Inspiring Words from Jackie Kay

Last Thursday night, I returned to the campus of Stirling University for the first time since completing my MLitt course to hear a former student who studied English at the university.


That student was Jackie Kay who went on to become a multi-award winning poet, novelist and playwright. Fiere, her most recent collection of poems was shortlisted for the COSTA Award and her memoir Red Dust Road won the Scottish Book of the Year Award. Talk about a success story!

images (2)After suffering a blip in the progress of my WIP, I was in need of an injection of inspiration. I wasn’t left disappointed as Jackie kept the audience hanging on her every word. When Jackie announced at the start that she planned to read for 45 minutes from various pieces of her writing, my heart sunk. I’m not good at staying focused on lengthy readings and I’m not a great fan of poetry. But I’d never experienced one of Jackie’s readings. This was a performance more than a reading and she had the audience laughing out loud one minute and swallowing a lump in our throats the next with the roller coaster ride of emotions. Jackie oozes stage presence and has a Ready Brek warmth around her persona that lifted my spirits. That might sound cheesy but it’s true and I’m not easily impressed!

download (1)I’d read Jackie’s memoir about her story of how she tracked down her birth parents – a young nurse from the Highlands and a Nigerian student at Aberdeen University. I loved the book and when the floor was open for questions, I grabbed the opportunity to ask Jackie if she ever worried about any negative impact of her memoir on her family and friends.

Jackie acknowledged that she did have concerns over how her family would react and was anxious when her brother rang her up to challenge her on a section where he was featured. But to Jackie’s relief, it was only to correct the model of the motorbike he was driving. She feels that as long as the writing is not done with malice, then there should be no problem with a writer telling her story.  She said that as a writer, she found that self-belief and self-doubt come in equal measure. This was so reassuring for me after my recent worries about using anecdotes from my own life in my fiction.

downloadphotoI queued like a star struck fan for Jackie to sign a copy of Reality Reality, her latest short story collection. She told me that worrying was part of the job and if you didn’t worry about your writing, you’re not doing your job properly. Wise words indeed from a very talented lady.

Have you had advice from a writer which has inspired you?

6 thoughts on “Inspiring Words from Jackie Kay

  1. Hi Helen, the writing message I hold most dear was given to me by Chris Stewart, author of ‘Driving over Lemons’ on an Arvon course. The week was full of insights, advice and inspiration, but on the first day, he told us that he started writing his first book (Lemons) at the age of 45 and that it took him three years. Driving Over Lemons, of course, became an international bestseller. Chris’s comments still give me hope that it’s never too late to start writing and courage too, to keep going until I finish writing my first book… at this rate though, I’m unlikely to come in under the three year target… 😀 Anne x

    • Thanks for sharing Chris’s advice Anne, Like you, I panic about ever getting my WIP finished and out there (although you’re younger than me!) but we’ll keep each other going and we WILL reach our goal! 🙂 I truly believe 2013 is going to be our year!!! x

  2. Helen I loved this post especially as Jackie Kay has also been a big inspiration to me (though I’ve never seen her at an event). I discovered her collection ‘Wish I Was Here’ in the very early days of attending CW classes, when we were asked to write a piecebeginning with the (adapted) line ‘I dream about those rooms in my life…’ from the story ‘What is left Behind’. The issue of borrowing from real life hasn’t really arisen for me so far but I was, and am, just blown away by the beauty of her writing and the emotion it conveys. Now I’ve got into writing short fiction I think about her often.

    • Thanks Isabel. I was aware of Jackie’s talent but I’ve only read her work recently. I can’t wait to get started on her new short stories as the ones she read from were wonderful. If you ever get a chance to see her at an event, I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed!,

  3. I discovered Jackie Kay after she was profiled in the Guardian in their A Life of Writing series I think it was and it coincided with the publication of her short story collection Reality, Reality which I bought as well as Red Dust Road. I absolutely loved that book and bought it as a birthday present for my uncle (who had just returned from spending 3 months in Nigeria designing the film of the book Half of a Yellow Sun) and was about to embark on a 4 day walk in the Scottish Highlands, so Red Dust Road did seem like the perfect book for him – and it was – he even painted two lovely water colour landscapes inside the front and back covers of his book.

    All this and I haven’t even mentioned her poetry, but her poetic voice is what elevates her writing in her longer form work I am sure. I have never had the pleasure of meeting her, but a poet friend sent me the link to her interview on the poetry archive which is just brilliant and if you haven’t listened to it – and especially when you need inspiration, I thoroughly recommend it. I was so pleased to see her book on the list for World Book Night this year, she got my vote.

    • I was totally in awe of Jackie’s talents and I hope you get the chance to meet her one day too. Reality Reality is on my massive tbr pile and it seems that we have lots in common as readers.:)

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