About a week ago, I had the great pleasure of attending my former secondary school’s prize-giving as guest of honour. All I had to do was wear something other than jeans (oh all right, just this once), shake lots of hands as I dished out the book prizes (what’s not to like?) and give a ten minute speech.
As I considered what I could possibly say to this group of bright young things, I cast my mind back twenty five years to when I was eighteen, fresh of face, obsessed with comedy and tragically fond of my huge mustard-coloured duffel coat.
What would I say to that eighteen-year-old girl now? What advice would I give her based on what I know?
I posted this question on my Facebook author page and received dozens of brilliant suggestions from, ‘wear less black’, to, ‘making mistakes is key to learning’. You can read the rest of them here.
In the end, I decided to write a letter to my eighteen-year-old self and it goes something like this:
Firstly, don’t worry – you’re not always going to be called ‘Ann’. I know you hate it. I know you think it makes you sound like an austere maiden aunt. It’s all right. You’ll find the courage to say, ‘hi, my name is Annie,’ some time during your third year at Bristol uni. Fear not.
You won’t like university at first. You’ll feel homesick. You’ll miss your mum and you’ll spend whole evenings queuing to use the payphone (yes, children of the digital age – a phone on the wall into which you had to feed coins – the mind boggles, right?). You’ll think that everyone is having the best time ever and that you’re a sad loser who no-one likes. This isn’t true and this feeling won’t last forever because you will find your people.
You’ll know these people because they will be the ones who sit up with you all night talking and listening. It’s important to find people who talk and listen – shun the ones who just talk – they’re only interested in themselves and aren’t to be trusted. You will laugh harder with your people than with anyone else you’ve ever met in your life. They will be your friends for life. They will end up being godparents to your children and you to theirs. You won’t end up living close by but they’ll be there whenever you need them. You will continue to meet up as much as possible but you will find that you can’t party quite as hard as you did as the years go by and there will be more chats about mortgages and loft extensions. You will love them like family.
You will have your heart broken. Quite a few times and you will break a heart or two as well. This is part of the process on the road to finding the keeper. You won’t find him until you’re twenty four but he’ll be worth the wait and you’ll realise that you can’t even remember the name of that boy who first broke your heart by snogging your best friend at Emma Jackson’s New Year’s Eve party in 1991.
Your university years will be the best of your life. Your third year in Germany will be a particular highlight because you will be absolutely terrified when you arrive and having such a great time that you stay for another month when you’re due to leave. You will be pretty fluent in German too and your self-confidence will be at its peak. You will feel invincible.
You will be unsure of which career path to follow. Inexplicably you will apply to be an accountant, a management consultant and a diplomat. You won’t get any of these jobs because your heart lies with books. You will work in a bookshop, then for a publisher and then you’ll become a writer. You’ll write a best-seller but it won’t get published for a few years, during which time you wonder if you should give up but because you are tenacious to the point of stubbornness and married the right man, you keep going until your first book is published in 2013. You’ll carry on writing novels, trying to write the best book you can each time and happily, each book will be better than the last. You won’t be sure if this is your career for life but then who has one of those these days? You will keep exploring, keep learning and keep trying to make readers laugh and cry.
You will have children and come to realise that there is nothing that frustrates and rewards more than motherhood. You would cut off your right arm for them. And your left arm too. But you also sometimes long to lock yourself in the bathroom for a bit of peace and quiet.
In your twenties you will fret for hours about what people think of you, in your thirties less so and in your forties you will realise that no-one is paying you much attention anyway. In fact they never were. Be the kindest person you can be and you’ll be fine.
The media both social and otherwise will horrify and scare you at times but the kindness and wisdom of the people you meet and spend time with will reassure and console you that there is more good than bad in the world. Always.
As you grow older, you will look to your own children and the young people growing up and you will be inspired by them. They’re savvier than you were at this age – yes, they spend too much time staring at screens and yes, they use the word, ‘like’, with frightening regularity but they’re bright, they’re funny and if we join forces, we can probably sort out the world together.
So be positive, worry less, laugh more and maybe, just maybe, ditch the mustard duffel coat? Or keep it in the cupboard for twenty years when alarmingly it will come back into fashion.
Love and hugs,