I stopped writing my column for the Argus for various reasons which I won’t go into detail here about (DM me hun!).
Last October I got accepted on the ‘MA in creative writing’ course at Faber and Faber in Bloomsbury. Yes I felt out of place, depth and comfort zone, in my ripped jeans, trainers, undercut, tattoo, slogan t-shirt but who else could I go as but me?
A good friend wisely said I’m more or less a finished product. I may wilt a bit, sag here and there, like the foam inside a much loved sofa, but other than that, this is me. Not in a jazzy Greatest Showman way, in a ‘I’ve tried to be other people and failed’ type way.
I had no ethnic bangels from the year I backpacked round India. Hell, I hadn’t even been to London on my own before. No degrees to name or tenuous links to impress people with. So I waved like my youngest daughter, knocked over my water glass, swore and admitted I hadn’t read the teacher’s book, let alone War and Peace.
The weeks rolled over. The leaves on the train tracks turned from orange to brown, and the Fortnum and Mason window replaced Alice’s Wonderland with jelly tot coloured Christmas lights and fake snow. I could see my breath as I marched past Buckingham Palace, a sure-footed little goat trotting along.
I could see, for the first time, the beauty of pigeon shit stained ancient splendor, banana yellow graffitied bus, green park coffee bean, bit of bother, morning jogger, late train, free sample, clock tower, British library, vegan protest, meat market, microbrewery, flash mob, trollied against Trafalgar, black cab, fit-bit, cigarette thin, brown polished leather shoes, matching briefcase, curry armpit, some dropped one, hot train, one arm clinging, over shoulder reading, sorry, excuse me, have you got any spare change, cardboard cup collection, wet big issue, traffic jam, diversion, look right, look left London.
A different world from the lost spellings, swimming bag, orange snack, hand-made with love, no nuts, poo bags, plimsolls, after school Sellotape, cotton-wool, gossip, gulped tea life I’ve lived for seven years. Snippets of conversation, snatched scenes from a speeding train, banal conversation with a taxi dinner, slogans, graffiti, a class full of people better qualified, woke up something in me that had been sleeping.
I finished the book in six months, before the agent reading day and sent out my submissions, individual slivers of my heart for consideration. It was my last chance saloon. If the book didn’t get picked up, I was getting off my horse to milk my cow, putting myself out to pasture.
I don’t know if you have a dream, and if so how many times you have taken it out your glass fronted family heirloom display cabinet, alongside grandad’s war medal for participation and a full tea set covered in roses that belonged to Aunt Vi, and polished it against your sleeve. Held it up to the melancholic lemon light and let it play like an 1940’s Pathe newsreel in your head.
Me, outside Waterstones, on a big fat puddle-splashing cats and dogs, rainbow umbrella, dive for safety from the deluge day. Shaking out like a wet dog, water in my eyes, running down the back of a anorak, but even when it clears, my name.
My name, which I have attached to notepads and homework and school socks and driving licenses and hearts with boys names above it. My name which I have written in lipstick and in the mist of the bathroom mirror. That I have scribbled at the bottom of frivolous purchases, letters to relatives, Christmas cards, petitions, ‘my daughter can’t do P.E because’ letters and the left shoe of a brown boot after watching Toy Story.
My name, in a plain font. My name in the ‘New releases’. My name, indelible and enduring, tattooed on spines and posters.
My name, associated with ‘you’ll never amount to anything’ and ‘who do you think you are’ and ‘you never said stop’ and ‘you are good, but not good enough’ and ‘you are not invited’ and ‘you are not my friend anymore’. My name, two words, two fingers held up at the world.
Have you ever got what you really wanted? I did. Me, out of place in agents offices. Shiny blocks of glass and mirrors. Natty trouser length, high necked liquorice twists of receptionists, who were expecting me. Me all sweat and frizz and nerves. I left tiny pencil sharpener peelings of the skin round my nails on the seat and along the squeaky floors, a breadcrumb trail in case I got lost. In case I lost myself.
I walked passed a bookshelf of authors who have made me a better person. Recited them in wonder like a child in a sweet shop. Felt embarrassed. Tried a laugh that didn’t suit me. Sweated in a shirt buttoned all the way up. Changed into my Snoopy-in-Space t shirt last minute in a posh loo that flushed for you. Shook out my hair. Signed a dotted line. Shook hands.
I can give you no specific update on book three. I can tell you it’s not like the others, it has talking dogs, and that at some points, when I was writing it, I felt like I was flying. It won’t be out till 2021.
Meanwhile, I’m working on edits and book four, but I miss my columns and after some requests (okay, one) to continue, I’ll blog here and there about things I’ve observed.
For now though, for everyone who has read my work, thank you.
PS: None of the above would have been possible without James Martin Edward Waller who funded my course, and my travel, moved his VIP Thursday meetings so he could do school run, read and reread my thousand drafts, made me 160000 cups of tea and told me I was brilliant. Who took days off to get me there on time, with the notebook and pen he’d picked up. Researched cruise ships and ancient cricket players and told me when to stop. Who took me for afternoon tea to celebrate getting a literary agent and held open my bag so I could steal the posh teapot and milk jug.
Brilliant is as it does. He deservedly became MD of his company this year. The boy from the council estate. The boy with a fistful of GCSE’s and a chip on his shoulder to match mine. You have championed my writing from that first sentence you read, twenty years ago. We’ve clawed our way up and out all our lives. Without you I am nothing.