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The road not taken

New Statesman writers reflect on what they might have become had circumstances, real life, or fate not got in the way.

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Howard Jacobson on his ambition to be a lyric tenor: “That’s not singing, Jacobson, that’s shouting to music”

Margaret Drabble on the appeals of an underwater life: Tadpoles and newts and water boatmen in ponds and ditches enchanted me, and my first visit to the seaside, after the war, was full of discovery

Bernardine Evaristo on her career in theatre: There was such a paucity of roles for us, we had to create our own

Simon Armitage on his years as a probation officer: My technique was to act like a decent and caring human being, then hope some of it rubbed off

Alexander McCall Smith on the lawyer he almost was: I buried my law career when I was asked to dig up worms

Johny Pitts on his adolescent rap dreams: If Tim Rice were to be crossed with Tupac Shakur, that was me

Nadifa Mohamed on the first aid manual that inspired her love of medicine: I liked being a patient. Being a doctor looked even better

Suzanne Moore imagines a life without having had children: If I hadn’t had children I could have done everything, or nothing

Rowan Williams on how he narrowly avoided becoming a monk: I always knew I should be a priest. But why not do the thing properly and be a monk?

Frank Cottrell-Boyce on resisting the call of the river: I envy the tug pilots of the Mersey, bringing people safely home

Jonathan Coe on desperately wanting to be Mike Oldfield: The irony is, I didn’t even like Mike Oldfield. Or rather, I did, but I wasn’t prepared to admit it.

Melissa Harrison on turning down the dream job of editing glossy magazine: A high-profile job complete with pension and proper salary – it seemed the perfect next move. So why did I feel such deep disquiet?

John Burnside on his desire to join a choir: In a choir I wouldn’t sing music, I’d build it

Gavin Francis on his long affair with geography: The blanks on the map still cry out to me to fill them in

Kit de Waal on her imaginary restaurant: I want to cook for 20 Italian men just in from harvesting olives

Simon Callow on the allure of priesthood: The smells, the bells, the Latin

This article appears in the 13 December 2019 issue of the New Statesman, Christmas special