Lots of people don’t realise that although you may see work by a certain author on the bookshelves in your favourite shop, many writers still hold down a day job in addition to penning their next novel. In this series, we talk to writers about how their current – or previous – day jobs have inspired and informed their writing.
I have worked in education most of my career. It has been a major influence on my life and my writing. The most important thing it has given my writing is discipline and structure. These skills are often underestimated. Yes, there are lots of factors involved, but I think these are the most important ones, along with self-belief.
I began my career as an English language teacher, living and working abroad, then taught at Warwick University before moving into education research and policy. I chose education because it represented freedom and that was something I craved as teenager. There weren’t many opportunities for young working class kids in the North East in the eighties. The pits were closing and industry was dying. The service economy hadn’t really found its way up north. Education was my way of taking some control of my life and escaping. After university I decided I wanted to give something back, help influence and inspire others. Education had changed my life, and I believed it had the power to do the same for others.
My move into education policy was my attempt to change the world, or at least a small part of it. I soon realised how misguided and naive I was. Things weren’t as I imagined or would have liked them to be. Education policy was all about putting young people into boxes, training them for the needs of UK PLC. It wasn’t about finding the talent or creativity of young people, but sifting and sorting, spoon feeding them Maths and English.
I believe every child is special. Everyone has a talent and something to offer. It’s the job of education to find that talent, nurture it and help it grow. Every young person needs to find their own sense of freedom and the best way to contribute to their community and society. Education is too narrow and it’s letting our young people down. This was one of the big themes I had in my mind when I gave up my career in education in 2015 and decided to write Becoming. I wanted to write a book about how I felt in my late teens, what my frustrations were, and how difficult it was to make the transition into the adult world. That’s what the book is about. It’s also about young people trying to find who they are, how the adult world treats them, how it fails them.
My eldest son gave me a wonderful piece of advice which I tried to follow – ‘I want to read books written about young people, but not for them.’ I tried to write from that perspective rather than trying to guess what might interest a young person. I wanted to write something exciting that I would enjoy reading, and hopefully others would too. I think if you try to second guess an audience you’re likely to fail. Everyone is so different and you only really know what you like. Just write from your heart and I think your passion and sincerity will come through.