Scottish town of Wigtown had me laughing out loud. In a dead pan style, Bythell documents the eccentricities of staff and booksellers and the highs and lows of serving a clientele of collectors, aficionados, the indecisive and bemused, the pedantic and demanding, and the endlessly browsing tourist. There is a serious point about the increasing challenge of eking out a living in this field, but Bythell’s caustic humour belies an obvious passion for his trade.

I remember the first time someone I knew ordered an obscure, out of print American book online, and awaited its delivery with excitement. I couldn’t believe that the internet made it possible to track down such books and have them drop through the letterbox. This has become commonplace (though still often very expensive – if it’s biographies you are looking for, don’t forget that our collection contains thousands of out of print and rare titles, including many published overseas).

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

Before such things were dreamed of, Helene Hanff, in her flat in New York City, had no way to acquire the old English literary editions she loved other than to write air mail letters, and in this way she developed a correspondence with the manager of a Charing Cross Road antiquarian bookshop that spanned two decades.

84 Charing Cross Road was an address that became famous when she published her exchange of letters with Frank Doel in 1970 (her book was made into a film starring Anne Bancroft and Anthony Hopkins in 1987). Any booklover who hasn’t already read this classic celebration of friendship and bibliophilia is in for a real treat – the bond that gradually develops between the reserved Doel and the ebullient Hanff is tender and moving, and the insight into post war life in the US and UK is fascinating. The fizzing excitement as Hanff unwraps the parcels containing her yearned-for editions of Austen and Donne, and the quieter but no less profound delight as Doel takes delivery of her grateful gifts of still-rationed treats resonates down the decades and reminds us of the importance of human contact and the ability of books to cement friendships.

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakof

New York City was also the place where Joanna Rakoff, in her early twenties, took up her first job as assistant to a literary agent in 1996. Her memoir My Salinger Year describes learning the ropes of the industry, at the same time as learning, in a whirlwind of coming-of-age insights rendered in lovely and witty prose, who she is and what kind of life she wants to have in the world of books. The title refers to the fact that the agency’s most illustrious client is the giant of American literature J. D. Salinger, by then in his late seventies. Knowing his reputation as an irascible recluse, Rakoff quails at the thought of encountering him – but his kindness and gentleness in their telephone conversations tell a different and irresistible story.

Caribbean Publishing in Britain: A Tribute to Arif Ali by Asher and Martin Hoyle

Arif Ali came to London from Guyana in 1957. In 1966 he began running a green grocer’s shop in Tottenham; because it was one of only a few places where Caribbean produce was available, it became a place where immigrants from the Caribbean would gather, and Ali began importing newspapers from their home islands. In 1970, Ali sold the shop to set up the publishing company Hansib, which became the largest black-run publishing company in Europe. For over 20 years he published three newspapers and two magazines, the most popular of which was the Caribbean Times. In 1997 Ali sold his newspapers to concentrate on books.

Hansib Publications has brought out hundreds of titles, showcasing writers from Britain’s Caribbean, Asian and African communities, and a range of books on the experiences and concerns of these communities. Ali has been an activist on many issues, and his contribution to making black British voices heard in the context of a ‘mainstream’ publishing industry that neglected them, has been immeasurable. We have a wonderful and quite rare book in our collection called Caribbean Publishing in Britain: A Tribute to Arif Ali by Asher and Martin Hoyles, which although it foregrounds Ali, also looks at other publishers who immigrated from the Caribbean and used their books to change and enrich British society.

So Much to Tell by Kaye Webb

Anyone who grew up in the 60s and 70s and enjoyed reading might find the name Kaye Webb rings a bell.  Webb, one of whose first jobs was to answer children’s letters to Mickey Mouse Weekly magazine in the 1930s (she was paid tuppence per response), was editor of Puffin Books, the children’s arm of Penguin, between 1961 and 1979, her name appearing on the flyleaf of many much-loved books.

This is often looked on as a golden age for children’s fiction, and Webb oversaw Puffin editions of classics like Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Clive King’s Stig of the Dump, Penelope Farmer’s Charlotte Sometimes and Rosa Guy’s The Friends as well as obtaining the paperback rights of earlier classics including Mary Poppins and Dr Doolittle.  In 1967 she founded the Puffin Club, whose members (‘Puffineers’) received a fortnightly magazine full of articles by leading children’s authors, and the chance to participate in quizzes and writing competitions, meet-the-author events, and links with other kids who loved reading.  The magazine thrived for over 40 years and at its peak had 200,000 readers, and its graphic design has become iconic.  Webb’s third husband was the artist Ronald Searle, best known for creating St Trinian’s and for illustrating Geoffrey Williams’s Molesworth books. 

A less well known, and still sadly topical episode in Webb’s life is that in 1960 she and Searle (who had survived a Japanese prisoner of war camp) produced Refugees 1960, a report on the situation of refugees 15 years after the end of the war, with text and pictures based on their travels to meet refugees all over Europe at the invitation of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

For those of us lucky enough to work with books, there are many ways that we experience looking after them and sharing them – but the best way to encounter them is still to browse amongst the shelves and find what you most want to curl up with, which might well be a biography to take you straight into another place and time.

Don’t forget our podcast Biography Central (formerly BioEpic), available on Anchor or wherever you get your podcasts. You can hear more about our special Biographies Collection.

Claudia, Kensington Central Library


A world of writers from the Biography Collection

As we look forward to celebrating World Book Night on Tuesday 23 April, this month’s Biography Collection display at Kensington Central Library brings together biographies of great twentieth century writers in languages other than English. There are a couple of exceptions, such as Han Suyin who wrote in English but whose autobiographical works are considered some of the greatest records of modern Chinese history and Wole Soyinka whose Anglophone work is pivotal to African literature.

Including many winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature, this is a parade of some of world literature’s greatest voices, some of whom waited many years to be translated into English. Some are household names, some less well known outside their own continents; all open worlds of artistic beauty and cultural insight, and their biographies allow us to follow the experiences of how great writers develop in very different cultures and environments.

In a departure from our usual displays, which include only books from our Biography Collection, we have this month included some of the fiction by these writers alongside their biographies and memoirs, in the hope readers will discover some less familiar gems.  From Chile’s Isabel Allende to Austria’s Stefan Zweig, including Finland’s Tove Jansson (better known as an artist, her exquisite short stories were not available in English until decades after she wrote them); India’s Rabindranath Tagore, Egypt’s Naguib Mahfouz, Japan’s Junichuro Tanizaki, Isaac Bashevis Singer who brought his native Yiddish from Poland to the US and became the custodian of a vanished culture and many, many more, discover a world of writers on our shelves.

Happy World Book night from us to you all, happy reading!

Claudia, Kensington Central Library

Interview with author Sarah Matthias – part III

We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place later today (Monday 23 April), which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website

Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – this is the second part and the third and final part will follow next Monday. You can catch up with the first and second part here

We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…

A Berlin Love Song is about a travelling circus.  What’s so alluring about circuses?

I love the circus. I’ve always found it romantic although I’m a great animal lover and I’m very glad we don’t use performing animals any more. Research into the circus in Germany was one of the most enjoyable parts of my research for the book. It was light relief from the Auschwitz research and what it was like to be bombed and how it felt to be in a tank during a horrific battle. There was so much I had to read that was upsetting, so learning about how to fly the trapeze and ride horses bareback was something of a relief. I actually watched the most amazing film about the Flying Codonas called Swing High that you can see on You Tube so I have actually seen Alfredo Codona perform his triple somersault. I also saw him perform it in the film Vaudeville where the Codonas were doubles for the actors. I watched this particular sequence over and over again when I was trying to describe what it looked like and what it felt like to be up in the dome of the Wintergaten Theatre in Berlin about to swing out over the audience below. I also thoroughly enjoyed researching Fredy Knie, the owner of the Swiss Circus where my characters find employment during the war. His circus really did appear at the Wintergarten during the winter of 1942/43 when the Wintergarten was bombed. He really was in his twenties at the time and one of the most famous horse trainers in Europe. He had a reputation for kindness to animals and that’s why he got on so well with Lili and her family. I hope I’ve done his blessed memory justice in my fictitious portrayal of him.

The Flying Codonas

When I was a girl I loved the song: Gypsies Tramps and Thieves by Cher. I used to lie in bed at night listening to it on my record player and imagining the life of a travelling show. If you look at the beginning of the chapter in A Berlin Love Song called Circus Petalo you might hear strains of this great song:

I was born in the wagon of a travellin’ show

My momma used to dance for the money they’d throw

Papa would do whatever he could
Preach a little gospel
Sell a couple bottles of doctor good

Gypsies, tramps and thieves
We’d hear it from the people of the town
They’d call us gypsies, tramps and thieves
But every night all the men would come around
And lay their money down …

 My chapter entitled Circus Petalo begins: I was born in a wagon in the middle of a show, amid the smell of canvas and sawdust, greasepaint and cheap perfume …

What were the hardest aspects of creating this book? What were the most satisfying?

The hardest thing about creating this book was the amount of really gruelling research I had to do – research that kept me awake at nights and sometimes made me despair of human nature. Man’s inhumanity to man and what seemingly ‘normal’ people are capable of doing to each other is always horrifying and sometimes I felt I couldn’t read another word about the subject. My visit to Auschwitz was harrowing, especially as I had by that time read so much about the camp that my imagination was running riot.

Then when I started writing, I had the very difficult task of how to express this horror and suffering in a story that on the one hand shone a light on this ghastly subject but was also uplifting and hopeful. Because during my research into the Holocaust I also came across so many stories of heroism, true selflessness and hope in that darkest of times, that I felt I wanted to share with my readers. Working out how to combine together the two aspects of this heartbreaking time in a narrative, without belittling the one and over-romanticizing the other, was a real challenge for me. I hope I’ve succeeded. I hope it not only raises awareness about a topic I feel has often been overlooked, the Romani Genocide, but also expresses my own world view – that it is and has to be possible to find hope, wonder and love in the midst of despair, degradation and hatred.

The most satisfying and enjoyable parts of writing this book were possibly recreating the folk Romani tales. I read lots of wonderful Romani folk tales but none of them seemed to fit exactly into my story so I set about using authentic ones but amalgamating and rewriting them for my own story. I didn’t feel bad about this because the nature of folk tales is that people pass them on with their own embellishments for their own reasons. Folk tales often reflect the concerns of a particular people at a particular time and so mine, whilst firmly rooted in the Romani tradition, have my own stamp on them.  I really loved writing them. I also very much enjoyed writing the dialogue, particularly amongst the Hartmann children. I suppose as a mother of 4 young adults myself I have listened to countless family ‘disagreements’! I know how young people talk to each other and how merciless they can sometimes be in their teasing of each other – sometimes cruel. Writers usually have to use their imagination to create unknown worlds but I didn’t have to look much further than my own kitchen table for a rich source of dialogue for the Hartmann children!

We hope you enjoyed our interview with Sarah, and hope to see you at the event this evening. Do book a place – it’s free- via the link at the top.

Interview with author Sarah Matthias – part II

We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place next Monday 23 April, which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website

Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – this is the second part and the third and final part will follow next Monday. You can catch up with the first part here

We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…

How did you go about doing your historical research?

I’m meticulous about historical research. I try to be as historically accurate as I can. I’m very aware that sometimes a novel might be the only literature a reader will read about a subject, so I feel I have a certain obligation not to mislead. Of course, you can always say that a novelist isn’t a history teacher and if the reader wants to know about history they should read a history book – but I know lots of people who enjoy historical novels who wouldn’t read non-fiction.

I try to do as much research as I can. It helps me to create that ‘authentic voice’ that is so important to me. There are lots of excellent diaries and contemporaneous accounts written by Germans. I also read German newspapers from the time to see what was being reported and what sort of propaganda was out there. In addition to diaries and memoirs there is a mountain of black and white photographs and newsreel to watch, so finding out about clothes and how the streets of Berlin looked, for example, was not a problem. Sadly, there are also many pitiful photographs of Auschwitz. I visited Auschwitz more than once to see it for myself, but there are plenty of contemporaneous photographs too. Through this research, I was able to piece together in my own mind what Auschwitz must have looked like. When I was researching the Romanies I read as many accounts as I could find by Romanies who had been in Auschwitz and managed to escape or survive there to the end of the war. There are not many of these, but those I found I read avidly. I also bought a book when I was visiting Auschwitz – part of a series called Voices of Memory. It’s full of accounts by Romanies of what it was like to be incarcerated there.

I always go about my research in the same way. I start by simply reading. I read and read around the subject and as I do the plot begins to form in my imagination. I read serious history books about the period and memoirs written by real characters from the past. Gradually my characters start to emerge from the mist and then I create ‘character boards’ – A3 pieces of card with photographs and little bits of imagined dialogue, descriptions of how my characters might look, what they might have worn, and what their personalities might be like. I write reams of notes from books about all sorts of subjects which might or might not be relevant in the end. I have big A4 notebooks I buy from Rymans divided up with coloured dividers and I label each section. So for example, for A Berlin Love Song, I had sections entitled: Hitler Youth, the Hartmann family home, Air Raids, Music, Propaganda, Religion etc.  I had a separate A4 note book for the war years, each year 1939 – 1945 having its own section. I then researched weather for every day of every year of the war. You can obtain weather reports for years gone by. The internet is wonderful! So, every day in my story has the correct weather and for the bombings the correct phases of the moon, and every bomb mentioned was dropped at the right time in the correct weather conditions. When writing about the bombing of Berlin, I listened to a really harrowing recording I found on YouTube of an Allied bombing raid, actually recorded in the cockpit of a Lancaster bomber as it flew from England to drop its bombs over Berlin. I found it terrifying, chilling, nauseating … words can’t describe how I felt as I listened to it. War is so terrible. It affected me for days.

Some of the accounts you must have read in order to illustrate what the characters in the book went through in the prison camps must have been very difficult to read.  How did you cope with this?

It was very difficult. Sometimes I felt so sickened by what I read that I felt I couldn’t carry on with the research, especially when I came to the detailed research about Auschwitz. I suppose the way I coped with it was always to try to find the good people amidst the despair and horror of it all – the Jewish prisoner doctors who worked tirelessly to help their fellow prisoners and the few SS who tried to help people get on the transports out of the camp. Alongside the many accounts of inhumanity and degradation that I read, there were many stories of bravery and selflessness to counterbalance the despair that I sometimes felt. I tried to concentrate on the uplifting and nourishing stories of people who risked their lives to protect others, rather than on the stories of inhumanity. Many, many people collaborated with the Nazis, but there were also many in Germany who actively assisted victims by purchasing food for households to whom shops were closed, providing false identity papers for those at risk of arrest, and sheltering those who evaded capture. I hope that A Berlin Love Song ends with a message of hope.

Nazi Propaganda posters encouraging young people to join the Hitler Youth

Did you have the opportunity to speak with members of Hitler Youth and Romani survivors?

My father had a close friend, Pastor Knott, a German Lutheran pastor who he met after the war. My father got to know him when they were working together in Coventry on a post-war reconciliation project. Pastor Knott had been forced to join the Hitler Youth as a boy. His family were anti-Nazi but it was the law in Germany at that time that you had to join up. Your parents could be sent to concentration camps if you didn’t and children who didn’t join could be sent to orphanages. Pastor Knott spoke a lot about this when I was younger and I remember him well. When I was writing A Berlin Love Song I wished he’d still been alive for me to ask questions, but I did find a wonderful TV programme online about the HY and there were lots of old men talking about life in the HY, so I listened carefully to their interviews and took notes, and some of my dialogue and descriptions were inspired by these interviews.

I also read all the first-hand accounts of the war by Romanies that I could find, but I couldn’t find any living ones to speak to. The problem is that people who were teenagers in the war are now very old or will have already died. Also, I’d have needed to find them in Germany and I couldn’t manage that. However, I did find about 4 hours of recorded interviews with Dina Gottliebova, the Czech Jewish artist who worked in the Zigeunerlager – the Gypsy Family camp in Auschwitz. She was forced to paint portraits of the Roma for Dr Mengele for his book on genetic research. She was an old lady in the recordings but she spoke so vividly about her memories of the Roma and the Romanies she had known and painted that they came alive in my imagination. She was the most amazing, lovely, generous hearted woman, and the relationship she had with Lili in the novel was inspired by these interviews that I watched.

I also knew two Auschwitz survivors very well indeed. The mother of my best friend at university was a Polish Catholic intellectual who’d been in the Resistance and had come to England after the war. She was terribly badly affected by her experiences in Auschwitz. She suffered from serious depression for the rest of her life.  Our next-door neighbours when I was a child growing up had also experienced life in a concentration camp. They were German Jewish refugees and Mr Adler had been in Auschwitz too. They were great friends of my parents. He was a very skilled dentist. It had a profound effect on me as a child – seeing a proud professional man with his own business cry when he talked about his experiences during the war.

We’ll be back next Monday with part III, and please do book your free place for our event with Sarah, link at the top.

Interview with author Sarah Matthias – part I

We are very lucky to be hosting an event later this month with author, Sarah Matthias. This will take place on Monday 23 April, which happens to be World Book Night, at Brompton Library. For more information about the event and how to book, visit our website

Sarah has very kindly answered some of our questions about her book, ‘A Berlin Love Song’ and we will publish her responses in three parts – the first part is today and the second and third will follow on the next two Mondays. We hope you enjoy them, so over to Sarah…

The fate of the Romani people in WW2 has been called the ‘forgotten holocaust’. Why do you think it’s important that we don’t forget what happened to them?

Many people have little or no knowledge that the Roma were targeted by the Nazi regime on racial grounds and that up to half a million Roma died during the Second World War.  Despite the welcome opening of the beautiful memorial in Berlin’s Tiergarten Park by Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, in 2013, today the Romani community remains one of the most disliked and least tolerated minorities in Europe. And alarmingly, anti-Romani hostility is on the increase, aggravated by growing far-right extremism. The Roma are still scapegoats, frequently victims of prejudice and racially motivated attacks, hate speech and hate crime, and facing discrimination in nearly every country where they live. I believe that now more than ever we must stand up against prejudice and hatred when we see them in our own communities. The Holocaust all happened a long time ago, and yet millions of men, women and children have been murdered since in genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. In today’s world, racial abuse and hate crime is still very much in the news so it is more important than ever, as the people who witnessed the Holocaust during WW2 are growing older and dying, to keep the memory alive of what can happen when prejudice and hatred are left unchallenged.

Roma in a WW2 concentration camp

A Berlin Love Song also reflects on what happened to normal German families at the time and the difficulties they faced. Was it important to include this perspective?

Since A Berlin Love Song is set entirely in Germany and about Germans, I felt it was essential to make sure that the story was told exclusively from the German point of view. I was very careful not to read anything about the home front in England to make sure that my characters had an authentic German feel. There is so much written about the home front in England that it would have been very easy for me to rely on those sorts of books, but I was very careful not to be tempted. It wasn’t too difficult as there are lots of diaries and memoirs written by Germans who lived through the war years and many of them are published in translation. I have schoolgirl German but I was very relieved I could read most of them in English. I did have to tangle with a couple of books in German that I couldn’t find in translation and it was very time consuming. I was also very careful to try to write without the benefit of hindsight. The challenge of writing historical fiction is that the characters cannot know what happens next even though the writer does, and you need to bear this in mind when you are writing, so that events from the war years feel contemporary and authentic, and that conversations and people’s reactions to events feel right for the time.

We’ll be back next Monday with part II, and please do book your free place for our event with Sarah, link at the top.

World Book Night success!

World Book Night at Kensington Central library was a really special event as, for the first time, this year it fell on a day when we would normally close at 5pm but the lending library stayed open until 8pm.

Not only were the regular lending services available thanks to our staff members Mandy, Lynn and Nina but we celebrated with free tea, coffee and finger food, free special edition World Book Night books to give away and a fascinating talk by author and musician Max Décharné.

Max Decharne at the Central Library
Max Decharne at the Central Library

He talked about his latest book Capital Crimes: Seven Centuries of London Life and Murder to an enthusiastic audience, some of whom went on to buy signed copies from our partners, Waterstones. The feedback from the public was great, two people came from Maida Vale especially for it, other people said it was a really interesting talk and someone else was extremely grateful for the free books! Max, the author, was impressed with the questions after his talk and very complimentary about the look of the Central library.

Max Decharne at the Central Library
Max Decharne at the Central Library

Thanks are also due to our staff members Mzu and Wendy for their help setting up, meeting and greeting and clearing up afterwards and also to Wendy for her World Book Night bunting which finally found its place indoors!

World Book Night at the Central Library
World Book Night at the Central Library

Join us for a night of books…and Max Décharné

The next best thing to reading a wonderful book is introducing it to someone else- and next Wednesday (23rd April) is World Book Night, the perfect opportunity not only for readers but also for non-readers to discover and explore more about books and reading.

World Book Night


World Book Night sees passionate volunteers give hundreds of thousands of books away in their communities to share their love of reading with people who, for whatever reason, don’t read for pleasure or own books. 

In the UK 35% of people don’t regularly read despite reading for pleasure being a globally recognised indicator in a huge range of social issues from poverty to mental health.

World Book Night is about giving books and encouraging those who have lost the love of reading – or are yet to gain it – to pick up a book and read. Line by line, paragraph by paragraph until they too have discovered the power of reading and the opportunities in life that reading can open the door to.

We’ll be celebrating World Book Night at Kensington Central Library with extra late opening hours and a special guest: author Max Décharné.

Max Decharne

 Max Décharné is an author, journalist and rock’n’roll musician probably best known for being the drummer for Gallon Drunk (who toured with Morrissey). His writing career has included short stories, journalism, songwriting, books on hipster slang and cinema. The latter two were an opportunity for Décharné to watch his favourite films and indulge his passion for pulp fiction novels from the 1950s and 1960s. He has written for magazines such Mojo and Bizarre, even writing on his North American tour with Gallon Drunk in the former. He was the last man to interview John Peel before he died (Peel and Décharné were mutual admirers).

Max’s latest book, Capital Crimes: seven centuries of London life and murder tells the shifting story of crime and punishment in London through vivid re-creations of a series of murders that stretches from the killing of Roger Legett, a notorious ‘questmonger’, during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381, through to the hanging of Styllou Christofi in 1954. These lives and fates have much to tell us – about London’s changing underworld, about the slow evolution of policing in the capital, and about the sometimes strange workings of the law. Illustrated throughout with contemporary engravings and photographs, this is an essential read for all devotees of London – and of crime.

Capital Crimes
Capital Crimes

  For more information about this event, please click here– we hope to see you on the night!

The Brompton Blog – May 2013

Brompton Library
Brompton Library

Hello and welcome to the May edition of the Brompton Library blog. A recap for those new to us – we are located just 7 minutes walk from Earl’s Court tube station, our medium-sized library caters for a wide variety of people and offers many learning resources:

  • Wide selection of books including fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, children’s and young adult
  • Language courses
  • Audio-books and large-print titles
  • Newspapers and magazines
  • Travel guides and Ordnance Survey maps
  • Computers with scanning and printing facilities
  • Free wi-fi
  • Colour photocopier
  • Digital library
  • Children’s story-time and singing sessions
  • Fortnightly coffee mornings (age 50+)

  If you would like to join the library all you need is some identification with proof of UK address. The membership process takes only five minutes and once you are registered you will have access to all of our libraries across the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.

 In addition to all of these resources there are a multitude of events and groups that meet on the first floor. Our meeting room can be hired for public and corporate events and there is also a separate learning space that features a projector with screen, ten desktop computer terminals, a scanner and colour photocopier.

Here are some of the groups and activities that meet here:

  • Tai-Chi and pilates classes
  • Job seeking support and advice club for those with learning difficulties
  • Reading groups for adults and children
  • Councillor surgeries
  • ESOL classes
  • Bibliotherapy sessions
  • Housing advice sessions
  • IT for beginners classes

 There’s more  information about our meeting room on our website.

 Go outside!

'Go Outside' book display
‘Go Outside’ book display

Customer Services Assistant, artist, musician and Norwich City supporter David Bushell has created a display of books to inspire people to get outdoors and become involved in activities.

Katie’s Corner

Brompton Library’s reading group read ‘The Sense of an Ending’ by Julian Barnes for their May meeting.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

It is about a man called Tony who is left a mysterious bequest by an ex-girlfriend’s mother. This leads him back into the days of his adolescence and university life, of four boys hanging out together, one of whom was Adrian, a dazzlingly brilliant person, destined for greatness. As Tony digs deeper into his past he uncovers more and more about the ‘missing years’ and how that compares to his rather conventional life.

Having read this book for the second time I was keen to know what the others thought about it. My first impression of Tony was that he was a rather chinless, useless character who set out to achieve great things but had quite a banal life. Reading it on the second occasion offered me the chance to change my opinion about him; I actually felt more sympathy for Tony this time round. One reader really felt that the behaviour of the young men at school and university only furnished her view that men were the cause of most of the world’s problems, so misguided and dreadful they were. Most really loathed Veronica (one of Tony’s girlfriends) and her very snobbish family, whose dad and brother did their best to make him feel uncomfortable.

What we all agreed upon was that the book started out like something from ‘The History Boys’ by Alan Bennett but then became absorbed with the Tony in later life and this slow build-up to a real bombshell, you could feel it from the few clues that were scattered about for Tony that it was going to be BIG.

I absolutely loved this book – there is a kind of philosophy running through it – and it makes you ponder – how we all view historical events and who said what can be completely blown out of the water. We are all imperfect and therefore history must be too.

Katie Collis
Katie Collis

Katie Collis

Senior Customer Service Assistant

World Book Night 2013

World Book Night books on display at Brompton Library
World Book Night books on display at Brompton Library

World Book Night is a celebration of reading and books which sees tens of thousands of passionate volunteers gift specially chosen and printed books in their communities to share their love of reading. World Book Night is celebrated on 23 April. In 2013 it was celebrated in the UK, Ireland and the USA.

 Before rushing up to Kensington Central Library on World Book Night, as a book-giver I had 20 copies of Rose Tremain’s The Road Home to distribute to  readers at Brompton Library.  I decided to try to give them to our customers who primarily use the library’s computers. 

At the end of the day there were only 2 copies left! And I gave these last copies to two of the teachers who came in with their classes the next day.

World Book Night is a good cause and it was great fun being involved with it.

Premier League Reading Stars

Premier League Reading Stars logo
Premier League Reading Stars logo

Premier League Reading Stars (PLRS) is a partnership between the National Literacy Trust and the Premier League to support hundreds of schools and libraries during 2012 and 2013.

At the beginning of the month, Rob Symmons from Chelsea Library and I finally played host to the first “fixture” in a season of ten PLRS sessions. A local school has selected 9 pupils who they have judged will benefit from this football-themed scheme to improve their literacy skills. It was with much trepidation that we approached this project, neither of us having had any previous experience of delivering what is really a lesson to a bunch of nine year olds but, of course, it turned out to be fine. Rob and I are on a steep learning curve but, at the end of the day, we were over the moon – no yellow cards and lots of goals!

Stephanie Webb
Stephanie Webb

Stephanie Webb

Lending Librarian

Bookstart Bear Club

Bookstart Bear Club logo
Bookstart Bear Club logo

At one of our Saturday Storyland sessions this month Senior Customer Services Assistant, Katie and Customer Services Assistant, Rahima introduced the Bookstart Bear Club.

They gave out membership packs which include a booklet to collect bear paw stamps for each of the children who visit the library for story or rhyme times. For each six stamps collected the children get a certificate.

They read bear stories to the children including ‘This is the Bear’ by Sarah Hayes and ‘Copycat Bear’ by Ellie Sandall.

Our colouring pictures were from the Bookstart website, and the children made a picture by sticking on balloon shapes with the bear.

Bookstart balloon picture
Bookstart balloon picture

There will be another story and craft session on Thursday 30 May at 10.30am; we are continuing the bear theme using ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’.



This month the theme was spies and thrillers and true to its name it was packed with thrilling espionage activities. There were code making and code breaking puzzles, ideas for spy disguises and how to tell ‘goodie’ from a ‘baddie’.

 We discussed loads of books on this theme. There was a competition on drawing a spy gadget and the best gadget which won was the DNA matching revolver. The children were very enthusiastic and it was wonderful sharing their innovative ideas.

The children also enjoyed chatting about their favourite spies and there was no confusion in choosing Mr Bond unanimously.

Our next meeting is on Monday 10 June and the theme will be comics and humour.

 Babita Sinha and Ioanna Misdrakou

World Book Night at Kensington Central Library

World Book Night 2013
World Book Night 2013

Tuesday 23 April 2013 was World Book Night. We told you about  in a previous World Book Night post how we’ll be celebrating and which books some of our staff will be giving away.

Over to one of our Tri-Borough Stock Librarians, Sally Connew-Volpe to tell us what happened on the night and to share some of the photos taken at Kensington Central Library.

Choosing books and enjoying cakes!
Choosing books and enjoying cakes!

Booklovers of all ages and sizes were on hand to celebrate World Book Night on Tuesday 23 April by giving away a range of books to all. A London cab packed with over 500 books traversed the area stopping at Shepherd’s Bush Library, Kensington Central Library, and Paddington Library where books were given away.

Some very happy readers with their new books.
Some very happy readers with their new books

The special World Book Night taxi outside Kensington Central Library
The special World Book Night taxi outside Kensington Central Library

Sally Connew-Volpe
Sally Connew-Volpe

Sally- Connew Volpe

Tri- Brough Stock Librarian

World Book Night 2013

World Book Night 2013
World Book Night 2013

World Book Night 2013

Have you heard about World Book Night? It’s a celebration of books and reading and the people behind the initiative are passionate about books, bookshops and libraries but above all else about encouraging everyone to read.

They recruit  volunteers to help spread a love of reading in communities across the country. Each one of 20,000 volunteers gives twenty copies of one of twenty books which World Book Night has hand-picked and specially produced to people who don’t regularly read to encourage them to do so. Volunteer givers collect the specially printed copies of their books from their local bookshop or library. World Book Night is free to participate in for all.

There’s more information detail about World Book Night  and what they do on the World Book Night website.

World Book Night and Kensington and Chelsea Libraries

To celebrate World Book Night on 23 April 2013, there will be a special London black taxi at Kensington Central Library at 6pm. It’ll be stuffed full of World Book Night books that we want to give away. There will also be refreshments and a surprise special guest so do come along if you can.

Some of our staff applied to be one of the 20,000 book givers so over to them to tell us which books they chose and why….

A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich

A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich
A Little History of the World by E.H. Gombrich

It’s the third year running that I’ve been fortunate enough to have successfully applied to be a World Book Night giver and this time I’ve chosen a children’s book (but one that can be enjoyed by adults too!).

It’s the classic bestselling history of the world – Erst Gombrich’s “A Little History of the World” which has been translated into 25 different languages!  It covers the story of mankind from the Stone Age to the atomic bomb.

Previously I have elected to give out my books to a bus load of half-marathoners on their way to the Silverstone half-marathon, sat in a local pub, and given them out to my choir, Goldsmiths Choral Union – this time I’ve chosen to give out the copies at Canberra Primary School. Hammersmith and Fulham Libraries has worked with this school before on various projects and English is very much the minority language there.

Elin Jones
Elin Jones

Elin Jones

Tri- Brough Stock Librarian

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

When I saw the World Book Night list for this year I immediately knew which book I’d like to give away if I was lucky enough to be chosen as a giver – ‘Noughts and Crosses’ by Malorie Blackman.

A few years ago I was given a list of novels for young adults to read for a course I was studying. ‘Noughts and Crosses’ was on this list and it just blew me away. I don’t want to give too much away (and spoil it for those of you that haven’t read it) Sephy is a Cross – a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a nought – a ‘colourless’ member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood but that’s as far as it can go.

I plan to give my twenty copies away to friends, family and neighbours and I hope they enjoy it as much as I did. Another great thing about this book is if they do enjoy it – it’s the first of a series so plenty for them to read!

Jodie Green, Lending Librarian
Jodie Green

Jodie Green

Lending Librarian

Why be happy when you can be normal by Jeanette Winterson

Why be happy when you could be normal? by Jeanette Winterson
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson brilliantly describes her nightmare childhood in the north of England with a matter of factness and humour that made me wince and laugh out loud, sometimes simultaneously!

I chose to give this book out on World Book Night as it is an amazing read and I have really enjoyed the author’s other books. I hope it will encourage people to try her other titles.

Sally Connew-Volpe
Sally Connew-Volpe

Sally- Connew Volpe

Tri- Brough Stock Librarian

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

The reason I chose this book to give away on World Book Night is because when I read it I finished it very quickly – I just couldn’t put it down. I thought this mesmerising story of love and secrets, horror and compassion would be the ideal book to give away on World Book Night – the story is so engaging and the pages fly by.

Andy Norton
Andy Norton

Andy Norton

Tri- Brough Stock Librarian