When I read interviews with writers, they always seem to talk about that one teacher who spotted their genius: that insightful adult who saw through their National Health specs and pustular skin to the creative ember within.
Such a mentor might not have had the budding author ripping up text books, a la Robin Williams’ character in Dead Poets’ Society, but they might’ve tried to open their mind beyond the confines of the syllabus. Or encouraged them to write something that actually came from their own head. Or, I dunno, pressed a rare volume of poetry on them or something.
Well, I didn’t have such a teacher. I might’ve been a bit of a swot in the English class, but that was just in terms of being trained to sit exams. Aged 17, already having secured a place to study English at university (I’m Scottish, so sat Highers aged 16), I felt liberated enough to take on the creative writing part of my Sixth Year Studies English exam. Claiming creative writing couldn’t be taught, my teachers left me to it. During the course of the year, I had not one creative writing class. No teacher read a single thing I wrote. I was under the understanding that at the crucial moment the creative force would either take hold of me – or not.
As it happens, on the day of the exam, I truly believed the muse had me in her grasp. I frenziedly wrote a story inspired by The Beatles’ Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. It was about a woman having some kind of psychedelic vision (hard to believe, but I genuinely had no clue what LSD was at the time). As far as I remember, the narrator experienced rainbows zooming in and out of her ears. She conversed with a range of talking animals. And there was something about custard. Obviously, it was a load of old toe jam. The result was my only ever ‘C’ for English. Aghast, I pretty much resolved never to write creatively again.
But here I am, all these years later, making up characters and writing stories, simply because it’s something I love. And, whilst I might not have had the sensitive teacher mentor, I have done the prerequisite long list of jobs you need to do before becoming a writer.
I’ve worked as a fashion journalist for a dance music magazine (this might sound glamorous but basically involved me asking Glaswegian clubbers at 3am if they preferred Gucci to Armani. I will leave you to postulate on the typical response). I’ve taught English in Vietnam. I’ve cleaned and waitressed (badly). I’ve worked in book shops and London PR agencies (I once booked the head of the British Druid Order for a photo call and, on another occasion, looked after a group of Scottish newspaper competition winners in a free bar at the World Cup in Paris. If you want to know what it’s like to break up multiple fist fights on the Champs Elysée at 5am, I’m your woman). I’ve also been a book reviewer for Financial Times Weekend and written features for The Guardian.
With my husband, 10-year-old daughter and absolutely no pets (my parenting style tending towards cruelty), I live in Brighton, where I run my own eco content writing business. I write stories for children, because that’s just what comes out. My ambition is that one day some kids, other than my own, will read and enjoy some of them.