You could hear the incensed whispers from across the country.
“What the hell is she playing at???”
“She’s disrupting the status quo, someone do something!”
“Is she ill? Shall I call 999? I’m gonna call 999.”
There was no doubt that my old university course mates, now dispersed across the UK, would have sensed that something was awry in that packed out room at Waterstones Piccadilly where, sat at the back by a protective pillar, I had just raised my hand to ask a question.
RAISED MY HAND.
TO ASK A QUESTION.
This is unheard of. You don’t ask questions. It is the one Victorian tradition we are ok with keeping: you do not ask questions. No one asked questions in university lectures. And if you did, you were shunned and burnt at the stake. So why on earth had I found myself feeling compelled to put my hand in the air like I just don’t care?
This wasn’t a university lecture.
This was a M&S
univ- This was an event at Waterstones Piccadilly consisting of a panel of
three incredibly talented and badass YA women writers, who had me quite
literally on the edge of my seat with my face beaming as they spoke about
things from what drives their writing, to how much importance they put on
meanings within their stories (that was my question, just saying).
Phil Earle (host), Annabel Pitcher, Jenny Downham, Katherine Rundell
I’d never been to an event like this before. I’d never even been to a book signing. So when I found out three of my favourite authors, Annabel Pitcher (My Sister Lives on the Mantelpiece, 2011), Jenny Downham (Before I Die, 2007) and Katherine Rundell (Rooftoppers, 2013) were going to be at the mighty Piccadilly store for a chat and signing, I couldn’t resist. Obviously I dragged my friend Katie along with me for support. Although, she also asked a question, so the only dragging to be done involved our bodies to the depths of woodland after being executed for treason.
I expected a standard Q&A and readings from each of their new novels: Annabel’s Silence is Goldfish, Jenny’s Unbecoming, and Katherine’s The Wolf Wilder, but what I got was the most inspirational few hours of my life. These women are all so incredibly different in how they write, their style of writing, their motives behind their stories, and their personal backgrounds, but rather than their successes and brilliance being completely intimidating, they instilled the strongest sense of determinism and empowerment in me. And for that, I am beyond thankful.
Annabel Pitcher is growing a tiny human inside her. I assume it has a face and limbs and recognises its mum’s voice by now. She used to be a teacher. Jenny Downham used to act and she takes years to write a book. Katherine Rundell is an elected Fellow at Oxford University and has a voice that would either seduce me or send me into a blissful, transcendent sleep.
It was exciting and calming to listen to them talk about their individual lives, and it reminded me that to be a writer, you don’t just write. You do other things. You have other jobs, you have a plethora of experiences, and you live a life so varied and full of thought and passion that you have no choice but to turn the depth and expanse of that life and your mind into stories. YA stories.
Because that’s what young adults need. Options. Diversity. Choice. Freedom.
I was gripped. I hadn’t been so full of joy about life and all the things I wanted to achieve in years. I hadn’t been inspired so deeply since I discovered hummus. It was exciting to see three different women, three different loves, three different lives, and still all so powerful and strong in who they are. But their one main thing in common is that they are just… so…
Getting to the 20,000 word mark is absolute hell, and God forbid if anyone reads your draft before you’re happy with it. AND WILL YOU EVER BE HAPPY WITH IT? What if no one is happy with it? What if you’re never happy? Ever?
“The voice on a writer’s shoulder is a terrible one, but you have to shut it up and tame it.”
It was so affirming to hear that these incredibly talented writers suffer with the same doubt and self-deprecation that I do, that a lot of us have. But there was a glow around them all that proved that their pride, determination, and love conquers it all.
“It’s okay to be afraid. Be brave anyway.”
That was it. That was the line from Katherine Rundell that said it all. It is okay to be absolutely terrified of life and your dreams and yourself, but be brave and storm it anyway.
We all suffer with it; that fear that nothing will be good enough, that we won’t be good enough, that we are making all the wrong choices. But there are no rules and there are no limits and there are no repercussions for trying your hardest with your braveface on. Use the fear as excitement for whatever lies ahead. Be brave anyway.
To look into the eyes of women who simultaneously terrify and inspire you is an odd feeling. To raise your hand and speak to them is even odder. But to have passions and dreams in the life that once started in a tummy, just like Annabel’s imminent arrival, is the oddest thing of them all. And isn’t it just wonderful?
Silence is Goldfish (October 2015) by Annabel Pitcher:
Unbecoming (September 2015) by Jenny Downham:
The Wolf Wilder (September 2015) by Katherine Rundell:https://www.waterstones.com/book/the-wolf-wilder/katherine-rundell/9781408862582