It is your 17th birthday and you are raw and a bit lost at the moment. It hasn't been an easy year. Today a nice friend called David who you've confided in (he is 17, is on the dole and lives by himself in a bedsit but he wants be a teacher one day) will make you celebrate your birthday. He'll take you to a Wetherspoons in Norwich and treat you to a burger and a pint and then you'll go to the cinema together. You'll both try to be cheerful and talk in a hallow way about the big, bright futures you both intend to have as you chew the dry burger and unpeel your arms from the sticky table top. When you catch the train home to Great Yarmouth that night you'll write in a journal with the neon furry cover. When I look at the writing now I see that it is frantic, your pen pressing hard against the paper. You'll write in that childish choice of a journal about such adult things: how guilty you feel and that you should be grateful for just being healthy and having the chance to have a better future but instead that you feel useless and hopeless. You lose touch with David when you leave college but you're grateful to him all these years later for that small kindnesses he showed then, for listening, and holding tight to your secrets like good friends should.
I want to go back to that girl I barely recognise from pictures; a serious, confrontational stare into the camera, eyes too grown up and skirt too short for that skinny little body. I want to take you for a big walk, as an adult you love to walk, miles and miles across whatever city you're in. In my mind I take you for a walk up the coast of Great Yarmouth, beyond the noise and lights of the arcades to where there are only dunes and neat suburban houses. I'll tell you that you think you want to be an actress but that is simply because you love stories and one day you will write whole worlds instead. I'll tell you even though you've been told that girls like you, from the estates you come from, have nothing to say worth hearing, you'll see that isn't true. People will listen if you speak up. You will go to London and you'll fall in love and know what it is to feel safe with another person. At seventeen you haven't been on a plane yet, or abroad - you haven't even been on a holiday but one day you'll travel the world. You'll go places where the only way you can communicate is to smile at everyone around you and you'll smile a lot in your adulthood. I want to promise you you'll carve yourself a happy, purposeful life and because of where you came from you'll be grateful for each small thing: a good meal, a book you can't put down, the sunshine on a long Summer Sunday.
You don't know yet how much your childhood and teens will shape you. You'll spend your twenties denying them, hiding behind the sofa from your background, telling anyone who'll listen that you refuse to be defined by it. Then, in your late twenties you will come to realise how important it was and how much it gave you: resilience, work ethic, an understanding of what it is to struggle, a need to strive and the gratitude that will remind you how lucky you are every single day.
Your first novel, Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma was published last week by Chatto & Windus. You're starting to tell the stories of girls from backgrounds like yours and hope girls just like you will read it. Yesterday I walked up to Hampstead Heath and sat on a hill in a patch of sunshine drinking a cup of coffee. I thanked you for sticking with it, working hard, fighting for your place so that I could be be in my place now...that sunny patch under the big blue London sky.
Thanks so much, Kerry, for sharing this with us. I find the part about spending your 20s denying how your childhood shaped you really interesting, I think I did a bit of that, maybe it comes from the stubbornness of youth or something - the 'Yeah this happened but I'm fine, I'm strong' etc. Then it kind of catches up with you, but in a good way too. Comes with getting to know yourself, perhaps. Thanks again for such a personal and generous letter.
Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice-Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma is out now and can be ordered here.
Catch Kerry on her next couple of stops:
Wednesday: Blurb and extract at bedsheets & biscuit crumbs
Thursday: Inspiration for the book at Sarah's book reviews
Click here for my thoughts on Kerry's book, plus details of a pretty fantastic competition open to anyone who comments on this post and any others from Kerry's tour.