Finishing year 11, aged 16, concluded my 3-year First Story experience with Nick Toczek – Writer in Residence at Appleton Academy, West Yorkshire – and Mrs Parr, the school librarian. Weekly sessions and annually published anthologies were a result of my being nominated at 13 by my English teacher, Miss Walker, who recognised my then-budding love for writing and my potential. I had no faith in my writing; it was for me, and only me. Nick wasn’t going to have that! By dragging me out of my comfort zone I began to grow – as a writer, yes – but most importantly as a person. Nick allowed me to see the rewards of doing something nerve-wracking and powering through. Suddenly there I was, published, at the end of the academic year.
Other writers visited – Andy Craven-Griffiths, for example, who taught me the power of word choice. One word can say everything.
I finally understood that writers were ordinary people – like Nick, Bradford born and bred – and being an author was not an unobtainable dream.
I’ve always been an avid reader but to keep up with the varied writing prompts we were given I began reading more broadly for inspiration. Nick demonstrated from his own political publications, short stories, and children’s poetry that I needn’t be restricted to one or two genres or forms. I read more widely to write more freely. The reading and writing wasn’t just exciting, it helped me to understand more about myself and others.
Mrs Parr arranged for Kevin Duffy from the indie publishing house Bluemoose to discuss his role. At Bluemoose they read every manuscript they’re sent, enabling innovative people from all backgrounds to have their work published. It compounded what I had learned about myself; I have my own voice and I should use it. Imagine being able to help others begin that journey!
Literature matters not only because we can discover ourselves through it, but also because it makes for a more understanding society as we learn that, like fictional characters, we do not just function at surface level.