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Lavinia Greenlaw on Essex: ‘As a teen, even Siberia had to be better'

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The poet and novelist recalls the lacerating east wind, the weekly library van and eventually finding inspiration in village life

When I was 11, my family moved from London to an Essex village. I was bereft. My plan for my teenage years involved going to see David Bowie and T Rex at the Roundhouse, not sitting about in bus shelters. We arrived in winter at a time of power cuts. People spoke of the lacerating easterly wind as blowing in “straight from Siberia”. Even Siberia had to be better than this. When I read Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the tedium of the gulag made me sigh knowingly.

I read compulsively and without discrimination as a way of being anywhere but there. Books protected me from my loneliness, too. I read trashy apocalyptic novels, decrepit romances, the small ads in the local paper, the parish council noticeboard and the back of the cornflakes packet. A library van appeared once a week and I remember the librarian as being kindly if a little exhausted by my demands.

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