So where does it start? This love of words, this madness, this desire to write.
For me it has always been in me. I could read before I went to school. I wasn’t ever taught. I learned by being read to. I followed the words. I cracked the code. I understood. I loved books. I read all the time: before school, after school, at the table, in bed, while the TV was on, while the endless English rain fell outside.
I remember the first day of school. The teacher had my name written in neat black felt on an orange card.
“How does she know my name?” I thought.
I remember being asked to read. The teacher had me read from a Ladybird book, a reading scheme: Janet and John.
“This book is stupid!” I thought.
I wanted to go home and read my beautiful books, fairy tales, princesses, adventure…proper stories. The teacher asked me to sit down and never asked me to read again. Junior school was the best. I blossomed. I learned to love creative writing. Oh to be at school in England in the seventies – Paradise. Michael Gove had not been invented, Tony Blair was a sci-fi nightmare of the future. There were no tests, no hoops, no inspectors, just unbridled freedom to be creative, to write about whatever you wanted, whenever you wanted. I won the Easter poetry competition every year. Writing was the one thing I could do. I was painfully shy, skinny, no good at sports, bamboozled by numbers, almost friendless…but writing. That was easy for me. I was a writer.
Senior school. Not so good. Dull curriculum, uninspiring teaching at a rough northern comprehensive. Some of the teachers oozed contempt for us out of every pore. We were working class kids from a northern steel town. Who did we think we were? They corrected our dialect and told us we would not study Shakespeare as he was too hard for us. I was still a writer. My stories were read out in class as good examples. This was still something I could do. Achieved straight A s in the ridiculously easy O levels.
Sixth Form College. There was no more creative writing but English Literature A level. We had to learn to analyse, to criticise. I wasn’t so good at this but I learned what was expected. I loved the books chosen: Emily Bronte’s wildness, Seamus Heaney’s sensuous words and finally Shakespeare – a treasure trove. Creativity fell by the wayside but somehow I was still a writer. I managed straight A s again and a place at the University of Edinburgh to study English Literature and Philosophy. It was the beginning of the fall.