When I was little I had a dream job for every letter in the alphabet.
I’d be a spy, a pirate, Indiana Jones, a lovable sheepdog or, my favourite, an orphan. They all seemed like sound career choices to me.
Soon after my ninth birthday, I discovered that all those people I dreamed of being weren’t real, and nor were they jobs. “You can’t just be Peter Pan,” Mandy told me at school. She was the kind of logical child who always had an ironed dress. I was the kind with dirty leggings. I should have known she was wrong. However, this gave me an idea. Maybe I could be Peter. He might not be ‘real’, but he’d come from the pages of a book. Perhaps that’s where all my dream jobs were. I could do anything there.
At school, I began training by directing plays and puppet shows. I dictated scripts to my dutiful scribes – sorry, friends – and bossed all my actors around. Some people might say I’ve not changed much.
It’s been a long road. My first ‘novel’, Sophie Has A Visitor, was published a year later and was printed and bound for my tenth birthday. It told the story of a mouthy orphan girl. I was so happy, I cried (and I was the kind of kid who never, ever cried). It was the moment I knew that I’d made the right choice. Author was the job for me.
Since, I’ve written some terrible poems, stories and novels – I still keep them for entertainment value. What was most incredible about those early attempts at writing was that it took me all over the world, back in time and even to outer-space (although I felt very uncomfortable there). In these settings, I had all the jobs I wanted. Even ones that don’t exist. Fairy collector anyone?
On the Bath Spa MA, I made friends who were far more talented than I had dreamed writers in training could be.
Like me, these friends spent their days clambering into the minds of, let’s face it, oddballs. I was privileged to be taken into the mind and world of an 18th-century teen, a woman in a coma, a man weaning himself off drugs, a millennial, a Venetian painter, a sinister cartoon character and Adam and Eve – yes, the Biblical Adam and Eve. The MA was the ship that brought us all into the harbours of countries we’d never imagined. The skill in which each writer managed to do this was breathtaking. I never imagined I’d be numbered among such a talented collection of writers. It was no surprise that by the end of the course everyone had incredible manuscripts. For the rest of my life, every time I enter a Waterstone’s, my eyes will be peeled for their hardbacks. I’ll be dogging them at readings for signatures.
So, when I got the phone call from Janklow and Nesbit, it took a few back and forths before I believed that I’d won.