What is it that defines us?
Have you noticed how often it’s about our jobs? But how does it really work? As writers, is it about the number of books we've written, the number of people who've read them, the amount of money we've made from them? What exactly is the thing that means we can confidently claim the title of 'writer' as part of what gives us our place in the world?
Before I was published, my day job was as a teacher, although writing was my passion and the thing I spent most of my hours doing. But I found it hard to say to people that I was a writer, because it wasn't what I did as an actual, paid job.
My best friend recently passed a test which means she is now trained to work with the local Coast Watch station – an organisation which exists to keep an eye on people out at sea, and which in all of its years of existence has saved many lives. Loads of people congratulated her when she passed this test, but she was embarrassed by the congratulations – because this is ‘only’ a voluntary role and not a 'proper' job.
But why do we find ourselves defining our role in the world and our status by how we earn our money? This can't be right. So I've decided that we should start doing it differently. I believe a better way to think about our role is in terms of the difference we make to other people.
So…if you work in a shop and you recently helped a customer buy a lovely Christmas present for someone they love – just think, when that present is opened, you contributed to the smile it will bring! If you’re a teacher and you gave a pupil some praise for their work this week – believe me, that praise could stay with them for years. (I know it did for me!) And my friend at the Coast Watch station, think of the difference she could make to the world with just one phone call if a fisherman were to get into trouble along the local coastline.
These are the ways we should judge our place in the world – not by money or cars or houses.
So what about us writers? Where do we fit in with this idea? How do we know when we've made a difference to someone's life? Well, how about this as a start? A picture that one of my readers sent me this week. (It's my character Emily Windsnap, in both her human and mermaid forms!)
To think that a child has been so involved in one of my books that they have taken the time to make such a sweet picture, and then wanted to send it to me, is absolutely heart-warming.
Or this, from a recent message on my facebook page…
“I lent one of my best friends your book, "The Tail Of Emily Windsnap", for her book report. She hardly ever reads and didn't like to read, and now she's reading your books like crazy! Thanks for helping my friend to like to read!”
I helped a child to learn to love reading! Wow!
If you'll forgive me a tiny moment of trumpet-blowing, my latest book, A Year Without Autumn, has just been shortlisted for an award. (The first award I’ve ever, ever EVER been shortlisted for, which is why I can't resist sharing the news!)
The best part of it is that this is the Blue Peter Book Award, which is judged by children, not adults. Whether I win or not, if only a few of those children enjoy my book the most, I will know that I've had the opportunity to contribute to a few enjoyable hours of their childhood – and what could be better than that?
Well, actually, I'll tell you what could be better.
What’s this? I hear you ask. A pile of books?
This is, in fact, an example of the generosity and all-round wonderfulness of my fellow writers.
I’ve recently become involved with a charity that has been building a children’s hospice here in Cornwall. The hospice, Little Harbour, has just opened and has, this month, started taking in its first families. When I visited, I noticed some empty bookshelves. A few messages and a few calls later, and within a week, I had over 200 books - mostly signed specially for the hospice from fellow writers, and a couple of boxes from my publisher and agent, too.
I took the books to the hospice this week, and saw the bedrooms where they’ll be placed, the family room where they’ll adorn the bookshelves, the cute little nooks and crannies all around this amazing place, where children in the most difficult circumstances that any of us could imagine will be able to sit quietly and get wrapped up in the wonderful world of a book. I have to say, my heart melted on the spot.
So, yes – of course we want the pay cheques, the advances, the royalties – and yes, we dream about the film deals and the sales and even the book awards. But really, these are only the things that make us feel good on the outside. What matters most is what makes us feel good on the inside.
And if I can play a part in the short life of a child who comes to stay at this beautiful children’s hospice – if a child spends a few happy hours curled up with one of the huge Little Harbour teddy bears, reading one of my books and losing themselves in its world – well, THAT is why I am proud, honoured and grateful to call myself a writer.
Find out more about Liz here
Find out more about Little Harbour Children's Hospice (including how to make donations) here