A group of published UK-based authors and illustrators of picture books, children's and YA.
It’s ironic, 15-year-old Emma, that the only photo I have of you seems to be one taken in a photo booth after a Brighton and Hove Albion football match. Because you hated football really. Never understood what was going on. Just found it boring.
Every time you stood on the terraces with your mates– all more interested in pursuing boys than watching goals, if we’re honest– you got knocked down as the crowd surged forwards. Rough hands picking you up and setting you back on your feet. (These days, you’ll be relieved to know, the terraces are gone. They make everyone sit down.)
So what I want to say to you, younger Emma, is this: you don’t know anything yet.
You think you do, of course. You think you know everything. All 15-year-olds do. But you’re wrong. You don’t know yet that it’s okay to find men kicking a ball around unfathomably tedious. That chasing after boys is a complete waste of time – no one worth having ever needs pursuing. That trying to fit in and be like everyone else is a mug’s game, dafter even than football.
There’s a lot else you don’t know. That things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better. That life is even more difficult and complicated than it seems right now. That you’re going to make some horrible mistakes. And that the only existence worth living is one where you dare to take risks and fail.
That last one is the clincher, really. That last one is the thing I wish I could go back and tattoo on the back of your hand, because you’re going to waste an awful lot of time and energy trying not to fail at the thing you most wanted to do – write fiction – and the easiest way not to fail is not to try in the first place.
I’m sorry, younger Emma, that the prospect of not succeeding felt so catastrophic. Part of that was personal history (that’s something you haven’t yet got a grip on either); part was simply the mythology back then that surrounded being a writer.
The truth is you know nothing yet about what that takes. Writers are made, not born. Writing is not so much a gift as a craft – something you can learn. I’m sorry that your first fumbling attempts felt as dismal as your first run-ins with the opposite sex. It all gets better, gets easier with practice. It’s okay to fail. It’s normal. It doesn’t mean you were never any good in the first place.
That said, it’s a lot of work, younger Emma. In fact, if I told you just how much it would take, if I filled you in on all the risks and disappointments, the insecurity and frustration, maybe it would put you off the idea anyway.
Or maybe not – you don’t know yet that you’re tougher than you think.
Anyway, here we both are. Me in front of my laptop (you know nothing about those either), and you there, back in the murky past with a football scarf wound round your neck and a goofy grin on your face. And that’s just the way it should be. You don’t need me telling you anything, really, because you have to discover all this for yourself. The journey is everything. The process is all.
Emma was a journalist working for national newspapers and magazines before settling down to write young adult fiction. Her first book, YA thriller NOW YOU SEE ME, was published by Usborne in May 2014. Her second, BETTER LEFT BURIED, comes out in May. Discover more at www.emmahaughton.com or Facebook.