Monday Musings: Teenage diaries, #3

The third instalment of my teenage diaries. The rationale behind the project is here. As always, I will change all names and identifying details, and remove anything that is too easily identifiable. I will also correct all my spelling.

This time, I’ve kept the same group of friends, but gained a hopeless teenage crush, Sam, who went to my youth theatre, which was being split into two different groups after the holidays. I’d fancied Sam for ages but he had no idea that I liked him.

UntitledFifteen

26th February, 2002

I still don’t know whether Sam is in my group or not. He has to be. I can’t bear it otherwise. But yesterday, Monday, I didn’t go to theatre group. No-one seemed to think it was on, and I didn’t want to know.

But now I do. If he isn’t in my group, which I think is the truth, then it’s over. If he is… but can’t think about that. Can’t let myself hope. I won’t see him until May. And then…

I have to stop going on about Sam all the time!

I had a really interesting discussion with Allie, Lois, Jenny and a few other people in room 4 on Monday. It was about how people are attracted to other people. Personality or looks? I said I think you sort of take someone’s personality into account when you start fancying them. Even if you haven’t spoken to them you can tell a lot about them from the way they talk to other people, just their body language, the way they look. You see… this is going back to Sam again, isn’t it?

Aaaargh.

Right. I will write about school. At school today I sat next to Allie in PSE and we had to do this personality test. [Possibly a version of Myers-Briggs?] We both scored lowest for personality type E, which was interpersonal intelligence, and highest for personality type F, which was intrapersonal intelligence.

Intrapersonal intelligence means you’re independent and like working on your own. You know your strengths and weaknesses and you’re quite intuitive.

Intuitive. It means you know what’s going on, even if it’s not clear.

Am I intuitive? I wish I was. It would help a lot with this Sam thing for a start… Stop there!

DSC02316

HOW PATRONISING!

And ‘knowing your strengths and weaknesses’. Mrs —, our temporary tutor, made me so mad when she said after reading that “but I don’t think anyone of your age really can?” HOW PATRONISING! I don’t mean to boast but yeah, I know myself, I understand why I do things, I definitely know my strengths and weaknesses!! Here, I’ll show you.

Strengths

I’m very creative and imaginative. I always have ideas. (Easy one that). Unfortunately I often let my imagination run away from me and end up imagining things into situations that weren’t really there. Have to control this.

I can work very fast and I’m pretty good at all my schoolwork.

At school, I’m pretty nice to everyone. I haven’t fallen out with any of my ‘new group’ of friends yet.

I’m excellent at working alone and I can make myself get things done if I really try.

Yeah, but strengths is easy. I’ll do weaknesses.

Weaknesses

I like to be dramatic. This whole Sam thing. Okay, I have to go back to it now. I know I do really like Sam and I’m not making it up. In fact, the entire problem is real. But I’m not utterly miserable about it. In fact, I’m enjoying the drama of it in a a way, and also thinking how sorry for me everyone will feel if they find out.

It sounds horrible, but I mean, I have been very upset over all this. What I think is that if I can enjoy any of it than why don’t I?

I get annoyed with people at home really easily, and act babyish.

I’m not very good at helping people. I find it very hard to help anyone who’s upset because I just don’t know what to say.

I’m prejudiced against people who aren’t clever. This is because trevs [Local slang. Roughly equivalent to ‘chavs’ or ‘townies’, but the class element is more muted] are stupid, so I assume anyone is horrible who is stupid. Well, I don’t think they’re horrible, I just find it very hard to like them.

I find it hard to understand how people can have problems with work. I find most of it so easy.

There. I’ve done a vague list. There’s a lot more I could add.

DSC02315

P.S. I’ve become a vegetarian.

Author’s Note

I find the way that I have carefully and deliberately structured this entry quite interesting. By this point, I’d fancied Sam for a few months and there are plenty of stream-of-consciousness earlier entries detailing my feelings, but by this point, I had clearly come to terms with the situation enough to have thought how to convey it in my diary. Although I do find these entries very funny to re-read, it’s fair to say that this was a very stressful situation at the time. The thing I remember about it most clearly is the suffocating sense of being imprisoned by my own thoughts, how I couldn’t stop thinking about Sam and going over the few interactions that we had even though I often became bored of the topic myself. I had all this very real emotion but there was no outlet for it. I also remember becoming frustrated by my own diary, which is perhaps why I wrote this entry, where I try to give a sense of how I’m feeling without writing down the same things that I always wrote about Sam. Far from being a raw rush of teenage emotion, this entry is written for a reader, even if that reader is only my future self.

I’m also cheering on my rant against the patronising temporary tutor. I think the list of strengths and weaknesses is pretty fair, if incomplete, and I’m sure that most teenagers could produce something similar. I’m quite impressed with my fifteen-year-old self for standing up to the stereotype of teenagers being utterly self-centred and having no perspective on their own problems. In my experience of working with teenagers in this age bracket, they are often very self-reflective and ironic, so I don’t think that I was in any way unusual in this respect, though most probably wouldn’t write such a long diary entry proving it.

Life histories or career trajectories? Oral history and gender

This blog post originally appeared on the Warwick Oral History Network blog.

As part of a pilot for one of my postdoctoral projects, I recently interviewed 15 male and female Oxfordshire teachers who started their teaching careers in the 1970s, exploring how their relationships with the pupils they taught changed as they themselves grew older. These were not traditional ‘life history’ interviews, but drew upon elements of the approach pioneered by Stephen Ball and Ivor Goodson’s work with teachers, aiming to situate these participants’ personal stories alongside their professional identities. [1] Strikingly, however, while my female interviewees seemed to instinctively perceive the close relationship between the public and the private, my male interviewees often resisted or neglected this narrative, preferring to focus entirely upon their career trajectories as teachers. This reflects a trend perceived by numerous oral historians, who argue that the ways we remember the past are gendered; for example, Penny Summerfield has explored how women forgot or minimised those elements of their war work that did not fit into public narratives of commemoration. [2]. More broadly, it has been suggested that women are socialised to remember relationally, to fit their own stories into networks that reflect the most important relationships in their lives, whereas men tend to tell stories where they are the only important actor. [3]

In this brief post, I will focus on the aspect of my participants’ stories that highlighted the most striking gender differences; the experience of parenthood. Without exception, all of my female interviewees who had had children of their own volunteered the observation that  becoming a mother had been a significant influence on their teaching careers, not solely because it usually entailed taking a break from teaching, but because it meant that they related to their pupils in a different way. As one participant wrote in her initial questionnaire in answer to the question What have been the biggest influences on your teaching throughout your career?’, ‘My own children! I learnt so much more about child development.’[4] One of my female interviewees was single and childless, but even she, without being prompted, commented that having the chance to get to know her friends’ children had made her a better teacher. In contrast, my male interviewees, all of whom were fathers, did not mention their children unless specifically asked about them. When asked whether becoming a father had been an influence upon their teaching careers, some simply said that it had not, while others admitted that it had, but that they had ‘never thought about that before.’ Unlike their female counterparts, they had not constructed parenthood as a crucial part of their career histories.

Male teachers tended to see being a teacher as a professional role that was separate from their private life, and told me stories about their career trajectory. In contrast, female teachers viewed their role as a teacher as inextricable from the wider roles as either mothers or carers of children, and so situated their careers in life histories. This was indicative of a wider gendered split that I observed in my doctoral research between men and women’s attitudes to teaching as a ‘profession’ or as a ‘vocation’, and suggests that gender not only affected these participants’ career paths at the time, but also the way they remembered their careers from the vantage point of retirement.

[1] Stephen J Ball and Ivor F. Goodson, Teachers’ Lives and Careers (East Sussex, 1985)

[2] Penny Summerfield, ‘Culture and composure: creating narratives of the gendered self in oral history interviews’, Cultural and Social History, 1, 1, 2004, 65-93

[3] Richard Eley and Alyssa McCabe, ‘Gender differences in memories for speech’ in Paul Thompson, Luisa Passerini and Selma Leyesdorff eds., Gender and Memory (Oxford: 1996)

[4] Oxfordshire Pilot Project, Questionnaire 0x.015.

 

Monday Musings: Teenage diaries, #2

The second instalment of my teenage diaries. The rationale behind the project is here. As always, I will change all names and identifying details, and remove anything that is too easily identifiable. I will also correct all my spelling.

If you read the previous entry, I now have an entirely different group of friends than I did aged thirteen… apologies for any confusion!

Fourteen

Laura26th July, 2001

It was the last day of school two days ago. The last day at the lower school [our school was split site] ever. Next year I’ll be in Year 10 and everything will be different. They’re even putting seating up on the bank where our group have sat for the whole of the summer term. OUR bank.

I have to invite Allie over during the holidays. I am ordering myself to do so. I want to see Caitlin as well, but that’s easier. I’ve known her for longer and somehow she’s just an easier person to know and get along with.

We all wore mufti [i.e. it was a non-uniform day] on the last day of term. I wore jeans and my butterfly top, and everyone said I looked really nice.

I’ll miss them all a lot over the holidays. I know I won’t see most of them. Now I’ve written that it seems untrue. I don’t usually miss my friends. It seems strange that I should. But I think I will.

In so many ways I’m just skating over the surface of my life. I don’t put much in.

I really hate people who try to convince others of what they believe in. Why can’t they keep it to themelves? What IS THE POINT of going on about it to other people?

At least in our debate on Tuesday [we were constantly debating religion, as we had a substantial group of Christians versus a group of atheists/Wiccans/pagans in the year. I don’t think this was actually part of a lesson, although it may have taken place in one.] Hannah was pretty well beaten. I think the name for her religion is Fundamental Christian. I thought of some okay arguments. I feel better that I am not a Christian, ESPECIALLY a Fundamental one. I’d hate to be one. I wouldn’t be able to be one. I am not a very believing person. I like to have proof. But – I never thought I was like that. I don’t need to see it with my own eyes. But I like proof. Sometimes. I guess the word is I’m not good at having faith in things I can’t see. So I’m not a religion person.

One of the points in our debate (Hannah, some other people who aren’t Christians, Claire especially and me) was about the power of the mind. Hannah said that people had been healed by God through prayer. Claire countered that by saying they might have concentrated so hard on hoping to be well that they helped to heal themselves. Not a miracle.

I said “It can work the other way round, too. I heard somewhere about people who believe when someone puts a curse on them, they die. And they believe it so much they die of fear.”

There’s a quote in Harry Potter like that. I think we had Hannah beaten. On the evolution angle as well.

diary cover 2Author’s Note

These sort of questions were honestly and passionately debated among my group of friends and many others in our year in Year Nine and into Year Ten. The sort of arguments I put forward are obviously embarrassing to look back on, but I remember how important it all felt at the time. A relatively unusual feature of my teenage years was that Bath at the time was a base for what felt like an evangelical revival, so what I refer to as ‘Fundamental’ Christians (they actually attended a range of churches, but were united by their focus on the importance of conversion and their belief in the literal truth of the Bible) were a substantial minority in my classrooms. Our school had a very active Christian Union (we occasionally attended their meetings to eat free cake and heckle) and I was once hiding from Year Elevens throwing eggs on the last day of school in the school library when I was cornered by another student who tried to talk me out of all my objections to Christianity, and was unable to escape through fear of the eggs. All this is to say that these theoretical questions felt very real and vital to me at the time. It will come as no surprise that this fourteen-year-old girl devoured Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials and felt as if it had been written just for her. The use of Harry Potter as an authority is an especially ridiculous feature of this entry, but it does have a context; the more fundamentalist Christians in my year made no secret of the fact they considered Harry Potter to be suspect, and one of my Christian friends actually made a point of giving me GP Taylor’s Christian fantasy allegory Shadowmancer as a possible antidote. Such were the culture wars that raged in Hayesfield c. 2001.

 

Monday Musings: Teenage diaries, #1

diary cover

A diary I kept at a very early age.

Who knew that anyone’s teenage diary would provide so much material for present-day entertainment? Because teenage diaries are certainly in fashion at the moment. There are numerous articles in national newspapers, and similar programmes on the radio, where notable people wallow in the horror of their teenage diaries (the continuing success of the various incarnations of Rae Earl’s My Mad Fat Teenage Diary may have something to do with this). You can even attend events where people read their teenage diaries aloud; Oh Dear Diary ran recently in Manchester and Birmingham, while Diary Days was a London equivalent. The draw? Teenage diaries are funny. Oh Dear Diary is ‘the cringeworthy comedy night where readers bare their teenage souls’ with ‘large doses of teen angst and strops aplenty’, while Stylist made much of the fact that most colleagues immediately refused to share extracts from their own diaries, but that they finally found ’10 for you to enjoy. Expect plenty of exclamation marks. Names have been changed to avoid embarrassment.’ Lucy Caldwell in the Guardian could find only one surviving diary: ‘But one is more than enough as a reminder of those gruesome years.’

While I certainly don’t want to criticise any individual diarist for choosing to share their teenage memories in this way – I’m a little bit addicted to If Destroyed Still True, Tess Simpson’s teenage diary blog – as a trend, I find this somewhat disturbing. Most importantly, what is it saying to today’s teenagers if we present adolescence as something that can only be viewed with total hilarity or complete despair? Rather than accepting that teenage lives are often as mixed, complex and varied as adult lives, and that teenagers can have serious problems that cannot be laughed away, such a narrow focus on how to re-read the teenage diary makes teenagers, both past and present, into caricatures.

Luckily I kept a diary from the age of 13 to 18, and can hence conclusively demonstrate that I was a ray of sunshine, totally understanding of the feelings of everyone around me and troubled only by the important issues in life, such as world peace…

Obviously, that wasn’t the case. But I am going to use my own teenage diaries (that being the only good source material I have to hand) in this series of blogposts to demonstrate that while teenagers, like adults, are often selfish, irritating and unintentionally funny, they are not only these things, all the time. My diaries are definitely not works of great introspection, especially in my early years, and as I discussed in my post on children’s diaries, I adopted a self-conscious ‘diary style’, so they are in no sense the unalloyed truth about what I was feeling. But when I re-read them, while I often laughed, I also remembered the full range of emotions I felt as a teenager; it was unexpectedly and surprisingly immersive. Far from being distanced from my teenage self, she felt more real to me than ever.

Over this series of posts, which will run on Mondays, I’ll take a couple of entries from my diaries for each year of my teens, stopping at eighteen (I’m not going to touch the university years… too close to home!). I will change all names and identifying details, and remove anything that is too easily identifiable. I will also correct all my spelling.

So, without further ado…

Thirteen

UntitledMarch 14th, 2000

Today I felt like crying. After all, who stood by Sarah when she got stressed out and moody and everyone else turned against her? Who listened to her problems, all the time? Me. We’ve been best friends for most of Year 8 now, and I’ve never let her down. I don’t think I’ve smothered her either – we’ve both got other friends, like Hayley, Louise, Rosie, Maddy. But now she says that me and Maddy are ‘both her first best friends’. I thought I was your best friend! I thought I was the only one! I wanted to shout. She says she’s been best friends with both of us since Year 7. But that isn’t true. For a while, she was my best friend only. I was so lucky then.

I know what it is. Ever since the Culverhay [local all boys’ comprehensive] disco on Friday, when they both found boyfriends. Some boyfriends if you ask me – they hardly know them! But now they’re all secretive, wanting to talk privately about boys. I don’t like the boys at Culverhay – most of them are really ugly. But it would be nice if someone had asked me out too, even though I would have said no.

A long time ago. The Christmas before last. There were three friends and they were so happy. But a girl called Maddy Jones broke everything up. She took my place with Allie and Stephanie, only to break up with them.

In some ways, Allie and Stephanie were the best friends I’ve ever had. They didn’t see me as a charity case, unpopular, uncool. I was just normal. I want to be normal. And I could talk to Stephanie about anything. Do you remember, Stephanie? I want to ask her. What went wrong?

Maddy Jones went wrong.

For the worst time, I was alone. Then I made friends with Maddy and Sarah. Then Hayley joined our group. Then Rosie. I won’t let Maddy break us all up again. I’m tired of her games. Maybe it’s her turn to have a taste of what it’s like to be out in the cold.

Author’s Note

This entry probably epitomises the sort of thing I would read out at a comedy event, if I was so inclined. The melodramatic style – inherited from such great literature as Sweet Valley High – is just so ridiculous. Nevertheless, this brought vividly back the complicated tangle of female friendships at my all-girls’ comprehensive school, and the quasi-romantic language – ‘break us all up’ – that the other girls and I used to describe them. The incident that has upset me is clearly very minor, but because it ties into a history that I partially explain in the diary entry, it’s sent me into a spiral of misery and fear. There was a period during my first year at secondary school when I had no friends at all. I was deeply unhappy, and I essentially spent the next six years doing anything to ensure that this would never happen again. So although this entry does make me laugh – I feel especially sorry for the poor Culverhay boys, whom I’m rejecting en masse because really I believed that none of them would ever fancy me – it also reminds me of how insecure and frightened I felt a lot of the time in my first few years at secondary school. To be honest, I would not want to have to attend school nowadays and so I don’t see my worries as necessarily disproportionate to the situation I found myself in – just very badly expressed!

‘A failed hybrid’

THE-KINDNESS-OF-ENEMIES-UKcoverNatasha Wilson is a lecturer at an unnamed Scottish university, researching the life of Imam Shamil, who led the Muslims of the Caucasus in resistance against the Russians in the mid-nineteenth century. Shamil framed his war in the language of jihad, but, as Natasha puts it near the end of the novel, describing her most recent conference paper, ‘I wanted to compare Shamil’s defeat and surrender, how he made peace with his enemies, with modern-day Islamic terrorism which promoted suicide bombings instead of accepting in Shamil’s words “that martyrdom is Allah’s prerogative to bestow.” How did this historical change in the very definition of jihad come about?’ Natasha herself feels isolated by her stigmatised identity; half-Russian, half-Sudanese, she changed her surname from Hussein to Wilson after her experience of arriving in London as a fourteen-year-old in 1990, ‘just as Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Imagine an unfamiliar school, a teacher saying to the class “We have a new student from Sudan. Her name is Natasha Hussein.”‘ Natasha has always perceived herself as trapped between cultures, not really belonging anywhere: ‘The two sides of me… were slammed together against their will… refused to mix. I was a failed hybrid, made up of unalloyed selves.’

Natasha’s sense of displacement mirrors most closely not Shamil’s own story but the lives of two other crucial figures in his struggle; Anna Chavchavadze, a Georgian princess married to the Russian prince David Chavchavadze, who was abducted by Shamil’s men in 1854, and Shamil’s son, Jamaleldin, who had been given as hostage to the Russians in 1839. Shamil would ultimately orchestrate the exchange of Anna and her small son for Jamaleldin in 1855. Jamaleldin, who grows to adulthood in Russia, acquires a taste for Russian culture and courtly lifestyle, and struggles to cope when he reluctantly returns to his father: ‘It was strange not to listen to Chopin, not to visit the theatre or dance in a ball; not even to play billiards or dominos or cards.’ Anna, although much gladder to leave her captivity, also feels disorientated when she returns, missing the company of Shamil’s wives and his recognition that she is ‘a princess in her own right’; not a Russian, but a Georgian. These historical sections of the novel are by far the most immersive, with all three protagonists swiftly earning the reader’s sympathy.

In contrast, Natasha is difficult to like; and I think we are meant to like her. Early in The Kindness of Enemies, Natasha’s friend’s son, and Natasha’s own undergraduate student, Oz, a Muslim, is accused of planning terrorist acts. Natasha happens to be at her friend’s house when the police come for Oz, and her own computer is seized as well. Her reaction is to distance herself as quickly as possible; she immediately drives away, thinking, ‘save your skin.’ Natasha is sharply aware of her position as an outsider in the world of academia, and so her need for self-preservation makes sense; but she also deserts her friend in her time of need. Later, we learn that Natasha volunteered herself to write reports on students ‘in danger of radicalisation’, believing that this is the quickest way to emphasise that she is not really a Muslim, despite her heritage, not like them. Again, this makes absolute sense as a response, but this, alongside Natasha’s generally grim attitude towards her undergraduates (she laughs mockingly and publicly at one Muslim girl who asks if she too is a Muslim, and seems to revel in the ‘stupidity’ of another student), made me feel even less kindly towards her. More importantly, however, by the end of the novel, it seems we are meant to believe that Natasha is now embracing, rather than rejecting, her heritage; and yet, in the very last pages, she is still focused on the fact that ‘the anti-terrorist squad searched my office after Oz’s arrest… I might as well have stayed Natasha Hussein!’ Natasha’s fury here is justified and understandable; what is alienating is the total lack of support she offers to Oz or his mother, and her seeming inability to realise that, although what has happened to her (which amounts to little more; she retains an esteemed position in her university) is unfair, what has happened to Oz is far worse. We are told that she sent messages to his mother, but we are never actually shown that she truly cares.

These difficulties in Natasha’s characterisation, which is largely told, rather than shown, point to a larger problem with the novel. Although solid and well-researched (these little-known historical incidents around the time of the Crimean War are absolutely fascinating) most of it never really came to life for me. We move from the Caucasus to Russia to Scotland to Khartoum, and yet Aboulela’s writing consistently lacks precise detail, the strong sense of place that such an itinerant story requires. In Khartoum, for example: ‘The pavements were narrow and broken and sometimes there were no pavements at all. Toyota pickups zoomed past me. Motorcycles, vans and more four-wheeled drives. Tea ladies sitting in a row… Rubbish piled on the side of a street; broken chairs stacked on top of each other. Too much struck me as incongruous. A donkey stood in the middle of a dusty street.’ To me, this conjured up any number of cities and places; I’ve never been to Khartoum, and there was nothing in this that took me there. More broadly, Aboulela has a habit of spelling out the messages of her novel, as some of the quotations in the first paragraph of this review demonstrate; we are never allowed to forget that this is a novel about people who don’t fit in trying to figure out where they belong, or (to pick up on the sub-theme about Oz that is oddly dropped in the middle) a novel about the changing meanings of what it means to be Muslim, and what it means to fight a holy war. In the end, The Kindness of Enemies simply isn’t very well-written; which is a shame, because the subject-matter alone kept me reading.

‘My little games’

UntitledWhen I was a teenager, I was a voracious patron of a number of my local libraries, so often ended up making my way through novels that were not exactly new. This was how I came across Jacqueline Wilson’s Waiting for the Sky to Fall (1983). Wilson herself needs no introduction, but few are aware nowadays that before her colourful, Nick-Sharratt-illustrated bestselling children’s and young adult novels, she wrote a number of novels aimed at older teenagers that are now out of print, of which Waiting for the Sky to Fall is one. I love Wilson’s newer novels, but I found myself even more impressed by this earlier book. Firstly, its teenage heroine, Katherine, is seriously flawed; often spectacularly unpleasant to those who least deserve it, half-convinced that she is special and brilliant (and half-convinced that she is hopelessly stupid) and occasionally verbally vicious. Despite this, Wilson pulls off something that is very rare for teenage characters (and pretty rare for female characters); by presenting Katherine with such respect and understanding, she allows her to be sympathetic even though she gets so much wrong. A superficial description of Katherine would make her sound like a typical teenager, but Wilson refuses to fall into that trap; she lets Katherine be taken on her own terms, like an adult.

Katherine herself is torn between childhood and adulthood. She seizes upon her first boyfriend, Richard, as a ticket out of her lonely life; as a scholarship girl at the local grammar, she has few friends, and very little spending money; she is brutally conscious of her ugly clothes and lack of make-up. It’s also a chance to rebel against her controlling father, who expects Katherine to get 11 As at O-Level, and go on to sixth form and to university, as he never had the chance to do. Nevertheless, as she admits herself, she is not in love with Richard. In reality, she is closest to her little sister, Nicola, but it is Nicola who is the main victim when she lashes out against the world. ‘Weird’, ‘babyish’ and ‘odd’, Nicola represents everything that Katherine fears in herself, and she vehemently denies that she enjoys the complicated imaginary games they play, claiming that she is only humouring her sister. And yet -in a scene that is striking for its psychological bravery – when Katherine goes to help at her local nursery and sees the pristine playroom – her first thought is ‘If only I had the room to myself and could have a proper play!’. Despite the media lamenting that we force adolescents to grow up too quickly, it’s rare to see a teenage narrator acknowledging how close to childhood many teenagers still feel.

More unusually still, Waiting for the Sky to Fall absolutely does not present a narrative in which Katherine must ‘put away childish things’ in order to truly grow up. Instead, she is forced to realise that she has been playing a fantasy game all along – but with Richard. ‘I was good at getting round people and I knew the roles to play with Richard’, she reflects after making him cry. ‘I knew I was manipulating Richard. I couldn’t help resenting him for being so gullible. I wanted him to see through my little games and despise me for them.’ When Richard’s mum accuses Katherine of using Richard, she has to recognise the essential truth of the accusation, even though a lot of his mum’s claims are unfair (another huge strength of the novel is the fact that Katherine’s relationships with adults are never marked by total misunderstandings or perfect harmony – the adults in this novel are real, flawed people as well, and can be right or wrong, often both at the same time). In contrast, the resolution of this novel sees Katherine realising that her most important relationship has always been with Nicola: ‘We were almost part of each other, Katherine and Nicola. We had been conspirators until this summer’, and recalling all the games they’ve played together. While much of the sisters’ play is ‘childish’ (Paper People, their most developed world, is no paracosm) it is depicted, by the end of this novel, as ultimately healthy, one of the many ways that the sisters have supported each other.

Waiting for the Sky to Fall is distinguished not only by its close attention to the minutia of class distinction – something that is still present, but muted, in Wilson’s later novels – but by its depiction of teenagers, especially teenage girls. With Katherine’s homemade frocks, her 50p pocket money, her O-Levels and her letters from her boyfriend, the book feels ‘dated’, but only insofar as it presents a realistic and fascinating picture of suburban life at the time that it was written. More importantly, its emotional honesty, and complex analysis of how family relationships actually function, sets it apart from modern YA fiction, and much fiction written for adults. (Analysing Katherine’s relationship with her supposedly fat and stupid mother, who turns out to have a subjectivity of her own, would alone provide more food for thought than many apparently character-driven adult novels). It’s a shame that it’s out of print, but I’m glad I had the chance to read it again.