Kids Ask The Hardest Questions

by Gurpreet Sihat

This weekend, I was fortunate enough to have a front row seat to the preview of Waiting for Anya, adapted from 1990 novel of the same name. The screening was followed by a Q&A with the writer/director, Ben Cookson, and the author himself, Michael Morpurgo. Immediately I was transported back to my childhood, searching through my primary school library for a book I hadn’t read yet and discovering The Butterfly Lion for the first time. To this day, it’s one of my favourite books, and Morpurgo one of my favourite authors.

Ben Cookson and Michael Morpurgo at the BFI Preview of Waiting for Anya

During the Q&A, a child – a little older than I was when I first discovered him – asked Morpurgo when he first knew he wanted to be a writer. It made me think about my own life. My own choices, my own career. 

In the past few years, I’ve been asked by various people if I would be interested in doing talks at their schools. Whenever the idea’s pitched to me, the first thing I’m told is to talk about how I knew I wanted to be a writer and what the very beginning of my journey looked like. Other points would be given to me and I would spend weeks trying to work out what I would say. I’ve never been able to find an answer – not a real one, anyway – and it’s the reason I’ve never accepted any of these invitations.

The truth of the matter is I never really knew I wanted to be a writer. I went from wanting to be an archaeologist (until I watched The Mummy and realised just how many spiders I would have to face) to being a Concorde pilot (until the Concorde was retired in 2003) to something – pretty much anything – in the film industry (which I did get a chance to explore, luckily for me). But writing was always there. In the background. As natural and discreet as breathing or eating or sleeping. 

Did it spark from my need to imagine myself as part of the adventure in the books I was reading? Hidden beneath the dining table with the company of Thorin Oakenshield, or climbing the stairs to the attic with Moonface and Silky and Saucepan Man, or listening to the funny little creatures bickering about whether Katy did or didn’t do behind the hammock. Was it from the short stories I wrote my cousin? Tales about handsome princes and beautiful princesses that would keep her amused for hours? Or was it from the diary I would keep hidden beneath my parents’ bed, where no one would ever think to look for it? Each entry recounting my oh-so-dramatic life in such detail it would put Gossip Girl to shame? 

I haven’t a clue. 

But people always told me it was what I would do. My uncle would laugh when I handed him my envelope of stories to deliver to my cousin, telling me one day I should write a book. One of my oldest friends would roll his eyes and tell me writing was where my life would take me as I helped him turn a C grade essay into an A grade one at school. My teachers from university assured me I would NEVER be happy with any piece of work I had written, assuming I would continue long after that module of my degree had been finished (one such lecturer actually told me I had D. H. Lawrence syndrome, as Lawrence wrote version after version after version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover). Still, I wasn’t sure.

I assumed it would all stop when I became an adult. When I left university. When I got a “real job” that people actually paid me to do. But it hasn’t. The voices don’t stop talking unless I give in and write down what they have to say. Ideas don’t stop randomly coming to me at the most inopportune times. That itch just won’t stop needing to be scratched. 

This isn’t my dream job – that has always been reserved for working in conservation in East Africa. This isn’t where I expected my life to go. But it is something I know I can’t live without. It’s like breathing, like eating, like sleeping. 

Hearing Michael Morpurgo give a similar answer was music to my ears! It made me feel less like an imposter and reminded me that this is the life I’m meant to be living… 

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