I'm pleased to welcome back author, Jo Cotterill onto the blog. To celebrate the publication of her latest novel, A Library of Lemons, Jo has written a wonderful letter to her younger self.
Hello! Well, isn’t being ten brilliant? At ten you feel you are really understanding what this world is all about now – and not approving of most of it, I know. You believe quite firmly that a bunch of ten-year-olds could run this country better than the current government. Well, thirty years on, let me tell you, you still hold that opinion.
I know that sometimes you don’t see the point of the real world. People don’t seem to think for themselves, do they? And sometimes they seem incredibly stupid. But I’ll just point out (gently, because I know you don’t realise you’re doing it) that looking at people as though they are stupid is not a great way to make people like you.
You might argue that you don’t want to be friends with stupid people anyway. Fair point. But, thirty years on, I’d like to offer you a different viewpoint; one I’ve only learned over time and from listening to all kinds of people. People are not always what they appear on the surface. This may well puzzle you, because you are very much you and there’s no great mystery there. You are not good at hiding yourself because you don’t see the need. But other people hide who they really are – and here’s the astonishing thing: underneath, they may be QUITE different, and possibly utterly fascinating people. They may not be clever at school stuff; they may not be talented in the arts. That doesn’t mean you should dismiss them.
Other people can actually be interesting. I know, bear with me. They look at the world in a different way. A way that is just as valid as your own. They have interests and hobbies and can do stuff you can’t. Most of the time, their interests won’t be the same as yours. But keep looking and you will find those people who DO fascinate you; the ones you’ll be prepared to open up to; the ones you’ll want to talk to ALL THE TIME because they’re so interesting and completely on your wavelength. But if you don’t stay open to new people, they’ll pass you by.
You don’t like being told what to do. (That doesn’t change.) But here, thirty years on, are my Things You Could Think About if you’d like to have a slightly easier path ahead.
You have a tendency to get into ‘good-enough’ friendship groups of three. This is a very tricky balance to get right – in fact, if you want to avoid a really unpleasant time in Year 9, don’t join a trio when you change schools.
Keep writing. It’s good for you. See if you can get into poetry to express yourself. It feels icky and trite, but actually getting in touch with your emotional side would be good for you. You tend to squash down fear and stress because you think they’re bad things. They’re not. They’re part of you and you need to acknowledge them. If you can figure this out now, you’ll avoid a nasty chronic illness when you’re twenty.
Keep reading – anything and everything. Those books you love now? You’ll still love them when you’re forty. And your vast vocabulary and incredibly accurate spelling and grammar will stand you in excellent stead for the future. (Just try not to correct your teachers in front of the rest of the class. It never goes down well.)
Be kind. If you had to rank important personal attributes, I’m guessing ‘kindness’ wouldn’t make your top ten at the moment. But one thing you’re going to learn is that kindness, compassion and empathy are the things that hold you up when everything else falls away. It’s not weak to rely on other people for help sometimes. Don’t make yourself unavailable to other people who might need your help, either. You wouldn’t believe the kind of personal rewards that being strong for another can bring you. It isn’t always about getting back what you put in.
Other than that, keep doing what you do. You’re talented, clever and quick-thinking (and prettier than you think – and those curves you will long for as a teenager will turn up eventually, I promise). You have a really great supportive family unit with amazing parents and a brilliant brother. But more than that, you have a rock-solid belief in yourself, and that’s not going to change. You’ll realise later in life just how very unusual that is.
Keep believing. And keep your heart open.
Thank you, Jo! What an awesome letter.
Calypso's mum died a few years ago and her emotionally incompetent Dad can't, or won't, talk about Mum at all. Instead he throws himself into writing his book A History of the Lemon. Meanwhile the house is dusty, there's never any food in the fridge, and Calypso retreats into her own world of books and fiction. When a new girl, Mae, arrives at school, the girls' shared love of reading and writing stories draws them together. Mae's friendship and her lively and chaotic home - where people argue and hug each other - make Calypso feel more normal than she has for a long time.
But when Calypso finally plucks up the courage to invite Mae over to her own house, the girls discover the truth about her dad and his magnum opus - and Calypso's happiness starts to unravel.
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