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What I've learned: Children's author Dame Jacqueline Wilson

The children's author on humble beginnings, finding inspiration and learning not to worry

Published 21/05/2016

Children's author Jacqueline Wilson
Children's author Jacqueline Wilson

Children's author Dame Jacqueline Wilson (70) has written an incredible 105 books, including the much-loved Tracy Beaker series. She grew up in Kingston upon Thames, England, and is divorced. Her daughter Emma is a Cambridge professor.

I lived in a world of my own as I'm an only child and wasn't desperately close to my parents. It was a tense childhood as they didn't get on, but they stuck together for years, even though they were totally unsuited in every way.

I grew up on a council estate, and my mum sent me to elocution lessons so I wouldn't get the wrong kind of accent. She was all for keeping up appearances, and always impressed on me that it was a 'better class of council estate'.

I was laughed at because I wanted to become a writer from the age of six. My teachers thought it was a silly idea because people from my background didn't go on to become writers. I loved books and had a vivid imagination, which was a great escape for me.

When I was 17, I saw an ad for teenage writers for a magazine that hadn't yet been published. I wrote them a story and to my astonishment they bought it and offered me a job, which taught me so much about writing. When they were choosing a name for it, the guys in charge told me they were calling it Jackie, after me. I started off living in a hostel with other girls, and one time they were reading a horoscope column in the magazine and drinking it all in, but it was just me, making it all up.

I wrote two or three novels in my early 20s, but had the sense to know they weren't any good. I got married at 19 to a policeman. The happiest day of my life was when my lovely daughter Emma was born, although I was very young at 21.

So many women around my age find it very difficult with a strong-willed parent who will not comply and doesn't want help. My dad Harry died in his 50s, but my mum Biddy only died last year at the age of 93. It was a difficult time as she had dementia and was in a sorry state with a lot of physical problems.

Mum was a lady who liked men and had her last boyfriend in her 80s. She and dad split up when Emma was six and they both loved her a lot. We had to do separate occasions like birthday and Christmas, as they couldn't be in the same room together without arguing.

Having a daughter who's there for you and you're there for her is wonderful. Emma cried a lot as a baby, but all my hours rocking and walking around with her created a really close bond. We're still very close, even though we have different interests and personalities.

It was a bit of a shock when my own marriage ended 20 years ago, but we are perfectly amicable now. I hardly ever see my ex, but there is no screaming and shouting when we do. He left me for another woman, which is always a blow to your pride. I remember being shocked and upset, but then I decided I would make sure it didn't make me feel bitter.

I didn't want to be one of those women who bash up their husband's car because the only person you're hurting is yourself. I concentrated hard on my career and I wouldn't be in the position I'm in now if I didn't have that big incentive to continue with my own life and make some money.

I think women have a knack of coming into their own after a break-up or being widowed. We have better coping mechanisms so can generally sort our lives out, while men tend to wander around sadly. I feel, weirdly, happiest of all these days, which is great.

I was quite wary about love for about six years after my marriage broke up. I didn't want to find someone out of loneliness or desperation and then discover it was a mistake. There were one or two people who were interested, which was flattering, but I was cautious about getting into any sort of entanglement. I'm very happily in a relationship now.

You have to be slightly obsessive to be a successful writer. I nearly always write first thing when I get up, and will even get up half an hour earlier on Christmas Day to get something down. I have rare moments of inspiration where I know what I'm going to write next, but mostly I just plod along and twist the words around until something works.

Ideally, I like to write 1,000 words per day. When you do that, you can get two books a year done, easily. I was only going to write 100 books, but I don't want to stop now so I will probably keep writing forever.

I don't write about teenage girls now because I don't know how to get the tone right. Social media and the pressure on girls to do things like sending topless photos is really worrying. Normally I get into the characters' heads, but if I was to do that with a 15-year-old girl, the adult in me would want to interfere. I wouldn't want to write a preachy book.

Success was a complete surprise, but now I'm very competitive and want my books to do well. It's the children's response that means the most. I get a special kick when the kid who 'hates reading because it's boring' loves the books. The latest book is about a child who doesn't get the opportunity to be a bridesmaid, so she puts an ad up in the newsagent for people to hire her and gets to go to several different weddings.

I've learned not to worry so much. My marriage broke up and I had a few health problems, but I just got on with it. The other things I obsessed about mostly didn't happen, so it was such a waste of time worrying.

Rent a Bridesmaid, published by Doubleday at £12.99, is out now

Belfast Telegraph

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