Letters to Liz…
I’ve recently seen your poem, Jinx’s Shop, in the Manchester Evening News. How cool is that? You’ve got a poem printed in a newspaper at the age of nine. And what a great poem it is, too. I love the perfect scanning and rhyming of it (although you do know that poems don’t always have to rhyme, don’t you?)
I have two bits of advice for you.
One – look after this newspaper as well as you can. One day, about thirty years from now, you’re going to start carting this around on school visits, and it would be great if it wasn’t a faded, scrappy, barely legible slip of paper when you do.
And two – I know you want to be a poet when you grow up but maybe think about having a fallback plan, just in case. Being a poet isn’t the easiest way to make a living. Oh, and I wouldn’t particularly pursue your other idea, either. You’re going to spend about twenty years being afraid of flying and I don’t think ‘air hostess’ is the best occupation for you, either. In fact, you know what? You’re nine. Forget about jobs for now and just carry on enjoying your childhood!
Love Liz x
Hi again. So you’re still writing the poetry, huh? And the diaries! Wow! How do you find time to feed yourself and go to school – sorry, university – while you’re doing all this writing?
I get it. You’re not thinking about being published any more. The diaries are your way of making sense of the world. And the poems – well, hmm. Let’s not dwell too much on those for now. Every teenager experiences angst, and yeah, I do remember what unrequited love is like. It’s painful. If the writing is helping you with all of that, then go for it. Writing is the thing that you’ve always got. I can see that by now. It’s one of the things that keeps you ticking and keeps you being you. You’re going to forget this for a while, but don’t worry – a bit of you, buried somewhere inside, will always remember it, and it’ll be back when you need it.
Love Liz x
It’s been a long time, hasn’t it? Where did you get to? No, it’s OK. I know, really. You’ve been travelling, you’ve been working, you’ve basically gone off and turned into an adult while I wasn’t looking.
But you’re back now and that’s all that matters. And hey, guess what? You want to write a book. Well, I knew it was only a matter of time. In fact, you’re going to write lots of books. But listen, this first one that you’re writing – it might not get published straight away, OK? Yes, yes, I know, it’s really important to you. And no, I’m not saying you should give up on it. Just, everything has its time. This one might have to wait a while is all I’m saying. But this new thing that’s just popped into your head, this Emily Windsnap idea – I like that one. Kick-ass mermaids sound like fun, and much more commercial!
Enjoy the ride, Liz, and work hard. At the moment, you’ve got a lot of people telling you stuff, offering all sorts of opinions, thrusting advice your way. You’ll listen to a lot more of it than you need to. But that’s OK. It’s part of figuring out whose advice you really value. The most important voice to listen to, though, is your own. It’s always been there. It’s been as much a part of you as your curly hair, or your quirky sense of humour, or your passion for standing up for justice. It’s you. You are a writer and the fact that you’ve remembered that now, and have put that knowledge at the heart of the way you live your life, is all you need to do. The rest will follow.
And you see that huge wall in front of you? The one you can’t even see the top of? The one that has an agent and a book deal on the other side of it? Well, guess what? Once you get over it, you’ll realise it wasn’t a big wall at all. It was just a line drawn on the ground. And there are more of them ahead. And they’ll all look just like this one – maybe even higher. So don’t get too hung up on any of them. Getting an agent, getting published, being on bestseller lists, winning awards, getting the film deal – big, big walls all of them. Some of them you’ll achieve, others you won’t. Some of them I don’t know yet as I’m only a few walls ahead of you now. But what I can tell you is this. All of them are mirages. They’re not real. They’re lines drawn on the ground. So try to just enjoy the journey and forget about looking up at these towering walls that don’t even really exist.
Make the most of this year on your Writing MA. Say hi to the others for me. Tell Julie that she’s a brilliant writer and not to forget it. Tell Michael thank you for giving you confidence. Tell Jackie you’ll never forget that she was the first writer to say she liked Emily Windsnap – even before it changed from a poem into a book.
But most of all, tell yourself you have talent. You’ll probably never find it easy to hear this and will always wonder if it’s all just a big fluke, or a dream you’re going to wake up from to find everyone laughing at your ambitions and hopes. But it isn’t a dream. It’s real, and it’s you. So be proud of who you are, of what you’re doing and of the decisions you’re making. It’s all leading you where you need to go. Enjoy the now; the future will look after itself.
Love Liz x
North of Nowhere is available to buy now.
To find out more about Liz Kessler:
You may also be interested to hear about a North of Nowhere creative writing competition that we are running to celebrate young talent. The competition is open to all writers aged 8-13 who need to finish the story (which is the opening paragraph of NORTH OF NOWHERE) in 500 words or less. Entries are open from 17 January 2013 – 28 March 2013. The winner will have their story published on the Guardian Children’s Books website, will win a digital camera as well as £100 worth of Orion Children’s Books for their school library.
The competition will be launched on the Guardian Childrens Books website on 17 January: http://www.guardian.co.uk/childrens-books-site