I got up this morning at 5:30am to travel from Brighton to Sunderland. This was my first ever ‘proper’ school visit – talking about my books, answering questions and leading a creative writing workshop. Fortified with much coffee and a good book for the train... yep, I was still mildly terrified.
At the time of writing, it’s now 8pm and I am still on a train an hour and a half away from home, feeling that weird combination of over-caffeinated and bone-tired. However, it was totally worth it. I’m feeling better about the world in general than I did this morning.
The girls I met today were charming, bright and very, very kind to me. They were an absolute delight. I was struck by how little has changed since I was that age, to my immense relief and slight surprise (they even still love Nirvana – well, one cool girl did). They started off shy and gradually became noisy and hilarious. I love teenagers so much, and this was a great reminder of it.
In my talk about books and writing, I brought up one of my current favourite phrases: ‘a rising tide lifts all boats’. I truly believe that there is enough good fortune and positivity and general good energy to go round. We should support and encourage each other, never pull the ladder up behind us.
I usually kind of hate nebulous talk about ‘creativity’ and ‘being creative’, but I tried to talk today about how I believe we can all make and do great things if we want to. Writing a book isn’t a rarefied activity that is for ‘other’ people. I have known people who have tried to make out that writing a book (or learning the guitar or singing ‘properly’ or becoming a serious actor, etc etc) is some mysterious and difficult thing that is only for the special, talented few. It’s not true.
We all have stories in us and telling them is a great and brave thing to do. Nobody can tell your story like you can. I don’t believe in that ‘X Factor’ type trope that ‘you just have to want it enough’ – that’s not what it’s about – but I do believe that ideas and imagination and hard work can take you a long way.
In the past I have been accused of having a slapdash ‘that’ll do’ attitude towards my work. And it’s true. Maybe it’s not always a virtue but I’m kind of proud of it and it has served me well. I’m not a perfectionist. But I’m a person who gets things done.
It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to exist, and then you can do what you like with it. This is probably why I am such a big fan of DIY culture – fanzines and underground bands, and people making stuff and general enthusiasm. I always want to be an enthusiast, and meeting brilliant teenagers is a great reminder of why.
In a workshop today, we came up with ideas for stories – there would be a hundred ways of telling them and nobody’s story would be the same.
I am sure that the girls I met today are going to do many great and interesting and brilliant things, and that makes me feel much better about a world that can sometimes seem very bleak, and for that I am grateful.
Fittingly, Sunderland is the hometown of Kenickie, one of my favourite teenage bands and a perfect example of DIY brilliance – friends who decided to be a band, made up the rules as they went along and just did it (and incidentally, in a pleasing circular twist, Ms Lauren Laverne once sent me a lovely encouraging letter about my long-ago fanzine)...
The joy this video brings me is basically off the scale.