Yesterday, I felt like a proper writer. I felt so proper that I sent a text to a good friend about it, just so it was recorded for posterity. There are certain things that should generally enhance your writer status. These include:
I’ve been writing stuff since I was about six. Tellingly, I only have one friend left from childhood. I wonder if the others fell away under the weight of having to endure endless rhyming couplets about my dog, Jai. Or the time the coffee percolator exploded. Or even that special moment when a really big worm slopped on to my mum’s bare foot in Italy. (Oh, happy days.)
There are other reasons why I could have claimed proper writerliness. I read out my poem about Romans in Fishbourne at a parents’ evening. (And believe me, my school was hot on quality control.) And another poem – is there a pattern here? – won an award at a local arts festival and was read aloud by the only Doctor Who companion who died in situ. There were the stories published in ‘True Romance’ and the constructive, encouraging rejection from ‘Black Lace’, ‘the first erotic imprint in the UK written for women’. Apparently, kinky politicians were a bit of a cliché.
Come sixth form, come my crowning achievement – a reworked pantomime version of ‘The Wizard of Oz’. Not only did my head of house agree to be a witch and her deputy, rock the stage as Toto, but the production team featured future stars including a model and ‘Emmerdale’ actor and the bass player of a world famous indie band. Us Haywards Heath folk punch way above our weight. Or sometimes just punch. Entertaining nightlife is a bit sparse there.
But did that make me a proper writer? No. My rich earnings of £60 and a poem published in the ‘Evening Argus’, did not turn my head. (I must have had a rich store of poems, though. I wonder where they are now. Along with my childhood friends.)
Many years later, I’m preparing for the debut of ‘Orangeboy’, my first novel for young adults. I’ve arrived here via short stories, screenwriting, comedy writing and a go at radio scripts. All languishing in a forgotten folder in a forgotten hard drive with ports for cable types that have long been extinct.
I was lucky enough to gain Caroline Sheldon as my agent. She saw my potential (but thankfully, no poems) and encouraged me to write for a younger audience. A couple of paying gigs followed – children’s short stories and educational publishers – then by pure accident I was at an Arvon crime writing course and found myself chatting to a 16-year-old protagonist called Marlon. Orangeboy.
But still… proper writer? Ummm.
Then yesterday, something changed. I went in to Hodder to talk publicity, proofs and literary festival panels. We chatted school events and people of influence. Coming out into the Blackfriars’ sunshine, I thought – goddamn, this is real! I then whizzed up the District Line for a lunchtime catch up with Caroline. A lovely hour or so that also happened to feature some rather splendid butternut squash and apple crumble.
So what was it that made me feel like a proper writer?
Was it the lightheaded shock from getting a seat on the Underground for most of the journey from Blackfriars to Notting Hill? Definitely a contributing factor.
Was it the lunchtime glass of wine? As, if!
But perhaps it’s finally sunk in – I can do this! I can write stuff that people want to read. I can write stuff that people want to sell. Without a rhyming couplet in sight.