Two stories from my childhood. The first goes something like this:
When I was in primary school, I distinctly remember standing in front of my tiny village class with Gregory Sinclair (shout-out to Greg, who I’m pretty sure I’m Facebook friends with) and being asked to read out the piece of creative writing that our 10-year-old brains had farted onto the page.
I remember my teacher (Mrs Dewings? Mrs Jones? Any Weston Primary School kids remember who taught us in year 5/6?) writing on the corner of my work that it had made her cry. This, in retrospect, could easily have been an insult or a lie; but it was accompanied by a picture of a crying-but-smiling face so I’ll assume it was at least as genuine as when I utilise today’s emoji equivalent.
I remember that feeling of ‘somebody likes the words that I have written. Somebody felt something because of something I made up’ better than I remember my first day of school or my first kiss or even the pain of when I smacked my front teeth on the bar of a water park slide.
The second occurs around a similar time but the details are a little more blurry. I’m probably 10 and I read The Funday Times every Sunday because my Dad is yet to boycott Murdoch publications and I like the cartoons. For whatever reason (perhaps inspired by a Funday Times editorial on nerds and judgement – who knows) I decide to put pen to paper and write a letter on the perils of being a smart child with glasses (I know, I know – I hate 10-year-old me, too). It gets published. They send me a DVD boxset of The Simpsons in a time when The Simpsons is mandatory evening viewing. I am overly pleased with myself.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014. I’m happier than I’ve ever been but I still don’t quite know what I’m doing. 23 feels like an age where you should know. I like the idea of journalism but I’ve stumbled into copywriting and publishing (and like four other jobs to keep my bank balance afloat) and I really don’t know how you’re supposed to go about getting a byline. I spend a day at the Guardian and I ask questions and I meet Simon Hattenstone and ‘gee wouldn’t it be swell to work here?’ I think to myself.
I start to write for a hyperlocal paper and I wonder why it’s taken me so long to give this a proper go (crippling anxiety and a lack of confidence is why, in case you’re wondering). I’m told that I need the NCTJ qualification if I’m serious about becoming a journalist. I am very serious indeed. I have the interview. I get on to the course. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do shorthand. I pass shorthand. I am exhausted almost all of the time and it is glorious.
20 weeks flies by and it’s time to find a job and to fill up my new found free time. I end up spending a few days at the Guardian’s Manchester office. The thought of going into the office doesn’t make me apprehensive. The opposite, in fact. I’m not there for long but each day flies by and each morning I can’t wait to go back in. It’s a quiet news week but I have things to do and I’m sort of in a half state of disbelief that I’ve ended up here and half this is where I’ve been heading my whole 24 years.
So when my (misspelt) name lands a byline for a tiny online preview piece of a Manchester feminist festival, it’s The Funday Times and it’s year 6 creative writing all over again but magnified by a thousand. It’s ‘fuck you, anxiety’ to the max. It’s every frustrating, dead-end conversation about why feminism matters and it’s every job and university rejection and every mind-numbing minute spent making ‘expressos’ and clearing tables. It’s every walk I’ve ever taken with my Dad and every book my Mum ever read to me. It’s Ceri Sullivan telling me to be radical and use how angry I am to do something.
It’s a start. It’s 600-odd words of not very much at all but it feels like much more than just those words. It’s a start.
Part of me is even pleased they spelt my name wrong. That’s the Grauniad way, right?
On Monday I will start as a trainee reporter for a local newspaper in the Lake District. I will be paid a wage to ask people questions and hopefully ruffle a few local feathers and write some words. It is a little bit scary, but mostly it is exciting. It is almost four years in the making (but really, more like 24), and it is so very very mine.