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The British Library The Knowledge Network: The British Library Annual Report and Accounts 2008/09

Sharing stories from 2008/09

A best-selling author and television screenwriter

Regular British Library user Anthony Horowitz is the bestselling author of children’s novels including the Alex Rider books. He is also a television screenwriter, the creator of ITV’s popular Midsomer Murders and Foyle’s War, the detective series set during the Second World War.

‘It is probably Foyle’s War that brings me to the British Library more often than anything,’ he says. ‘Most recently, for example, I have been working on an episode about the British Free Corps, a group of British prisoners of war who were recruited by Hitler. I really need to get under the skin of the characters.’

At the British Library he located a key book – the memoir of a spy planted in the unit. A footnote about the use of coded messages led to another rare volume about MI9, the wartime intelligence service. ‘I found it here, of course,’ he says. ‘If you see the episode you will see the code is fully described. So that is why I love coming here. It really is a one-stop shop.’

The author also finds material for his children’s books at the Library. Sources have included the sixth century text upon which the Power of Five series is based. ‘The British Library is the most wonderful resource,’ he says. ‘I love the atmosphere, the outside courtyards – I even love the food. And of course all the books in the world at my fingertips.’

A successful catering entrepeneur

After ten years as a lawyer, Vanessa Hutchinson made the successful transition to running her own café business in the City of London. The Business & IP Centre at the British Library helped from the outset.

‘I found out through the internet that the Library runs some workshops and one in particular was so useful,’ she says. ‘It was a workshop on business plan writing that’s run by Business Plan Services. They operate a clinic and they help you to put together what I think is an excellent business plan, which helped me to raise the capital I needed to start the business.’

On arriving at the Centre the first thing she did was ask the staff. ‘It was surprising to me how much information they had – substantive information that I was able to make use of. They told me about resources that I didn’t know existed.’

Vanessa believes the future looks good for the Mahoe Café-Bar, situated near St Paul’s Cathedral. ‘People think starting a business in the restaurant sector is about an excellent chef or a lot of experience in the kitchen,’ she says. ‘Actually it’s about researching your market, finding a fantastic location and making sure you understand your pricing and your competitors. The Centre pointed me in the right direction.’

A university lecturer

Rose Sinclair, a lecturer in Design and Textiles at Goldsmiths, University of London, has found the British Library’s Sound Archive enlightening for her research, using oral history as a means of uncovering other women’s stories. Rose looked at the work of the artist Elizabeth Frink, and found listening to the sound files offered a different perspective. ‘Hearing an artist discuss their work gives you a fresh pair of eyes – you’re not just using books or the internet, you’re hearing the artist firsthand and interlinking all sources for a new perspective on the art.’

Rose has encouraged her students to explore many of the Library’s various collections and displays when researching their projects, taking inspiration in particular from the Sound Archive. Working with the Learning team together with RNIB, the students have been exploring how they can unlock the star items of the Sir John Ritblat Gallery: Treasures of the British Library for an audience that is visually impaired. ‘These days everyone is so visually centred, it’s refreshing to step back and just listen to the artist or author. The oral recordings open up your imagination, and let you pick up on something you wouldn’t have noticed before.’