5 Reasons Writers Love The London Library

In the last month I have been working at the London Library a couple of days a week and it has made all the difference to my new life as an author-entrepreneur. Founded in 1841, it has been the writing home of many great English creatives. Here’s why I love writing there these days.

(1) Books, research and serendipity in the stacks

I read 99% ebooks these days. I am a Kindle addict although I often buy the ebook after seeing it in print in a physical bookstore. Being in a print library has meant I am rediscovering the joys of book browsing and the labyrinthine stacks of the London Library are quite the adventure. I had a lovely moment of serendipity the other day when researching apocalyptic art for my next novel Prophecy and came across the book from an exhibition of the apocalypse I had attended in the year 2000 at the British Library. The images of that event have remained with me over the years and in finding the book, I was able to renew my knowledge and weave stories out of the result. I do actually have the book myself but it’s in storage in Brisbane, Australia so marvelous to find it here! Research is one of the joys of writing a book and the London Library is a rich resource for it.

(2) Location, St James’ Square

I exit the Tube at Green Park and walk through some of the most expensive real estate in London. It’s populated by royalty, the Ritz, art dealers and auctioneers like Sothebys, expensive boutique shops with armed guards, hidden member’s clubs and embassies. The library sits in one corner of the elegant St James’ Square which boasts a beautiful park to sit for coffee and lunch in the sun. It isn’t far from Bond Street, Regent Street and some lovely (window) shopping and my treat is to go to Waterstones bookshop for more browsing before I head home. The Library itself may look small but it’s a tardis inside, stretching across multiple buildings behind the slim facade.

(3) History and inspirational writers

London is steeped in tradition and history. You trip over famous (often dead) people everywhere you go. But it is still incredibly inspirational to think I am writing in a place where Agatha Christie was a member, where Virginia Woolf and EM Forster wrote, where Darwin and Dickens scribbled and where Tom Stoppard is currently president. This is a literary legacy of greatness. Is it too much to think that the walls have absorbed some of this creative spirit over the years and by being there, I too can imbibe?

(4) Positive atmosphere and peer pressure to write

iPad with keyboard and stand. My writing setup at the London Library

At my home office I have many distractions, blogging and twitter being two major ones. Yes, the London Library does have internet but I go there to write. I settle in and prepare myself for a day’s work. Soon I am surrounded by other industrious writers, on laptops, iPads or taking notes from books. There is a general atmosphere of hard creative work. Sometimes a member will nod off in one of the comfy reading chairs, a deserved break from the labour of intense study. This is how I worked at University when I spent my days in the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford. It feels like a correct place of work for a writer. There is a room where laptops are forbidden so not even the tapping of keys distracts you, just the rustle of pages and the innumerably interesting journals on arcane topics that draw the eye.

(5) The normality of a writer’s life

I have spent the last 13 years as an international business consultant with all the routine of an office worker. These daily rituals have become ingrained into me, the daily commute, coffee before starting, meeting for lunch in between spurts of intense working, perhaps a drink later in the day before coming home. Going from that life to working entirely from home as an author-entrepreneur hasn’t been easy but going into a place of work like the London Library makes the writing life a more normal one and gives me a semblance of routine to base my creative life around. Getting out of the house and into a different space is critical for the solo-entrepreneur. Being in central London also gives me the benefits of being able to network at break-times and after the Library closes.

I have only been a member for a few weeks and already the benefits of the London Library are immeasurable for me. I’m sure other advantages will be realized over time and I hope that I will also be able to give back.

The London Library is a private, paid membership library. If you are interested in joining, all the details are here.


Top image: Flickr Creative Commons Gruenemann, Other images my own (also on Flickr CC)

The London Library from Jeremy Riggall on Vimeo.


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  1. Susanne Ahlenius says

    Hi Joanna
    your my inspiration and i am so jealous/envious of you :) it´s my biggest dream to do what you do today as a writer entrepreneur and live in London.

    I live in Sweden but absolutly love London. Someday :) i maybe move to a another country and London is on the top on my wishlist.

    In february i am on a course on writing (in London) with a coach and i hope to take my writing to the next level. So maybe one day i sit next to you in the London Library :)

    Kind regards

    Susanne Ahlenius (aspiring author/writer)

    • Joanna says

      Hi Susanne, thanks so much for your comment and writer envy is something I have daily at the London Library! It is full of successful creatives and on the walls are pictures of the great luminaries who have been the President or on the Board in the past. It’s an inspiring place so perhaps some writerly envy is a good thing! (however, I am not worthy of such aspirations I’m sure!)

      I’ve never been to Sweden – perhaps there is a similar type of place for you – but London is indeed awesome! I love being back here. People think I’m crazy to move from Australia but this is where my muse lives, I am a true European!

  2. mg says

    When did you decided to leave your job to write full time. How did you transition into that and most importantly, how did you write your book while working a regular job?!!
    I am on that boat and finding it difficult as I work long hours.
    Thank you.

    • Joanna Penn says

      Hi MG, I cover this in this article: http://www.thecreativepenn.com/2011/09/12/creative-author/
      The transition was 3 years of working on my writing part-time while still working as a consultant. I used to get up at 5am every morning, as well as working evenings, weekends and then I moved to 4 days a week so I had the extra day. Basically, I worked two jobs :) I have up the TV and a social life, as well as some sleep but it was worth it! It’s just about what you will give up.

  3. says

    I love this article! I joined the LL a few months ago as well: I’m a folklorist and history writer, and I just got my first book deal. I initially joined for the JSTOR access (which is worth the yearly membership alone) but there’s so much more: the atmosphere (which is awesome, I joined just in time to see Brahm Stoker’s membership form in the Reading Room,) the workspaces (if I could move into the Lightwell Reading Room I’d basically be a happy man) and the books. When I joined I was getting home at 9-10pm every night after spending every possible minute at the British Library desperately photocopying and transcribing as much as I could, but now I can actually take things home with me, and find awesomeness in the stacks! And my wife actually remembers what I look like!!

    Hurruah for the London Library.