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The letter I should have written a long time ago

Dear Lynne Reid Banks,

I have always written. Always. I’ve made up stories since I knew what making up stories meant.

I’ve scribbled them down in countless notebooks over the years, in longhand, in pen or pencil, and then after I’d crossed the great computer divide, directly into the hard drive of at least five computers so far in my lifetime. My passion for this, my vocation, has outlasted many a tool used in the creation of the things I do.

By the time you came to my school to talk to my class, I was fifteen years old. I was a stellar scholar in most spheres (well, let’s not talk too closely about math) and particularly in language – and yes, I was writing. But things were fairly nebulous at this point when it came to that vast country known as “the rest of my life” and what I would do when I got there.

I knew, of course, that books were written by actual people – but I do believe that you were amongst the first, if not the very first, person who was an actual working writer whom I had ever laid eyes on. And you came to talk to us about your life.

I still remember that day, when you came to speak – we were in the wood-paneled old library with serried ranks of books surrounding us (how appropriate was that) and you stood in front of us, and you told it it all. You told us of the dramas. You told it all.

You spoke about the highs, and the purest joy when something turns out so right — often almost by accident — but still, your doing, your touch. You told us about the purest happiness of having a reader, particularly a young reader, come up to you and tell you in an eager rush how much your book has meant to them, about the reader who comes up and confides that one of your characters is her new best friend, about the reader who rails at you if you hurt a character he likes. About the people who follow you into your worlds, and make a home for themselves there. About the people who believe in what you did, in what you are doing, and about the way it gives you wings and lets you soar high above the world in joyous flight.

You also told us about the waiting, about the blood and sweat and tears that went into the making of a book, about the rivers of red ink that go into the editorial process, about the pain of change, about writer’s block, about people who don’t understand your intentions or your prose and who can be bitterly unkind, about the frustrations, and the failures, and the pain of it all when it goes wrong. But even when you spoke of these things, you spoke with the light of angels in your eyes, the light that told eloquently of your love for your work, for your craft, for your art – that told eloquently of the simple fact that you could not, would not, EVER do anything else with your life.

This was the moment when my fifteen-year-old self sat up and began to pay attention.

I had written all of my life. But this was the moment that I knew without any doubt whatsoever that what I wanted to be was a WRITER. Here was a signpost, clear and unequivocal, into that deep country of the rest of my life. This is what I wanted to do This is who I wanted to be. This was the light I wanted to come into me, just like it had filled you.

THIS, I told myself, sitting up straight and clutching the arms of my chair, staring at you as though you were a living epiphany, which is precisely what you were. I WANT THIS. I WANT THIS LIFE.

I do school visits myself these days, and every time I face a class of bright-eyed youngsters I think of you, and of what you have done for me. And I hope that one, just one, of those kids watching me talk about my own life and work is sitting up straight, and staring at me with a heart that is suddenly beating harder, and thinking that they have found their dream. I can only hope that the strength and the power of my own vision are as vivid and beautiful and inspiring as yours once was.

I’ve never written you a letter to tell you all this. One is long overdue.

Thank you. Thank you for my life.
Alma Alexander

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About AlmaAlexander

I am a novelist, short story writer and anthologist.

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