Exeter Library: an afternoon with Jill Mansell & Special Guests Libby Page and Emma Cooper.

Exeter has been awarded prestigious UNESCO City of Literature status, and there’s a good reason for that, Exeter’s literary scene is booming. On Tuesday 21st January, our contributor Tilly Lander Williams popped along to Exeter Library to hear from novelists; Jill Mansell, Libby Page and Emma Cooper.


This week I had the pleasure of attending yet another excellent event hosted by Exeter Library: an afternoon with Jill Mansell & Special Guests Libby Page and Emma Cooper. The event was located in the lovely Rougement Room, up the stairs on floor two of our much-loved library. 

These days I find myself turning more and more to uplifting fiction: a brief escape from the worries of the world and the constant noise on social media. Recharging is a must: and for me, it comes in book form. A feel-good read is like a warm hug or a chat with your best friend. For a few hours, days or weeks (however long it takes you to read a book) these characters are your friends, and their world becomes your world. 

Jill Mansell has written over twenty Sunday Times bestsellers, including Maybe This Time (my current read), The One You Really Want and You And Me, Always. Her new book, It Started With A Secret is out now. Amazingly, Jill writes all her novels by hand with a fountain pen and notebook. As a writer, I too have a penchant for beautiful pens and notebooks, but the pressure to write something equally beautiful in them is often too much! Clearly, Jill doesn’t have this problem – she is on her thirtieth book and has sold eleven million copies worldwide. Her stories are set in the countryside or next to the sea. The inspiration comes from the Cotswolds where Jill grew up; and Devon and Cornwall, where she holidayed. 

Libby Page’s books, by contrast, are set in London, where pockets of the community have their own village (as our Steph can vouch for). Libby’s debut novel The Lido describes the stories of the people who swim at, work and live near an outdoor pool. Her story reminded me to make the most of our community-run swimming pool in Topsham. It also sparked my new love for wild swimming in rivers on the moor and in the sea. The 24-hour Café is Libby’s latest book, continuing the theme of community and human connections and I can’t wait to start it, preferably with the perfect latte at one of the many cafes in our city.  

Emma Cooper is a mum of four who wrote her first book while working full-time as a teaching assistant. Her debut, The Songs of Us was a result of her writing routine of 250 words at lunchtime and 250 in the evening. The book has since been an enormous hit: translated into several different languages and snapped up by publishers worldwide. The main character, Melody, is hugely likeable – she bursts into uncontrollable singing when she gets anxious. Like the other authors, Emma has a talent for making you sob on one page, and then laugh out loud on the next. Emma’s latest creation is The First Time I Saw You.

All the authors were warm, open, and so happy to meet their readers. They talked of the pros and cons of social media for writers, the books that first made them cry, their varying writing routines and the importance of a good book design (let’s face it, we do judge a book by its cover!). Exeter Library’s Karen Huxtable asked them some brilliant questions, and for most of it I forgot I was in an audience – it was like listening to some very inspiring friends having a chat. At the end, we had an opportunity to purchase their books and have them signed by the authors. I spoke to one lady who has read Jill’s books throughout her life – for her the event was extra special.

Thanks, Exeter Library – I will be back again soon! If you’d like to be in the know about events coming up, you can follow @ExeterLibrary on Facebook and Twitter. I am especially excited about Library Lates, kicking off on Friday 7th February: a new season of specially curated, one-off late-night events at the library. Artists, technologists, musicians, DJs, game-makers and film curators will be transforming the spaces between the shelves for one night only. Silent Disco by the non-fiction, anyone?


About the Author: Tilly Lander Williams

Tilly’s Exeter story starts with an exhibition of The World of Beatrix Potter at The Royal Albert Memorial Museum in the early 90s. As a little girl, Exeter won her over there and then, especially with its proximity to the sea and moor. Tilly now lives in the countryside outskirts, with her husband, two daughters and two lop-eared rabbits. She can be mostly be found writing or curled up with a book at home, or walking, swimming and exploring Devon with her family. Tilly loves attending literary events and keeping up to date with the latest books and writing news. She is currently finishing her first novel.

Twitter handle: @tilly_writes

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