When I was fifteen, a friend and me were almost mugged.
Sat on the wall, basking in the warm glow and vinegar scent of the local fish and chip shop, a girl, no more than seventeen, got out of a black car and walked straight up to us. She was very matter of fact about wanting to take our money, and there was a dramatic pause as we exchanged glances, before I burst out laughing.
‘Do you think we’d be sat here freezing our arses off if we had any money?’
‘Because if you can find anything in my wallet, I’ll be the first to give you a round of applause!’
The girl glanced back at the car, unsure what to do next. This was not how a mugging should work.
‘Jewellery then! Rings? Watches?’
My watch from Argos apparently wasn’t the sort of thing she was looking for, and we watched as she walked back to the car she had stepped out of, shaking her head and tutting, as though we had let her down.
When she’d gone, we got up and ran home, mostly because we were concerned she might have realised that I’d mocked her, and would come back to enact revenge. We never reported it the incident to the police. What would there have been to say? That a crime very nearly happened?
I mention this anecdote because if you read fiction or watch TV drama, you would be forgiven for thinking that every working class teenager’s favourite hobby is crime. I’m not saying crime doesn’t exist, just that
for every kid in a hoody robbing someone, there’s also one sat reading a book, or playing with their siblings or doing their homework.
In fact, my overwhelming memory of growing up working class isn’t of crime, but of being bored.
Boredom is what fuelled my first attempt at a novel when I was around eight years old. I still have it. It was called ‘The Adventures Of Wiggle-Bottom’ and was essentially a Sherlock Holmes/Eastenders mash-up with bunny rabbits. It remains an unfinished, illustrated classic, kept in my spare room in a plastic folder of mementos.
Boredom also led me to spend hours at our local library where the tales on the page allowed me to visit places I could never afford to go to. They fuelled my imagination for the short stories I loved writing.
But I began erasing parts of my working class roots when I was seventeen. I would love to say it was because I wanted to fit in with others, or even that it was out of misplaced ambition, but the truth was it was because of a boy.
James* was in my English A-level class. He was smart, funny, and I fancied him. That summer, he invited me over to his house.
But it was as I arrived, that the initial excitement of meeting up, was replaced with a feeling of inadequacy. His house was around three times the size of ours. He had a driveway you could walk down for goodness sake! We sat eating pasta in the dining room, instead of off our laps in front of the TV, and I remember thinking it strange how he slept on a futon that pulled out onto the floor, when his family clearly had enough money to buy him a proper bed.
On the return bus journey, I knew there was no way I could invite him back to the area where I lived. If I did, he would know how different our lives were. The next day on the phone, I lied that I had changed my mind about us, and that we were better off as friends.
Through the years I occasionally jotted story ideas down while on trains, when that childhood boredom returned. Cut to a teaching career and a failed marriage later, and I still hadn’t managed to write anything.
But then, one summer a couple of years ago, as I was sat in the garden with my then partner (now wonderful husband) reading whilst the sun shined. I announced how much I loved the purple heathers of the Yorkshire Moors, and the coastline that ran from Saltburn-By-The –Sea to Whitby.
‘I’ve always wanted to write a novel set there,’ I confessed.
‘Well then, why don’t you?’
It was a good question.
So I did. I’m still very proud of it, but it is a tale set in 1888 about a girl who uncovers a sinister cult – something far removed from my own experiences. After all, what else would I have to write about?
Then, last year, I heard that an old childhood friend had committed suicide.
Despite not having seen him for more than twenty years, I cried when I heard the news. I didn’t go to the funeral. I would have felt like a tourist; so far removed now, from the places and people I grew up with.
But it was with this sadness for a life lost, and a longing for the friends I had as a kid, that unlocked the tales of my past: the time we thought we saw a UFO. The notorious stray dog Zak the Canine King of Dog Shit Alley. The greatest crab apple fight anyone has ever seen.
These tales have become the beginning of a story I’m writing now as I’ve finally realised that working class stories are worth telling.
Not just that: if we want a more diverse representation of ourselves, then no one is going to write it for us. It is up to us to write the characters we want to see.
*Names have been changed to protect identity
Hi I’m Jeanette and I love to read and write stories. I live in Warwickshire with my husband, regularly snuggling the neighbour’s cats, wishing they were my own.
I grew up in Birmingham and was a teacher of English and Media Studies for 11 years, so unsurprisingly I love films and video games as much as I love books. I also love dying my hair bright colours (it’s currently bright purple!)
When I’m not writing, reading, or playing video games, you’ll often find me doodling and crocheting. I also once tried a new craft every month for a year, in my own self imposed 12 Month Craft Challenge.