What Being A Working-Class Writer Means To Me
It’s nothing about money and it’s everything about money. It’s eating arctic roll and thinking Vienetta is a fancy pudding and having your Christmas presents put into a large box to make them feel more special. It’s thinking fish only comes with chips or in a frozen rectangle with a packet of parsley sauce. It’s wanting all the things on the telly but knowing better than to ask for them. It’s never having Kickers or Fruit of the Loom or Nike and Mum joking about how she bought this cardigan fifteen years ago and she hasn’t bought a new one yet.
It’s the bottom branch of the Christmas tree sellotaped back on where the cat broke it and staying in school during Activities Week and painting the PE changing rooms and making stuff with clay because it was free while your friends go on the France trip. It’s only being able to have recorder and violin lessons because they were free and Mum fighting to let me study Music at A Level because everyone else has grades and theory and all the things that money can buy.
It’s loving books and writing stories and getting your poem published with your drawings on it when you’re still in primary school but never reading a book about someone like you. It’s choosing all the courses at college and University that have creative writing in but never thinking you could write something that other people would want to read.
It’s working evenings and weekends at New Look and then the Student Union because that’s the only way you can eat and pay your rent. It’s waitressing all summer and falling behind on your reading because you had to work. It’s counting up how much your books cost for that term and wondering if you can get them out of the library or maybe you’ll just eat pasta for a week.
It’s taking that course that gives you a flight and a job abroad because there aren’t any savings. It’s never having savings. It’s going to the cashpoint with fear in your step because maybe you bought yourself one too many drinks or you shouldn’t have got a taxi and now you’re in the red.
It’s eating on the cheap so you can go to Thailand and sleep in a beach hut. It’s always knowing, always, that you need to think about where the next money is coming from because there’s no inheritance and no bailouts, just what you scrabbled together. It’s the difference that makes to the way you see the world because if there isn’t a cushion, a safety net, then you’re always on edge.
It’s keeping a diary and a journal and playing around with describing things but never sharing it with anyone except your close mates who like to do the same. It’s loving singing and acting and writing but never doing it ‘seriously’ because there’s no money in it and who can afford to take time out to practise and get better and get rejected?
It’s going into teaching because you’re so thankful for everything they did for you. How you got a degree and now you can actually earn some half-decent money and rent your own flat, even if your savings never go beyond the deposit you need for the next one.
It’s spending £1500 on your first car and feeling extravagant. It’s being able to go abroad on holiday every year and remembering how you used to go to Wales and sleep in the back of the car and go to Little Chef for a treat because they gave you a lollipop at the end.
It’s teaching and working and stressing and working because it’s so damn nice to buy some new clothes and anyway you’ve had a Saturday job since 13 and you’ve been buying most of your own stuff since then. It’s sometimes remembering you liked to write and flicking back through notebooks and smiling.
It’s working too hard and wanting too much and then you make the wrong call and you want a way out and someone says something about a Masters course for writing and you’ve never even heard of it but it’s a way out of your job misery. It’s taking the course and doing supply work, maternity cover, paternity cover, working all day and studying all night, moving to a tiny room at the edge of Zone 6 so you can worry less about your rent.
It’s not so much that you do well on the course but that someone looks you in the eye and says, ‘you could write a book.’ You get permission. And you’re thirty-three and no-one ever said that to you before and you read books about people who are like you, who had a life like yours, and you wonder if someone might want to hear what you’ve got to say after all.
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