The Greatest Show on Earth

When I was about eight, so Nadin legend has it, I turned to my father, whilst watching Derek Griffiths perform Fagin in the Plymouth Royal’s production of “Oliver!” that “that” was what I wanted to be when I grew up. My father assumed, rightly, that by “that” I meant acting (though a close call as impoverished orphan was also quite high on my list at the time).

And I tried. I adopted appalling wigs, make-up and accents in various Essex Amateur Operatic Society shows. I co-wrote angsty sixth form plays about how horrid men are. I pretended to be a toaster whilst doing a degree in drama.

Only there was one hitch in all of this. I didn’t like being watched while I did it. Which is kind of a make or break deal really. And so I gave it up and went into politics instead, which many would argue (rightly) involves far more make believe. And a lot of ridiculous make-up.

But I am struck as I sit, a *mumbles something* year-old woman, in an office in a slightly tired terrace overlooking the city, pretending to be a seventeen year old living in a manor house in Cornwall, that writing itself is the greatest act of “let’s pretend”.

I am not, and have never been, an eight-year-old Indian boy, or a teenager with multiple personality disorder, or the child of a single parent, or had a diamond thieving monkey as a pet. And, though Rachel Riley is me, she is a long gone version, in a town I have barely visited in the past twenty years.

So writing is a conjuring act – of people and places, of pretending to be someone you’re not for six or more hours a day. There’s no live audience, but the show had better be word-perfect convincing anyway as it will be preserved in black and white for all to read. It’s the perfect play for the camera-shy. An eternal game of pirates and princesses.

Because while my body may be sat at this computer in 2012, I am not really here. I’m at my own Manderley, deep in the woods, a teenage girl with a just-dead cousin, waiting to meet a boy who may not be who he claims…

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About Joanna Nadin

A former broadcast journalist and special adviser to the prime minister, since leaving politics I’ve written more than 70 books, as well as speeches for politicians, and articles for newspapers and magazines like Red and The Amorist. I also lecture in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, and hold a doctorate in young adult literature. I’m a winner of the Fantastic Book Award and the Surrey Book Award, and have been shortlisted for the Roald Dahl Funny Prize, the Booktrust Best Book award and Queen of Teen among others, and nominated for the Carnegie Medal for Joe All Alone, which is currently being adapted for television. I also work with Sir Chris Hoy on the Flying Fergus series. I like London, New York, Essex, tea, cake, Marmite, mint imperials, prom dresses, pubs, that bit in the West Wing where Donna tells Josh she wouldn’t stop for a red light if he was in an accident, junk shops, crisps, Cornwall, St Custard’s, Portuguese custard tarts, political geeks, pin-up swimsuits, the Regency, high heels, horses, old songs, my Grandma’s fur coat, vinyl, liner notes, the smell of old books, the feel of a velveteen monkey, Guinness, quiffs, putting my hand in a bin of chicken feed, the 1950s, burlesque, automata, fiddles, flaneuring, gigs in fields on warm summer nights, Bath, the bath.
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