Here at Manchester Libraries we’re working as hard as ever (but from our kitchen tables!) to keep our wonderful book loving borrowers happy and fulfilled. We know how popular author sessions are so we’ve racked our brains about how we can maintain these virtually.

Welcome to the next edition of ‘Library Locals’. An occasional chat with our favourite Manchester based authors about their writing process, which books they have turned to during lockdown and what they love about Manchester!

Today we welcome Robert Williams, author of one of our favourite debut novels ever, ‘Luke and Jon’.

Robert Williams grew up in Clitheroe, Lancashire. His first novel, Luke and Jon, won a Betty Trask Award and was called ‘a hugely impressive debut’ in the Daily Telegraph. His second novel, How the Trouble Started, was shortlisted for the Portico Prize for Fiction. Into the Trees is his latest. His books have been translated into ten languages.

Robert has spoken at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and Berlin International Book Festival amongst others.

He has played in various bands to various levels of disinterest.

Hi Robert, thanks so much for talking to us today. So, how are you? and how has lockdown affected your writing?

We are homeschooling our six year old so like many people I’ve had to fit my work around that. But I’m lucky in that I still get a few hours a day. I thought at the beginning my focus might be shot but it’s been good to have another world to disappear into. Since social distancing came into play you certainly notice the tactile elements of anything you are writing: Oh my god he touched her shoulder.

How has Greater Manchester influenced your writing?

My books are set a little further north in a fictionalised version of the Ribble Valley and the Trough of Bowland. But on a practical level I was working at Waterstones on Deansgate when I started writing. Members of successful bands and published authors had worked at the shop, some still did, and it helped me realise that it was possible. Manchester is good for that. People do things.

What are you reading during lockdown….any recommendations?

I’ve struggled a little, a few books have been abandoned. But I went back to one of my favourites, The Last Night at The Red Lobster by Stewart O’Nan, and that seemed to unlock things. Since then some Anne Tyler, a few of Raymond Carver’s short stories and Nathan Filer’s This Book Will Change Your Mind About Mental Health.

I’m looking forward to reading Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout. Although she’s so good, operating on such another level, it can make you question your own worth.

What can our readers look forward to from you?

I’m just finishing the first draft of my fourth novel. It’s taken a while to get here.

Now I just need to gather the courage and read it to see what I’ve been writing for the last few years…

Oh, and in the last few months I’ve written 30 songs after not writing a song for nearly ten years. But I can’t imagine anyone will be hearing any of those any time soon.

What do libraries mean to you?

Both of my parents were librarians and half of my childhood was spent in the library. I was very lucky that if I wanted a book and the library was closed my dad would unlock it for me. Since then I’ve worked for the library service myself and done many book events in libraries. And since becoming parents we’ve attended lots of brilliant book and craft events at libraries, rhyme times, done the summer reading challenges. As you can imagine they mean quite a lot. The staff, the buildings, the stock — we need to protect them.

Any pearls of lockdown wisdom to share with our borrowers?

I have no pearls of wisdom. I can’t make sense of the world. Maybe ration the news and social media. Well done everyone for getting through the day.

What’s your preference – eBook or paperback?

Paperback. Paperback over hardback too. Paperbacks, paperbacks, paperbacks.

Most importantly! Lockdown hair! Are you growing, colouring or cropping?

It was a mess before, it’s certainly a mess now. I did comb it in week 3.

Thanks so much Robert for supporting Manchester Libraries. We can’t wait to hear more about your 4th novel!

If this has tempted you to read Robert’s novels you can reserve them here and ‘click and collect’ them from your nearest library. We’ve just ordered more copies of ‘Luke and Jon’ that will be in stock very soon!