Hanging above my desk is a framed photo of my gappy-teethed, wonky-frindged, ten-year-old-self, proudly stood next to my all-time hero. With her bright white hair and silver jewellery, Jacqueline Wilson was everything and more I’d imagined her to be. She was doing a book signing at my local village hall, and I had made my mum queue for a whole two hours just for that photo, and oh it was worth it. I remember telling Wilson how much I loved her books, and I got her to sign two copies of Lola Rose, one for me and one for my friend. She was (and let’s be honest, probably still is) my favourite author ever.
Jacqueline Wilson is a landmark author for me in many ways. First and foremost, she got me reading. Up until the age of about nine, I was quite frankly really not that interested in books. I had well passed the ‘Biff and Chip’ stage, and the children’s section of the library was rather uninspiring. On the discovery of Wilson’s ever-growing list of novels (at one stage she was publishing two a year), I suddenly realised that reading was actually quite fun. I hung on to every word of the iconic Tracy Beaker, knew The Mum Minder inside out and was fascinated by the idea of living in a hotel thanks to The Bed and Breakfast Star. There was something about her writing that was just so readable, often so funny, and just so perfectly appealing to ‘Groovy Chick’ clad girls like me. Not only did Jacqueline Wilson succeed in getting me reading, but she also spurred my love for writing. Quite often I would write alternative endings for her novels and send them off for various competitions (not that I ever won), and I still have drawers full of my own ‘Jaqueline Wilson’ novels where I adopted her writing style.
But, perhaps more importantly, Jacqueline Wilson taught me that life wasn’t as rosy as the world of Roald Dahl or Enid Blyton might have you believe. Like many, many, other ten-year-olds, my parents were about to undergo a messy divorce. My mum struggled badly with depression, whilst at school I was beginning to learn that girls could be mean. Wilson taught me that all of this was kind of normal. I remember reading The Illustrated Mum, and being so comfortingly reassured that not everyone’s mum is completely normal. I read The Suitcase Kid one weekend when I was staying at my dad’s, with my own suitcase propped up at the end of my bed. I remember feeling complete identification with Andy, the protagonist, and for the next few years she was my role model for coping with divorced parents. The Girls series taught me about periods and friendship, and whilst I remember not fully understanding at the time, the comments these books make on body image and mental health issues have stayed with me forever.
My Granny would always ‘tut-tut’ whenever I told her about the new Jaqueline Wilson book I was reading. I think she worried they were ‘too grown-up’ for me, that they would be a bad influence on my naïve pre-teen mind. Quite the opposite was true: for me, these novels helped to explain issues that I was already facing, as so many others were too. Despite offering a fictional world to escape to, they also offered a kind of ‘reality’, confronting taboos that are so frequently left unsaid by children’s TV and literature. The ten-year-old me needed Jacqueline Wilson, and I am so grateful to her for addressing the scary, difficult issues that the adult world likes to keep pre-teens protected from. I deliberately call her a ‘hero for teenagers’ in my title rather than a hero for teenage girls. Although her fiction is often marketed as a kind of ‘chick lit’ for young girls, and although her characters do tend to be female, these novels and the issues that they raise are relevant to everyone. Yes, her writing isn’t perfect, her stories can be problematic and her solutions are often far too simple, but for me, she is a literary icon.
Fancy a trip down memory lane? You’ll be pleased to know that her website is still well and truly up and running…