The root

Published on: 02 June 2013 Author: Laura Dockrill

The author, poet, spoken word performer and all round good egg Laura Dockrill, who's work includes Darcy Burdock and Big Bones, became our ninth Writer in Residence back in 2013. In this blog Laura introduced herself and wrote about being a writer, what inspires her and the need for strong female voices in kids books.

Laura Dockrill

Oh hi so much.

I have been appointed the new online writer in residence at BookTrust and will be writing, here, four times a month, for six months... so that's quite a lot of writing. I thought it might make sense to start my first entry telling you about myself and what you might expect from this jabber over the next few months, this couldn't really come at a better time as my new book, Darcy Burdock, has just been released and I've just turned 27. So I am becoming a bit of an old oak and could do with some head explosions. Somewhere for all that brain confetti to go... let me introduce myself, it would be rude not to.

NOTE: Some of the below could be lies, it's what my brain thinks is accurate - I haven't and won't ever deliberately lie, it's just what I remember.

I come from South London and my parents are remarkable beasts. My dad was a punk who got a GSCE (O level or whatever) in brick laying and went on to be a carer but he should have been in a band really and should still write that book he's always on about. He is in denial but he has a terrible sweet tooth and I am used to seeing him forage for jelly tots or fruit pastilles. He supports Portsmouth football club as he grew up in Chichester where he had to live his early life as a part-time punk because you couldn't get away with living your life as a maniac and working at a post office at the same time. He likes liver and bacon and oxtail soup and lots of other vile old-fashioned food and is obsessed with Joe Strummer from The Clash. He drives a Lambretta.

He now lives with his wife Maria and weird allergic-to-everything dog. My dad has always encouraged and supported my work. He introduced me to one of my favourite writers, Patrick Hamilton. We have a relationship that's very much reliant on culture, our phone calls mainly being a 'did you watch that David Bowie documentary last night?' or 'did you manage to catch that Michael Rosen article?' - that's our common ground. Dad taught me the fabrication of storytelling and I have watched him master the art of banter many a time over a pint. He is addicted to Twiglets, Mini Cheddars and Cheeselets. My dad worked out that the only thing to get me to sleep when I was small was to tip me over his shoulder and play Kylie Minogue's I Should be So Lucky. My dad is very loyal. He still holds on to the mates he had when he was young and that taught me the value of relationships.

My mum is a true creaturette; a perfect cross of Debbie Harry and Kathy Burke, beautifully charming and mushy yet her heart and head are both robust and fearless. She has a rotten potty mouth and is by far the most intelligent and hilarious person I know. She wouldn't think it wrong to serve her breast milk in her friend's tea. She laughs until tears stream out of her eyes. My mum really doesn't enjoy washing her hands that often so I can't really watch her prepare meat or else I feel sick. Her best friend is gin. She likes long holidays in boiling hot countries and usually comes home covered in friendship bracelets from all the new friends she's made along the way. Everybody wants to be friends with my mum.

She has done lots with her life, my mum, including breaking a world record for fitting 21 girls in fishnets and stilettos into a mini and being a kissogram, she now works in TV.

She has inspired me greatly as my Mum wasn't given the greatest springboard to dive from into life yet she sees no door as closed. She has spun our life around by the ferociousness of her brain and her relentlessness need to achieve. I remember once reading a piece of work about Roald Dahl's mother, where he says his mother was interested in everything and that is my mum. She will be late for an aeroplane and still take the time to stop and smell the fragrance of a flower or notice a new nest of birds in a tree. Speaking of nests, my mother's hair is really good and if she ever wants to add height to it she sometimes stuffs a bread roll or hunk of baguette underneath it for a makeshift beehive lift. She says things like 'I am going to rent a Land Rover and run you down and crush you' to the bank. She loves Bombay Mix and lives with her husband Steve.

Understanding these people raised me; I was bought up in a tiny flat in Brixton, next to, but not inside, the prison. Money wasn't always available as both my parents did what they could to earn what they could but we never went without and we never didn't have fun. We once borrowed the next door neighbours' plastic garden table and chairs to eat our Christmas dinner off and we loved it. My parents had a sprawling circuit of close-knit friends and I was the first baby of the group so the early years of my life were pretty exciting. I'd be at Notting Hill Carnival, festivals and parties and was used to falling asleep on many a pub table with a leather jacket or fur coat thrown over me as a make-shift princess bed, because I was a princess, obviously, I felt like one, always.

I think these early years of my life affected me and shaped me totally as a writer and creator.

It was the beginning of my true love for story. I became fascinated with adults and conversation, eavesdropping and earwigging, mimicking and reenacting, dramatising and exaggerating. Being so small and around so many vibrant and colourful characters made me feel fulfilled and excited as a person and terrifically observant. At around the influenced age of 7 or so, more than once, I would be comforting one of mum's friends who had just been dumped, or singing The Buzzcocks at karaoke. It also meant I lived on a diet of cheese and onion crisps, fizzy drinks and sips of beer.

Later on, becoming a big sister only made my life more brilliant and bonkers and I became reliant on my imagination to turn our bunk beds into tree houses and rocket ships. As the eldest of three it was up to me to plan our exploration of the world in our little flat; to throw the other two off the wardrobe and into the sea of sharks, to escape the volcanic eruption of the washing machine, to poison them with deadly snails (snails covered in mustard) and my imagination became our home; my diary, my teleport of wilderness and I learnt how to function it, to make use of it. I have written since I was small and have never stopped.

School was ok for me, I was not the smartest cookie in the cookie jar or the cleverest clog in the clog box, if you happened to ever see a clog box, but I knew already that I wanted to tell stories for my future life. The back up plans were either to be a customer or a granddad so it sort have had to work. It wasn't until I met The Brit School that I realized the freedom and brilliance of allowing a mind to escape and visit these flights of fantasy. 'Daydreaming' wasn't allowed at my other schools, where as it was compulsory at The Brit School, encouraged. It was here also that I felt depressed about the tiny number of strong female voices in literature and the arts as a whole and I felt enraged. Luckily for me I have never really felt the full destructive scale of sexism to measure it against myself and come up short, as my mum was boss in my house but suddenly I felt angered; we had to put on productions, plays and performances of classic and contemporary text and literature and reading them made me fed up.

My mum worked too hard on encouraging me to be out spoken and confident to just allow me to read the lines of a waif queen rubbing the shoulders of a tired king with a crown atop his head.

NO THANK YOU! I wanted to wear the crown, I wanted my shoulders rubbing! So I started to write for myself; Monologues, poems, accounts, songs, essays, stories. Stories where women would kill strangers with typewriters, women would attack and abuse and fight, mermaids would rule the world, Norwegian queens would become cannibals. I didn't care what happened- I just wanted to write and it wasn't long before I started writing for my friends too, most (all) were much better actors than me and would read the lines beautifully and that's when I thought - I think I want to do this as a job. I went to university to study creative writing but to be honest I think I should have saved the money and spent those precious years getting pissed and working at Boots, at least I would have met people and probably got discounted suntan lotion. You can't learn writing. It's not something you can teach. I needed inspiration, to meet people; head food, a fathead.

That's what I needed. So I began to read out loud in pubs and venues and theatres. I'd go along to open mics with a piece of work I'd maybe written that week, to try it out and to explore. A lot of my friends were musicians and so it felt like the normal thing to do when you want to get noticed and much more productive than leaving my work on a dormant website that I'd spend forever trying to direct traffic towards. I am also an appalling speller and even more dire at grammar and decided that nobody could tell me off for my incorrectness and my bad use of the language tools couldn't fail me if I spoke my work aloud, they couldn't let the substance of the work down. And it was at one of these early gigs where commissioning editor Claire Bord, from Harper Collins, happened to be and two months later my very first book Mistakes In The Background was published.

Five years later and I am writing full time. I just want to write and to live. Which is now what I'm doing. I would be a liar to say I know the dictionary back to front, have read the entire back catalogue of Shakespeare's work and am BFFs with Stephen Fry. I really like nail varnish and mash potato and care just as much about my brownie recipe as I do for the edit of my next book- they are remarkable brownies. To write you have to live and to live you have to do it rather than talking about it the whole time.

I am allergic to the kiwi fruit. I have broken one bone (my wrist, by tripping up on the carpet to avoid a series of punches from Sesha Patel, who wanted to recreate a scene of Gladiators). I am messy but not dirty. An ok cook. I still want to believe in Father Christmas. My eyes are blue. I used to bite my nails, now I don't- this proves that ANYTHING can happen. I like the smell of petrol. I spend all my money on taxis and going out to eat. I can't have pets because I am a bad pet looker after-rer. But I love animals. My favourite song is Happy Birthday. I have been arrested twice- once for trying to camp in Hyde Park when I was 15 and once in Mexico but that was a MISTAKE and NOT MY FAULT. I have a fresh smoothie every day for breakfast and if I've had a lot of wine the night before I can sometimes and quite impressively sick the whole smoothie back up in one continuous stream.

I have no routine except night cream. My favourite colour is sparkles. I run. I dislike bullies, selfish people, greedy people and mean people. My glass is half full and mostly 'half empty glass people' get annoyed by that. I believe in what goes around comes around; treat others, as you'd like to be treated. I am a family person - my sister Daisy and my brother Hector are superheroes. I never diet. I am married to a beard. I have a plant called Patsy. I cry, even at The Simpsons and just like Danny DeVito, I follow my bliss.

I will be writing about whatever I want to write about in this time as writer in residence, I can't be exact about what that is yet as I am a human being and I am allowed to change my mind. Sometimes the blog entry could be an illustration.

My name is Laura-Lee but the 'Lee' bit dropped straight away after I was born, so it's just Laura now. Hi, I am Laura and I write, draw and talk.

Read more blogs from Laura


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Every six months, BookTrust appoints a new Writer in Residence to write blogs, run competitions and give us their own unique perspective on the world of children's books. Our current Writer in Residence is Rashmi Sirdeshpande.

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