Was there any advice which was helpful or inspirational when you started writing?

I went to see a Scottish writer, Alasdair Gray, when I was 16 - my English teacher sent me to him - and he said to me, "There's no doubt about it, in my mind you are a writer." That was really hugely helpful because he said "You are a writer" and I hardly dared use the word about myself. If somebody asks you in the hairdresser's or whatever what you are it doesn't come so easily just to say "I am a writer" which it should, but that was very exciting. But one of the things that I say to writers is to see yourself as a writer. It sounds a silly thing, but actually it's really quite important to see yourself as a writer, to believe that you are a writer and to believe that you have the right to call yourself a writer. I met Audrey Lord when I was very young - the African-American poet, Audrey Lord - and she was also very encouraging because she said to me, because I went through a period of acknowledging being black and not being Scottish because I was annoyed that I'd done the opposite for most of my life once I realised really what was going on, and she said to me "You're both. It's fine to be black and Scottish and you don't need to pick and choose." And I think that's another thing I found very important - that you could embrace apparent contradictions and that those apparent contradictions could be strengths.

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