This time next week, I have to stand up in front of hundreds of Bristol uni students, and tell them why I’m a writer. Which has led me to question many things e.g. my sanity when I agreed to do this, but most of all, why exactly I am a writer.
Because when I was a small girl (all right, smaller girl) I didn’t think “ooh, when I grow up I want to spend all day by myself at the computer wondering if it’s OK to put the word ‘poo’ in a sentence or not”.
Don’t get me wrong, I loved books. In fact I lived books. And that’s the thing. Because I didn’t want to be the one writing them, I wanted to be in them. I wanted to be George in the Famous Five (not because I thought Ann was prissy, but because I had short hair and knew my limitations). Then I wanted to be Darrell in Malory Towers. Or Matilda.
Then I moved on to film and wanted to be Velvet Brown and win the Grand National, preferably disguised as a boy. Or Andy in Pretty in Pink, falling for the boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Or Baby in Dirty Dancing, getting to save the world and dance a neat merengue with Patrick Swayze sweating in a vest.
And for years I tried to be someone who would be written about. I studied drama, I worked in television, and then politics. But I would find myself, in the basement of 10 Downing Street, attempting to write 300 words on why ID cards were a good idea, actually imagining I had been dispatched to the Middle East and been attacked in a car bomb, whereupon a dreamy Deputy Chief of Staff would profess his love for me as I lay in a coma (I had moved on the West Wing by this point).
And that’s when I knew. That I wanted to write. Not speeches, or news reports, but stories. Because life was never going to be like it is in books or films. But by writing my own, I could still spend all day imagining I was George, or Darrell.
Or Rachel Riley or Buttercup Jones or Penny Dreadful…
So that’s why I write. Because I read. Because I want to spend all day surrounded by stories. And because I want to pass that feeling on to you.