Growing up in the 60s and early 70s on a decidedly working class estate on the south edge of Edinburgh, where all the traditional industries that sustained the community had disappeared, I never saw myself in children’s fiction.
I was fortunate in that I had my Nan who encouraged me to read and read widely with the motto, ‘No matter what else they take away they can never take that from you.’ I also had a wonderful primary teacher, Miss Lawson, who again encouraged my love of reading and writing, letting me have my head and pushing more difficult books on me when I looked comfortable for them.
Even though I had these two wonderful champions of reading in my life I had rejected children’s literature in favour of science fiction and fantasy, both giving me places where I could go to escape the harsh realities of the life around me.
I eventually found Kes but that was way too near the bone by the time I read it and I wanted the lifestyle that was fostered onto the working class; Swallows and Amazons, Secret Seven, Secret Garden, all those lovely little comfortable adventures that the middle class could have. The ones where there is slight peril/adventure but everyone is home in time for tea and there would actually be food on the table.
In no way were words seen or encouraged as a way of making a living, expressing thoughts and feelings, developing as an art form. Mining, brewing, army, or prison were the best the careers officer could offer, no thoughts of further (never mind higher) education, unless you were a girl and wanted to be a hairdresser of course.
It took me leaving the area and reinventing myself within the middle classes of Edinburgh before I saw hope and opportunities.
Like every other group of people good representation is desperately needed to encourage people to believe that they have value. Representation of the working class in children’s literature is better now than it has ever been but more still has to be done to get more positive messages out there, and with the massive cuts education has seen over the last decade (and before) this is hard but hopefully not impossible.
I finally feel positive about stating I’m working class and that is where I came from, but it has taken 38 years to get there.