This week will see the second volume of the charity anthology Stories for Homes released. It does pretty much what it says on the tin – or cover – tells stories about homes. Or, more importantly, housing poverty and homelessness.
The first volume raised over three thousand pounds for charity and my story, Brick Heart, was quoted on the cover. At the time – and continuing today – was the ongoing debate about writers’ pay and whether we should work for nothing. Let me make my position very clear: I want to be paid a fair rate for my writing and I will not work for nothing.
Yet when I saw the call for submission for Volume 2 of this anthology, my interest was piqued again. ‘Why?’ asked some of my colleagues. Was it for the publicity? After all, the first volume showcased writers who have since got book deals. Was it for the glory? After the success of the first anthology, the second was a no-brainer.
But it was neither of these. It’s no secret that when I was sixteen I was pregnant and homeless. I had nowhere to go and I was offered sub-standard housing, which I had no choice but to accept. I tried to make the most of it and made my house a home on a tiny budget, but it was a prefab construction and had damp problems.
It also had a solid fuel burner that didn’t work and, despite extensive complaints, was not repaired for three years. I had a Calor Gas heater and bathed my baby on the sink in water warmed in a kettle. Yes, this all sounds like a trip down memory lane when I throw in the twin tub washer and the draughty windows, but it was harrowing.
We were cold and had constant coughs. It didn’t end there. I was lucky enough to be working and eventually I found another house to live in, but at the end of a relationship I found myself homeless again, this time with two more children and staying in a friend’s back bedroom because, despite having children under five, I had to have lived in that borough for six months to qualify for housing. That was the price I had to pay to be near relatives who could help.
Things have improved for me, but in general housing has not improved. The legacy of those distant days is high on the news agenda in 2017, with Grenfell Towers and stories of negligent landlords and unregulated practice. But what can we do? What can I do?
I did what I know how to do best. I wrote about it. My life experiences mean that I express myself better in writing than in speech, so I made the decision to write at least one piece per year for something worthwhile and unpaid.
So, contrary to the view that inclusion in a charity anthology is at best a way to get noticed and at worst some kind of warped gratuitous publicity quest, I’m doing it because I care and I want to make a difference.
My story ‘I Never Wore a Watch’ touches on social inclusion and housing. I wanted to write about the intersectionality of learning difficulty, poverty, age and what ‘home’ is, to the resident and to the people around them. This is the political subtext of stories, the observation and telling of the social issues they relate to.
I know that I have been lucky. Things could have been very different for me. I can’t change what happened in the past but I can do everything I can to help others for the future.