What I'm Borrowing: Tabitha Bird
What I’m Borrowing is a blog series exploring our affection for libraries, loans, and sharing great reads. Each post we ask a Queensland writer and reader to tell us about their recent lending-loves.
This month we welcome author and artist Tabitha Bird who lives in the small country town of Boonah where her books are set. Tabitha’s debut novel, A Lifetime of Impossible Days, won the 2020 Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year Award. Her latest novel, The Emporium of Imagination, is due out with Penguin Books on 30 March.
Tell us about the last thing you borrowed from the library. How did you discover it? Did you return it on time?
My local library sits quietly at the end of Main Street in rural Boonah, Queensland. For my family, it is full of hearty laughs watching my children stick crepe-paper to cardboard cuts outs at craft times, and oohs and ahhs when local wildlife has popped in for special visits. Though I don’t think I’ve ever quite recovered from the baby croc that nearly got away when I tried to hold it, my boys and I know that our library is the home of all things magical.
Many drafts of my first book were written there from the comfort of the over-sized couches while my then-young children fell headlong into the picture book section. Later, we discovered that Boonah Library also lends out audio books for both adults and children, which meant my sons were never again found sleeping at bedtime. Instead they mastered the art of pretending to sleep while they actually had earbuds in their ears happily listening to audio books. Honestly, I couldn’t be prouder.
I’d like to say that we all return our various borrowed items on time, but sadly a boy’s bedroom is a strange vortex where socks never match, and things go missing. Eventually these books turn up!
My favourite item to borrow from our library is five minutes peace. Well, not really. But I have enjoyed many borrowed magazines over a cup of tea and a jam drop bickie, which is nearly the same thing.
Do you remember your first library card? Can you describe the library you visited as a child?
My mother was convinced that buying books for me as a child was an expensive exercise as I "read them too fast". In order to stem the financial book-buying tide, she performed an enchantment of the most special kind and introduced me to the local library.
The Redlands Library presented me with my first library card and then Mum let me loose among the books. So many books! And you could take them home! I could hardly believe my luck.
I remember sitting on the window seat looking out onto the street and thinking that all those people passing by were missing out. Didn’t they know that there were books in here? That you could climb inside these pages and go anywhere you wanted? What were they doing with their lives?
From that moment on, I was an avid library user who consumed books by torch light from the comfort of my tent-blanket that I created under my bed. My chihuahua and I spent many happy moments tucked up together having adventures in Faraway Trees and flying through the skies on Wishing Chairs. I read stories to my little dog and she snacked on my cheese and crackers. Thanks to the library, we’d found our place in the world.
What other items are you, and people in your house, borrowing right now?
I discovered that my library has a secret room out the back also known as the archives section. I have fallen down many an old-time rabbit hole while poring over newspaper articles. Thanks to adverts in these papers I learnt that there was a time in Boonah’s history when you could dial the number 6 or 2 and you’d be connected to the hardware or local department store. Imagine having one-digit phone numbers!
I also met George and Margaret (not their real names) and other lovely souls who have told me many-a-tale while sifting through archives. This all proved no end of fun while researching the 1960s time period for my debut novel, A Lifetime of Impossible Days.
I still pop into that secret back room as often as I can to lose myself in times gone by. And of course, I always hope to run into someone who has a yarn to tell. All the better if the story is unbelievable and wonderfully embellished.
Thinking about your own bookshelf, what is your favourite book to lend out from home?
Many things call my bookshelf home. A wooden rabbit guards the red books – don’t ask me why, I’ve long forgotten.
Then there’s the rambunctious fiction section with its quirky characters, which I love to push into my friends’ hands. “You haven’t read A Man Called Ove? What about The Night Circus? How are you still living? Here, take them!”
I also keep numerous rotary phones perched on top of the magical realism section and old typewriters on my shelves. I have just finished my new book about a vintage store called The Emporium of Imagination and it seems much of the shop’s inventory has moved into my home. My bookshelf has become quite the talking point.
About Tabitha Bird
Tabitha Bird grew up in a bayside suburb of Queensland, Australia, where she hid in a ratty garden and told stories to ferns and weeds alike. Story gave her something to hope in that was bigger than she was and a way to comfort both herself and her little sister.
Eventually, Tabitha did unexpected things like get older and teach primary school in Hong Kong and the USA. There she read stories to children like their lives depended on it and, to this day, she is quite sure that lives do depend on stories and stories on lives.
Together with her family, Tabitha moved to Boonah in rural Australia in 2012. Set among the people and places she now calls home, A Lifetime of Impossible Days is a work of magical realism and literary fiction, and was published in Australia, New Zealand and Italy in 2019. It went on to win The Courier-Mail People’s Choice Queensland Book of the Year Award in 2020.
Tabitha’s second novel, The Emporium of Imagination is also heavily dusted with magic and is due out on 30 March 2021.