Questions are asked and answered

There is a meme going around, as I’m sure you’ll have noticed, where bloggers interview one another, and end up giving really quite interesting (or in my case, really quite long) answers.  I think the beauty of this meme is in the nature of who is doing the interviewing.  It’s not people that the bloggers know in their day to day life, who would most likely be fishing for particular bits of information that they already know.  It’s also not people completely disconnected from them, who would end up asking entirely generic questions.  These are people who know their interviewees through the blogosphere, a curious form of social interaction which is simultaneously very open and very reserved, as each word can be chosen, pondered and held back.  All of us leave a whole number of gaps in the narrative of our lives as we blog away, and many of the questions and answers I’ve seen have been filling in some of these gaps, which the blog authors may have been entirely unaware of.

So the meme has been floating around, and I’ve seen it whiz through the periphery of  both the comics blogosphere and the theatre blogosphere, and now it has entered the realm of the blogs that I read more regularly.  I finally decided to be brave and ask for some questions following the questions that Aphra posed to Reed.  Reed, or possibly her ever-present Editor, posed five questions, and warned me that they “are all prompted by the fact I am a NOSY woman”.   As a result, this is probably one of my longest posts ever.  If you really don’t want to know about the real Singing Librarian, look away now and come back in a few days when I start wittering about something less personal.

1. You are clearly a devout Christian. Were you raised in the faith you now profess, or did you discover it as you became an adult? And what appeals to you in particular about the branch of Christian faith you chose to follow?

I was indeed raised in the Christian faith, but I can pinpoint the exact time that I made a decision to follow it, some fourteen years ago.  I heard the message of the gospel for what surely must have been the umptyumpth time, but it all fell in to place on that particular day.  My parents, thankfully, never forced me to go to church or participate in any expression of faith more extreme than closing my eyes as they said grace before meals.  I certainly rejected most of the other things they did on a regular basis (Dad was particularly disappointed that I didn’t really enjoy fishing at all).  It seems God is the only thing that stuck.

I’m not sure that I follow any particular branch of the Christian faith, though I am definitely Protestant rather than Catholic as I really don’t get the whole Mary thing.  I spent most of my youth belonging to a Baptist church, then on first arrival in Canterbury I attended an Anglican church for just under two years and am now a member of an Evangelical church.  If I ever move away from here, my decision about which church to attend in my new town would not really depend on the particular denominations of the churches around.  What I want/need/expect from a church is good Bible teaching, worship that doesn’t make me feel like I’m in a musical set in an asylum, a warm welcome and supportive people.  That may well be asking for the moon on a stick, I know, but it’s what I look for.  One of the things about Canterbury that I like is that the various churches work well together and aren’t in competition with each other (well, apart from the football and cricket leagues, which are fiercely contested).  I do like it when Christian communities actually follow the teachings of Jesus – in this case the whole loving one another as He loved us thing.

2. You are clearly a talented all-singing all-dancing owl (*). At what age did you realise you could ‘do’ music, and how much encouragement or discouragement do you feel you have received from friends and family?

My first memory of doing music was in the school choir in middle school (do middle schools still exist?), so I’d have been reasonably young, around 8 or 9 years old.  We did everything in unison, so part singing came as quite a shock later on in life, and is something I still struggle with.  I was told at the time that I had a lovely voice, and carried on singing in middle school and secondary school choir until my voice began to break, causing the usual adolescent male panic about singing for a few years.  So it wasn’t until sixth form that I got back in to it, auditioning for the school musicals (Grease and Cabaret) and doing reasonably well. 

After that, I came to Canterbury, and had intended to keep the singing up.  But it was not to be.  I went along to the University choir for one session and never came back.  It was the whole part singing thing.  It seemed to the excessively nervous me that everyone else there could read music and sing in parts with no trouble at all, whereas I had no training and could (and still can) only read music very slowly, working out one note at a time.  I would sometimes sing with the music group of the Christian Union, but that was it for another three years until a friend from said CU persuaded me to audition for the University’s annual opera, which she had enjoyed the previous year, telling me I was wasting my voice.  I auditioned, got in to the tenor chorus and never really looked back from there.  So my singing activities have stalled twice thus far, and I have realised at 8, 17 and 21 that music is something I can do.

I get an awful lot of encouragement from friends, and even more from my colleagues.  One of the friends that I’ve just bought a house with absolutely hates the very idea of musical theatre, but has come along to three of the shows I’ve done, which is very selfless of him.  My colleagues come out in droves, which amuses my fellow performers, who always wonder which night will be ‘Librarian Night’.  Between them and certain people at church, I seem to be developing a reasonable collection of Singing Librarian groupies.  Family, on the other hand are a mixed bag.  So far, only my grandparents, mum, dad, sister and brother-in-law have ever seen me perform.  I have a small collection of uncles, aunts and cousins, but they maintain only a vague interest in my activities, which is fair enough as they live hundreds of miles away.  My sister got very excited when I got my first principal role as an adult, and can be seen beaming in the theatre bar after performances.  My mum thinks I can do absolutely anything I put my mind to, and displays typical motherly blind adoration which makes me the best thing on stage no matter what I do.  She takes it personally if I’m in a smaller role than she thinks I deserve. 

Dad is always surprised by what I achieve on stage, and merits a new paragraph.  When I did Die Fledermaus, there were various solo lines in the chorus numbers that were not assigned to individuals until a a week or so before the actual run of the show, as they depended largely on where people were on stage.  At church on the day after the final performance, the pastor asked me whether I’d had one of the solo lines, and Dad jumped in for me saying ‘oh, his voice wouldn’t have carried over the orchestra’, which was, if we’re using euphemisms, intriguing (if we’re not, it was hurtful).  We had a tiny chorus and no amplification, so we all had to have audible voices, particularly for the gorgeous ‘Brüderlein’ number which goes into goodness knows how many parts.  A few years later when I did Me and My Girl, he said afterwards to anyone who’d listen ‘oh, we always knew he could act, but we had no idea he could sing like that!’  Kiss Me, Kate then produced a similar reaction with regard to my dancing ability and also dispelled any doubts about just how loud my singing voice can be when I put my mind to it.  I suspect he comes to each performance worrying that I may have bitten off more than I can chew, which is often a thought going through my head as I wait for the overture to start.

Friends, colleagues and family all encourage me to do more shows, even if they only attend a selection of them.  ‘Are you rehearsing for anything at the moment?’ is probably the most common question anyone asks me after the inevitable ‘How are you?’ and ‘Isn’t the weather awful?’  I am lucky to get so much support for my musical and theatrical endeavours.

[For those perplexed by the ‘owl’, this is a reference to another place on the web, where I am known as the Singing Librarian Owl.  A tawny owl if you must know. ]

3. Tell us about your very first library-related job – how did you fall in to it, and above all, why did you take it?

Believe it or not, my very first library-related job was seven years ago, right here in the Library of Doom.  It was also my first job as a graduate and I think I got in on the basis of my customer service experience in various small retail outlets as a student.  I took it partly because it was the only job offer I had (much as I ended up in Canterbury as a student because only one university offered me a place).  I had applied to a number of fairly bookish places, including sundry booksellers and another library, as the careers person at university thought they’d be good options.  Oh, and I applied to Virgin Megastores as they wanted someone for their Shows and Films section – why, oh why did I not get an interview for that one?

The job was advertised as a general library assistant for Reader Services, which entailed serving students at the issue desk, shelving heavy art books and helping with the student-facing administration tasks such as reservations and inter-library loans.  A couple of years later, I progressed one rung up the ladder to rule the world of inter-library loans and am now stuck as far as I can go until I complete my librarianship qualification.  Libraries seem to suit me.  I like helping people, even people who seem to have no grasp of general knowledge or common sense, and I have a good memory, which is surely one of the greatest assets a library person can have.  I like books, but never had any illusion that I’d be able to sit here all day and read them.  I like the internet, and wholeheartedly embrace the ways in which it opens knowledge up, but would fight anyone who dares to suggest that the day of the book is over.  It is an odd profession we have entered, old-fashioned and cutting edge, set in its ways and constantly evolving, but it is a wonderful one, as the library acolyte becomes a gatekeeper to the world’s storehouse of information, knowledge and (one hopes) wisdom

4. Desert Island Discs – what record, what book (apart from the Bible and Complete Works of Shakespeare, which you get automatically, apparently) and what luxury would you rescue from the sinking ship and take with you to your very own deserted paradise island?

I’ve always thought that this is one of the most difficult questions to ask anyone, and that it wouldn’t necessarily be your favourites that you’d want to take.  My record would probably be Ella Fitzgerald’s Cole Porter Songbook.  My admiration for Cole Porter is probably quite evident, and I don’t think he’s ever had a greater interpreter than Ella, who brought so much to every song that she sang.  She could take hold of a number and really make you feel the lyric, whether it was joyous or heartbroken.  Her Songbook has so many wonderful tracks on it, absolute gems from ‘From This Moment On’ to ‘Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye’.  However, if I had to opt for just one song, I’d probably choose a version of Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s ‘Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive’.  Any version.  It really swings and it makes me smile.  It would certainly lift me out of the doldrums when navel-gazing on my deserted island paradise.

For a book, I think I’d have to choose Tom Jones.  I’m very fond of Henry Fielding, even after writing my MA dissertation on him, and this is the best read.  I never tire of the characters in this one, ridiculous as they may be, and the plot has so many diversions and oddities that there are always episodes you forget.  If I’m going to be stuck on a deserted island, I really need something I can read again and again.  I think I’ve read it five times now, three of them during my Masters course, so it clearly has staying power.  Plus, it’s quite a hefty tome, so it could come in handy to hold things down or shade things from the sun,particularly if combined with the Bible and Shakespeare, both of which I’d be very glad to have with me.

Choosing a luxury item is much harder.  Internet access would really be cheating, as would any form of animal companion.  And a large case of chocolate would soon melt in the tropical sun (I don’t fancy being marooned in the Arctic Circle, I’m afraid).  I’m assuming that I already have some sort of device to play my Cole Porter album on (and that said device is solar powered) and that I have my glasses on when the ship is sinking.  The truth is that other than people, the occasional animal, my books and my music, I don’t really hold any particular thing dear.  However, if I could rescue a comfortable bed or (in a bizarre fantasy world where such things are possible), a working shower, that would be rather nice.

5. In Alternative Fantasy Anything Goes World, what would the Singing Librarian be doing right now this very minute? Oh, OK, this very hour?

You know, for a performer, blogger and ravenous devourer of all kinds of literature, I’m not all that imaginative.  What on Earth would I be doing if I wasn’t a Singing Librarian?  If this Alternative Fantasy Anything Goes World could involve me having greater confidence and assurance (in order to get in to ‘the business’ in the first place), then I’d be appearing in the opening night of a new West End musical.  One that isn’t based on a movie or the back catalogue of a random pop act.  One which works as drama rather than having a flimsy plot that exists solely as cues for songs.  And one which is written by a brilliant team of British people, or even just one brilliant British person.  I would not be the lead, but would be playing a character role who makes the audience laugh, but also makes them think.  I would be sharing a dressing room with someone who makes me laugh, and I would be looking forward to recording the original cast album.  The curtain would have just risen and I would be on the biggest adrenaline rush you can possibly imagine.

Alternatively, I would be sitting in the audience of the opening night of a new British musical which I would have written with a brilliant British composer.  Or appearing at a comics convention, signing copies of the cult favourite series I would have been writing.  But performing is what the Fantasy Singing Librarian would be doing in the best of all possible fantasy worlds.  That may not be the most surprising of revelations, I’m afraid, but you can’t have everything.

Further away from the mundane 21st century world, I think I’d fit in quite well in the sort of world that Wodehouse wrote about, or I could settle in to the role of the amusing minstrel who accompanies the heroes in a fantasy story and is saved from every moment of certain death because he’s needed for comic relief.  Definitely no space ships or guns on the horizon for any alternate universe Singing Librarian.

* * * * * * * * * *

Here ends the interview.  Thanks for the questions, Reed, and I hope I answered them to your satisfaction.  Feel free to ask for clarification if I have failed to satisfy your nosiness…


  1. Leave a comment saying, “Interview me.”
  2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. Please make sure I have your email address.
  3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
  4. You will include this explanation and offer to interview someone else in the same post.
  5. When others comment, asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
  1. Oh. I do like nosey women! Good questions, good answers.

    My relationship with catholicism is summed up by that phraase of yours, “I really don’t get the whole Mary thing”; and I find bits of dead people in gold boxes to be in very poor taste.

    This has been interesting.


  2. Well, that answered some of the questions I’ve been wanting to ask you for a while! (Why I couldn’t just have asked, I don’t know!) Thanks to you and Reed for an interesting post. I would quite like to be questioned by you, but as we know each other in real life, it might not work and might be contrary to the idea of the meme, so don’t feel obliged.

  3. Wonderful questions, wonderful answers. Thank you for the opportunity to get to know you a little better. I particularly like your little introduction to this meme. I agonized over whether to ask Reed or Aphra to interview me, and finally decided to ask Aphra. Both of them are quite nosey women, it turns out.

  4. I was a little worried that my ‘Mary thing’ comment might be rude, but at least it’s honest, I suppose.

    Lilian, I am thinking about questions, but the knowing each other in real life thing is making it quite hard, so it’ll take a while.

    I’ve really enjoyed reading the results of this meme everywhere it’s popped up, whether or not I’m a regular reader of each blog. I think we must all be rather nosy!

  5. Sorry to be an awkward subject and thank you for making the effort!

  6. Thanks for the questions, they have now been answered!

  1. August 9th, 2007

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