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August 09 Edition Cover

Writing of the world, from the library

31 Jan 2019

Writing of the world, from the library Image

By Meg Hill

Docklands library users fall into a few key groups – young children and students can be found in after-school workshops or studying in the quiet area.

Many are also obviously “clocked on” – working from the library instead of from home. Tim Richards, a full-time freelance travel writer, is one of them.

Tim, who lives in a CBD apartment, works at the Docklands library at least one day every week. His other libraries of choice are Fitzroy Library and City Library. His wife, also a freelancer, prefers the State Library.

“We live in this market-obsessed economy where basically everything has been privatised and everything has to make a profit,” Tim said.

“So libraries are this last little publicly-owned zone where we agree that it’s a good thing for a community to own and share such a space.”

He’s there once a week, that is, when he’s in the country. Being a travel writer, he spends a lot of time overseas. In March he’s going to New Zealand, then probably Germany, Switzerland, and the UK in May/June.

Tim writes mostly for Fairfax (now Nine), but “for anyone really because I’m a freelancer”.

He’s written for News Limited, in-flight magazines, Lonely Planet and a bunch of other publications. He has a process worked out.

First, before you travel anywhere, you pitch to editors. Starting with a few commissions, you approach tourism bodies for assistance getting places and into tours, etc.

Then you travel, take lots of notes and do lots of fun things – including, of course, much that you don’t have commissions for but will pitch afterwards.

Then you come home and write. For Tim, that often means writing at Docklands library. And one trip can provide material for many stories.

“Sometimes I write a story maybe three years after I’ve been on the trip,” he said.

Tim wrote a number of stories about his two-day stay at Chernobyl, in Ukraine. Writing of the abandoned nuclear wasteland while sitting in a healthy public library, Tim really would have been in two worlds.

“In libraries kids are doing their homework, people are using them to learn stuff and do workshops, there’s clearly a much bigger dimension to them than simply books on shelves,” he said, expanding on the idea of libraries as democratic spaces.

And for freelancers today, it’s an alternative to the idea that you should pay for a private, luxurious co-working space.

The life of a freelance travel writer seems sporadic, at least when travelling, but at home Tim and his wife have quite the routine. They each spend two-and-a-half days a week (on average) at home, while the other is at a library somewhere writing.

Even Tim’s time at the library is curated.

“Often I’ll write an article in the morning in the quiet room, have my lunch by the cafe and buy a coffee, and then I might sit by the windows where there’s comfier chairs and do a bit more work with my laptop.”

Tim says Docklands has always been “a bit weird” – perhaps he finds it a bit too un-curated: “They made the mistake of allowing all these individual buildings to be built without thinking about how they interact and connect, how they make a neighbourhood.”

“But I think it’s better now. There’s parks and gardens. There’s more human-styled apartments and buildings that feel better to walk among.”

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