I always loved books – used to run away to the library. Shoes with cereal boxes filling the holes and undiagnosed dyslexia (don’t get me started on the “You can’t read if you’re dyslexic” thing), I finished school with no CSEs. There was this teacher, expensive watch, laughed to the class when I asked about staying on.
“People like you work in the Co-op till you have a baby.” So, I left.
No one ever said you can’t be a writer? Well, they did. More than once.
You see, “Working-class people don’t write.”
It’s the being wrong that silences you, the not fitting in, not seeing others like yourself. Still, I wrote in the silence, filled my children’s world with stories. But that was never “real writing” because people like me don’t write.
I spent years trying to prove I wasn’t thick – it didn’t matter how many letters I got after my name. It was hard to keep the faith in all that silence. I still hid in the library, thinking: “What’s so wrong with working in the Co-op, anyway?”
But the Co-op was never the issue. It was the lack of choice, the lack of options, the lack of expectations. The problem wasn’t me, even when you said it was. It wasn’t about being thick, or poor, or not being good enough.
The problem was you. What you see when you look at me. What you see as working class.
Only you don’t want me to say it like that – you want me to write it out proper. And you don’t mean people like me, anyway. You know, the ones that win awards, the “strivers”, trying to better themselves. We’re the exceptions. Only we’re not – there’s loads of us, given half a chance.
It hasn’t changed. My daughter, head girl, dripping with A*s, off to uni – the parting shot of her teacher?
“You did so well, considering where you come from.”
[See also: Failed by the system, I became a lecturer at 50]
They’re closing all the libraries now, so where will we run to? There’s no way out. No, not “ways out”, because there’s nothing wrong with us. We don’t need to be bettered. We need ways in. To have our share, tell our own stories.
I’m a writer now. Only: “You don’t write like a working-class writer, do you?”
I’m still wrong. I’m tired of the silences.
Write what you know, they say.
You don’t wanna hear what I know.
Maya Jordan is supported by A Writing Chance, a UK-wide project from New Writing North designed to discover new writers from underrepresented backgrounds whose voices have historically not been heard in publishing and the media. You can read work by other writers in this initiative here.
A Writing Chance is co-funded by Michael Sheen and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and supported by the New Statesman and the Daily Mirror. The project is delivered by New Writing North and literature organisations nationally, with research from Northumbria University.
This piece is published in Michael Sheen’s guest edited issue of the New Statesman, “A Dream of Britain”, on sale from 25 March.
This article appears in the 23 Mar 2022 issue of the New Statesman, A Dream of Britain