As a child I was always making up stories. Before I could write complex sentences I kept plots and characters in my head. The only evidence a story existed was a single name written on a scrap of paper. As I entered adolescence the stories remained in my head, where I guarded them jealously. I worried that even acknowledging they existed would cause them to be taken from me. To write them down where they could be seen by anyone never occurred to me. When I couldn't resist the urge to write any longer I wrote compulsively, stories for my friends, with them as Raymond Chandler-style private detectives, or femmes fatale. I was always careful to ensure there was nothing of me in the stories. I was terrified my writing would give me away, unveil my weakness, when I tried so hard to present as this fearless, reckless, force of nature.
Even though I always wanted to be an author I never considered that I could be one. Nor, for that matter, did anyone around me. I was really bad at grammar. I mixed up my words, and still can't write a sentence without changing tenses at least twice. I was repeatedly told that writing is one of those things where you either have it or you don't. The inference being that I didn't have it.
The internet hadn't yet grown into the wonderful and terrifying portal of everything it is today so I had no idea how you could become a writer when you didn't even know how to be one. Writers were outspoken, aggressive men like Bukowski and Burroughs, not a girl who had no idea how she fitted into the world. So I stopped believing in me, got a job to pay the bills, and dismissed my dreams as childish fantasy. I did that for a very long time. Years later, I got out of an intense relationship. For the first time in my entire life I was free to be me. Only I had no idea who I was.
I started writing again. It took me three years of writing in the evening and weekends to finish my first novel. It was a present day, dystopian fantasy novel, and it was really, really bad. The structure and grammar were atrocious, the story was so derivative. One character wanted to use time travel to kill Hitler. I will always be proud of it, because it was the first time I had written a book. As rubbish as it was, was mine. All of the people who had implied I was too stupid to write a book had been wrong.
Over the next four years I wrote a historical crime novel set in London, a first contact sci-fi novel set on a distant planet, and a YA sci-fi novella. I lost my childhood fear that my writing would reveal all my failings to the world but I still worried I was too weird. I still harboured a secret dream of being an author, but didn't consider that it could actually happen. I had very little idea how publishing worked, and doubted that anybody would be interested in my weird musings. I submitted the sci-fi novel to a couple of publishers’ open submission slots and got rejected.
I've been reading science fiction novels since I was a child, but I started reading the genre seriously again, to get a better sense of what the genre was like now. I focussed on reading sci-fi books by female authors, but read all around the genre as well. Sometimes I would be disheartened by how effortlessly brilliant a particular book was, but others times I would read something and think that it wasn't that different to my writing style. It helped raise my confidence a little. Even though I still had a lot to learn.
My writing improved with each new story I wrote, but I wanted to do something more. Something that would help me feel confident enough in my writing to actually submit it to agents, to take the query process seriously. I had always wanted to do a novel writing course or qualification, but I didn't have the means to do an MA, and even the cheaper courses were very expensive. After 12 years of thinking about it, I finally decided to go for it, and enrolled in the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course.
It's a great course, if you can afford it. For me, it was a real confidence booster, which was what I needed the most. Being around 14 other writers, who all wrote beautifully, in a way I felt I did not, made me anxious but also spurred me on. I didn't want to embarrass myself. I worked harder than ever on my writing, spent more time plotting, planning, reviewing and editing than I ever had before. I got constructive feedback and positive comments back from my fellow writers. For the first time I started to believe that maybe someone like me. Someone rubbish at grammar, who doesn't write lush prose, could be an author. One day.
I write because I love it. I have so many stories I want to tell, for the younger version of me. She was so alone, but found solace in novels. I want to give her, and young women like her, a sense of hope and encouragement they don't get from the people around them. We can all do more to work together to make the world kinder, and fairer, for everyone. I try and reflect that through my work, though as I mainly write sci-fi, there's still plenty of robots around and adventures to be had.
To the various people who told me I didn't have what it takes to be a writer: get in the sea. I am a writer.