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I had one of those lovely ordinary childhoods in suburban north London. There was enough room in the terraced streets and the covered reservoir and the allotments were special places you could hide in all day. My Mum was a secondary school teacher; my Dad was a tailor, I had one older brother.
Except that in London in the 1960s there were hardly any mixed-race families. None round where I lived anyway, a couple of black kids in school, Greeks, Jews, the usual. But I never wanted to be usual. I relished the otherness of my mothers’ Welsh speaking family and my fathers’ Jamaicanness. Everyone told stories and the stories changed every time in the telling, Whether it was tales from the school in Tottenham where my mother worked or my father’s comments on Princess Anne’s wedding dress, or maybe the destruction of Aborigine civilisation or Japanese paper houses.
And our house was always full of people. We must have been one of the few places to take black lodgers in suburban London and we had lawyers from Kenya, nurses from Nigeria, East Europeans and just my parent’s friends passing through London en route to somewhere else. People talking, late at night in the kitchen in other languages, usually Welsh, sometimes something else, the rise and fall of words when you don’t understand them completely is like singing. You make your own stories up; you fill in the gaps between the words you don’t know.
I wanted to be a writer, well a poet, you could be a poet, that was possible. It was perfectly normal to recite poetry, even write poetry (look, there’s your cousin winning the Eisteddfod!) and Dad knew more English romantic verse than anyone I know, even now.
But secondary school changed everything. I got a scholarship to a posh school in Hampstead and I hated it. They told me – for my own good – that I was rubbish and I duly obliged. I don’t think any of my teachers would ever believe I could write a book let alone eight or – fingers crossed – nine. My exam results are so bad I still fake them for CVs and when I left I went to Art school.
I trained as a film maker, it was great fun, but it was the 1980s and everyone was anti narrative, form not content, beautiful beautiful form and pictures that wash over your eyes and may mean nothing at all….
I loved it, but if you’d said I’d ever write a book, a novel with a real cracking, thumping, story all the way to the end I’d have never believed you either.
I started writing after my children were born. Oh, I got mired up in horse training (in London) and other things but I started reading the teenage fiction in the children’s library, old favourites, Alan Garner, The Owl Service, and ones I didn’t know of, Nina Bawden, Jan Mark and then I read one so dire I thought, I could do that.
I kept having ideas too, I thought they were for films but the TV company I sent them to thought they’d make better books and sent them to a publisher. And really I should thank them. It was a small Welsh publisher, Pont, who held my hand right through book one and two and helped me so much and read things and suggested things, and ultimately, in the end, let me go. My editor there, Mairwen Prys Jones, sent me on courses and into schools, did the job on me proper and now I have another life.
And I am very, very, grateful.
I love it. I love having a job that’s like being eight. Setting up these characters, just like playing – you be the princess, I’ll be the talking dog – and away they go. I like the things I’ve had to do to prop up my writing, the work in Holloway prison, the work in Dalston as literature worker, the research I am doing now for a TV programme, the school visits, the mentoring for the British Council.
I won’t go on. You could be here all day…
Read more.... The End - short story
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