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!
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!
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.
I 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?