My passion for writing started as a teenager growing up in foster care. I lived with great foster parents, but due to my experiences, and the big age difference between me and the other children in the family, I often felt a sense of loneliness. In the solitude of my bedroom, I started to create characters on paper that helped me to feel less alone.
I’m a huge advocate of writing for anyone going through loneliness, loss and grief – or suffering in some way. When you’re feeling isolated, writing is a form of expression and a safe place to release negative emotions. I believe it can be especially powerful for children in care as throughout their lives, they may not always be in a safe place physically, and writing gives them a space where they can make their own rules.
I like to use some of my experiences in my own storytelling. My most recent book Orphan Sisters, focuses on three black children’s experiences of the care system. Although it’s set long before my time (in the 1950s and 60s) there is a little bit of me in that book as well as the other novels I have written. There always seems to be a running theme of loss and families that are different to the ‘norm’.
Writing has been important in helping me deal with difficult experiences. I recently lost my foster mother, and I poured my emotions into writing, producing a novella on grief in just a few weeks. It helped me to get everything out that I needed to, but I also knew that I wanted to use what I’d written to help other people going through a similar situation.
That is why writing can be such a powerful tool. You can use techniques such as free writing to cope with difficult experiences. This process allows you to pick an emotion, location or person and write without worry of structure and grammar to get your feelings out in an unedited raw format. For example, writing down everything you wanted to say to a person you’ve lost. And then if you want to you can throw it away or keep it just for yourself.
Sharing your writing with others can also have a wonderful impact, and I feel so proud when someone tells me they can identify with one of my characters. For children and young people in care, reading stories from those with similar experiences, cultural backgrounds, thoughts and feelings can help them feel less alone.
For children who may not fully understand the reasons why they are in care, I think there can sometimes be a level of self-blame and a feeling they may have done something wrong. That’s why it is so important that they hear from others who have had similar experiences so they know they’re not alone and it may inspire them to share their own story. The more we can hear and understand the stories of others, the richer we become as a society.
That’s why I’m honoured to be on the judging panel for Voices 2018, a writing competition for children in care and young care leavers, run by the charity Coram Voice. Young writers who entered in previous years said that the competition had allowed them to embrace their history, gain confidence to share parts of their lives and even helped them come to terms with being in care. And in turn, through hearing other young people’s stories, they felt less lonely and more able to deal with their own situation.
If any children and young people in care are thinking about entering this year, I’d say go for it! This is your opportunity to explore writing and what you can gain from it. So take the first step and see where it takes you!
I can’t wait to read and absorb every piece of writing each young person has taken the time, energy and creativity to produce. I hope that writing will be a positive outlet for many, just as it has been for me.
Voices 2018 has four age categories to enter: Primary School, Lower Secondary School, Upper Secondary School and Care Leavers. The theme is ‘Who or What Makes You Proud’ with a 500 word limit. The deadline for entries is 8 February. Find out more at coramvoice.org.uk/voices18.