Don’t Let the Bastards (or Your Background) Get You Down

It was a cold October night and a thin mist curled off the River Thames.
My friend and I sat huddled outside the Festival Hall, drinking red wine and talking.
Really talking.
No inconsequential chit-chat about the weather at our table.
No trivial banter either.
And when we each spoke, the other listened.
Really listened.
Not using the time to think up the next thing we were going to say.
At the time my friend and I were both trying to make it in the writing game.
But both – coming from London council estates – finding it intimidating trying to succeed in such a middle class world.
A world that could often feel sneery and elitist if you weren’t a member of the clique.
We read each other snippets of our work.
We gave each other feedback.
We told each other our backstories. We didn’t edit out the hardship or pain.
I felt so much respect and admiration for this guy who swept up other people’s crap for a living, whilst composing the most beautiful poems in his head.
He made me see that coming from a poor background and a life of struggle wasn’t something to feel ashamed of – it was something to feel infinitely proud of.
We called ourselves the Rebel Writers and ‘writing, no matter what’ became our mantra.
The course of my writing life changed forever that night on the Southbank.
It gave me the courage to self-publish my first novel for young adults.
And, when a hoity-toity best-selling author openly mocked my self-publishing (something that would have devastated me previously), it gave me the courage to think ‘f**k you’ and enter the book for a national award anyway.
And when the book won the award…
On Saturday I went back to the Southbank to run a workshop – on overcoming fear and achieving your dreams.
I got there early and sat at the same table my friend and I had sat at, that autumn night all those years ago.
When I thought of all that had happened since, all the writing dreams achieved, it blew my mind.
Feel proud of who you are and where you come from.
Feel proud of your mess-ups and your poor choices and your if onlys.
Feel proud of how they’ve changed you for the better – making you stronger, more compassionate, wiser.
Wear your scars as badges of honour; as reasons why you’re perfectly qualified to achieve your dream.
Don’t let other people mock or belittle you or put you down.
And if they do, think f*** you and pick yourself up again and prove them wrong.

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  1. Random question: whenever you finish writing a manuscript, do you read it aloud? Do you read any of your work aloud? I’ve had this suggested to me time and again, but I’m more of a silent reader. Just wondering if you are too.

    1. I never used to but then I heard someone recommend it, so now I do with dialogue. It’s a great way of discovering if someone would actually talk like that. Sometimes dialogue can seem ok when read silently but when read aloud you realise it’s not quite right…

      1. Only with dialogue? What about with descriptions of something? Or action? Like, “…he walked across the room towards the window.”

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