I was always going to be an author. Aged 10, asked in school ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ I wrote ‘I want to be a Lady Writer’ and drew a picture of an imaginary adult me, bright orange hair piled up on my head, scarlet fingernails poised over a triangular type-writer. I was going to write books because I loved reading. The books that I’d write would be like the ones I loved: Malory Towers, Jill and her Pony, Ballet Shoes.
I had no idea how one became an author. I was interviewed for my Brownie Book-Lovers’ badge by a Real Writer, in his book-lined study, but I didn’t dare ask him how he became a writer – or even what exactly he’d written. As a teenager I wrote long rambling stories about moody boys and angsty girls, but I was much too self-conscious to show them to anyone. I wrote fantasy dialogues to order for a friend with a crush on a teacher, in which she fulfilled her desire for an illicit snog. I sat in the sixth form common room filling exercise books with a stream of consciousness, just to mark time, because school was so, so dull. I applied to read English at university, in the hope that I’d learn about writing books by reading lots of them. But I failed my A levels – too much scribbling, not enough studying – and got a job as a newspaper messenger girl.
I fell in love with journalism, a teenage romance that turned into a long-term commitment. As a messenger, I reviewed children’s books – little did I know what power I’d been given – and wrote some features. A levels retaken, I could have gone to university. Instead I became an apprentice reporter and spent my time making stories out of real life, framing complex and fascinating narratives into column inches.
For years, I was too busy writing and editing to think back to my early ambitions. Writing stopped me writing, strangely enough. But in 1998 my second child, Daniel, was stillborn. His whole life was inexplicably over before it began. The terrible mystery of his death made me think about my own life. I wanted to write something that mattered, something that would last, something in his name.
Shortly after losing Daniel, we went to live in Amsterdam, where I had another baby and got another job and was altogether too busy to think about anything as complicated as writing books. But in 2007 we returned to England, and a friend suggested a course in Writing for Children. And there I started writing the story which became my first book, When I Was Joe, published in 2010.
So, in short, I was a reader who wanted to be a writer. And I wrote and I wrote and I wrote, until one day – forty or so years after I learned to read – I started to write a book.
This Is Not A Love Story publishes on 7 May.