I know that behind the smile you use as a shield, you are desperately unhappy right now, and very lonely.
I know how sad and confused and afraid you feel. I know, too, that you want very badly to do something in life that matters—something important—but all your mother wants is for you to clean your room and take care of your brothers and sisters. You wonder how she can think of such things, when her husband—your father—was just killed in a car crash. She has always been a house cleaning fanatic, but it seems to you that she has got a lot worse since your dad was killed.
Try to remember she is only 35 and that is really not very old. You will be older than that when you have your daughter. Try to remember your mum is probably frightened of what will happen to her and to you and your brothers and sisters. Your dad left a lot of debt. He was a fine and an interesting man, but not very good with money.
I know you are desperately sad about his death, of course you are. Because you didn’t just love him, you hero worshipped him. You don’t know it yet, but the passionate feeling of unfairness and injustice you are experiencing because the drunk driver was never punished for killing your dad and the other man, whose wife was in hospital right then, having their first baby, is lighting a fire in you that will never be quenched. It will burn so bright that you will have to find a way to think about it and this and the fact that no one seems to care what you think or feel, is what will make you turn inward and start to write.
The fear your mum had that the welfare would take you and your brothers and sisters away from her, which you absorbed through your skin, will make you ever wary of power and mistrustful of people who desire it and of those who misuse it. That too will pour itself into your writing.
That scouring feeling you have of being friendless and a total misfit in the world, is going to become the heart and soul of your first heroine. It is going to make her the sort of character that readers will write to you about for decades after the book is published.
I know you love reading books and that they are your solace right now, but one day, people are going to write and tell you that your books are their solace, and you can’t imagine what a balm that will be.
Get ready, because very soon you will begin to write and you will find in writing a solace even greater and more beautiful than that of reading great books. You are not going to write it to be published or to impress anyone. You are going to write for yourself, as a way of trying to understand how you feel and what it means, and of finding out what you really think about the world. That writing is going to prove delicious and addictive, and you will find in the imaginary worlds you create, a haven you will cherish forever.
You don’t know it yet, but all the bad, hard, sad things that have happened to you are going to make your writing so strong and so true that it will be published by the very first publisher you send it to. And it will be shortlisted for such an important award that suddenly all of the public and school libraries will buy copies of it and there will be newspaper articles about it and you. Then with your fourth book, you will win book of the year for a story set in the old Housing Commission neighbourhood you grew up in, that will be translated into many languages all around the world. That book, and your first will still be in print after thirty years, when your 35th book is published, and your daughter is turning 14—the age that you are now….
The age that your father died—the age that you began your first book.
So smile, because sometimes, all the bad stuff that happens, really does make you stronger….
Smile, because one day soon, you will pick up a pen and write
54 year old me.
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