In my gloomier moments, lost in a fifth round of edits, for example, I sometimes ask that most defeatist of questions: what’s the point in being a writer?
I’m not a brain surgeon. I’m not a Prime Minister with the power to make decisions that will affect a nation. I’m not a plumber who can fix a boiler and restore warmth to a family. I’m not a research scientist striving to find cure for Alzheimer’s. I couldn’t fix your car. I’m rubbish with a hoover. I’m not great with numbers. My spacial awareness is dangerously limited. In utilitarian terms, I’m pretty useless. I’d be the first one chucked over the side in that age old balloon debate.
So what am I? And what can I do?
I’m a strange, rather lonely creature who sits at her desk, hour after hour, making small black marks on a page as I weave my make-believe world.
And, in those gloomy days I mentioned, it’s hard to imagine what possible use there could be for such a creature and her strange craft.
But then comes a new day when the gloom lifts and the light comes through and I remember that stories matter. Really matter. That they are as essential to us as air and water and food – as having a boiler or a good health-care programme. Maybe, I dare to suggest, stories are as important as being able to stop a war or to open our boarders to migrants.
Human beings are storytelling creatures.
We tell tales to make sense of the world and of ourselves, of our past, our present and our future. Stories allow us to preserve personal, family and social history. Stories are how we relate to people. How we develop empathy, how we navigate through this strange and beautiful world. I would not be surprised if there was an evolutionary advantage to being a good storyteller.
In every phone conversation, around every dinner table, in every tweet and Facebook post, in every encounter with a friend over coffee or with a stranger at a bus stop, in every speech given by a politician, in every court case, in every relationship, whether that be between a mother and child or lovers or a teacher and her classroom – we tell stories.
Stories are our human currency.
And of course, stories also give us great pleasure too. Hundreds of years ago, our ancestors told stories to entertain each other as they sat around their camp fires. We do the same today when we curl up in the quiet of our beds at night with a good book.
Stories nudge the world a little and, if they’re well written and if they have depth and purpose, if they tell the truth, they nudge it for the better.
So being a writer matters. Telling stories matters. As the wonderful storyteller, Philip Pullman says:
After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.