How I became a writer

How did I come to start writing? The nutshell answer goes: took an English degree – taught English at secondary level – began writing after a teacher training course on Creativity in the Classroom.books 004

The story of how I became a published novelist is here:

But I think the impulses to write are rooted further back. If I hadn’t had the most incredibly boring childhood, I might never have become an author.

Nowadays young people are encouraged to speak up and express themselves at every opportunity. They rarely seem required to sit in silent contemplation for any extended period. But when I was a girl, I spent a lot of time keeping quiet. I was good at it. And the reason I was good at it was because I was used to the company of my own strange thoughts. When you’ve been sitting swinging your legs on an overstuffed settee for an hour with only a knitting pattern to look at, or you’ve flicked through A New English Hymnal for the umpteenth time, where else is there to go except into your own head? An only child, I read, listened to people talking, and I thought a lot.

I can go back now and retrieve random images: a dead shrew in a jewellery box; Rivington Pike making the exact shape of a giant breast on the horizon; a vast ploughed field that I believed was going to fold up and swallow me; a mysterious hole in the wasteland round the back of the Red Lion. I never have any problem now thinking of story ideas; my mind’s always been swimming with weird images, like some bizarre aquarium.

The Bad Mother's Handbook - in German    The Bad Mother's Handbook - in French

More specifically, I can remember a day in class when the English teacher asked us to look at a poem called ‘The Thought Fox’ by Ted Hughes. It seemed to me I’d never read anything so clever, and that was the moment reading shifted from being escapist fun to something really exciting. About the same time I watched ‘Kes’ on tv and wrote a poem about it, which was commended in a national competition and anthologised.

So the ‘Thought Fox’ lesson was probably the moment I decided to be a writer – even though it took me another twenty years to get going.


Read about my family background