Revelations; I thought, I'll be a writer

The time: The Sixties The place: Ravenswood school, London The man: Hanif Kureishi

Mine was a really rough and not very good school, Ravenswood in south London. It was during the Sixties, so it was a time of hippies, pop music and skinheads. I was the only Asian kid in my school and was quite isolated. I was thinking about the future because I didn't like the present. I was 14 and didn't want to stay. The Sixties to me was America, but it was also the King's Road, and I wanted to get out of the suburbs.

My dad spent most of his time when he was at home writing his books (though none were ever published). He worked in an office at the Pakistan embassy and when they changed the typewriters, he brought the old ones home. So we had all these big old typewriters - one in every room - and I decided to teach myself to type. Soon I could copy out passages from books I was reading - such as Kerouac - and then I started to write my own stuff. It was mostly about school, pop groups, parties, girls, drugs.

I was just doing it for fun.

Then I remember this one day at school. We were reading some book - probably something by CS Forester - and I remember thinking, I am going to write a novel. I was sitting there, and I thought, I'm going to write a whole novel and finish it - because I can type. I had a sense of the future then. This is what I was going to do. I would write books and become a writer. That meant leaving the suburbs, going to London and living a different kind of life to the one expected of us, which was to live like our parents in a semi-detached and work in a bank.

I felt incredibly excited. I can't say that I knew what the book was going to be about - I hadn't got that far - and I didn't tell anyone. I started when I got home from school that day. I came home, went into my bedroom, put on my Jimi Hendrix record. I was sitting at my typewriter, eating peanut butter and toast, looking out of the window at the garden and listening to Purple Haze, and I started writing.

I don't know that there was much of a plot. I would go out and do things and go home and write them down. I called the book The Mysteries of London, even though it wasn't quite set in it. It was picaresque in a Sixties way. It was about going to parties, going to see bands, suburbia- and saving up and buying blue satin trousers, and then trying to get your mum to turn them up. (She refused. When I went out I used to wear them underneath my other trousers, which I then removed.)

I didn't tell my friends. It would have seemed a bit naff. It was a bit together, and you weren't supposed to be together then. You were supposed to be getting stoned. But I was very determined to get out of there. My parents knew because of the noise. They were big machines and the noise rumbled through the house. My dad was writing as well - mostly Bombay stories of his childhood - and he would write downstairs. Mine were about Bromley, and I was upstairs. He would listen to Rachmaninoff and I would listen to Jimi.

That's where I learnt the discipline of writing every day. I wrote hundreds of pages and then I threw a lot of them away. I can't remember the details - it was 30 years ago - but in those days you didn't want it to be too much in order; you wanted the chaos of the book to represent the chaos of your life. I did write the whole book. I took about a year.

My dad knew a woman who was a secretary to a publisher. She gave him The Mysteries of London. He said it was promising and that I should carry on. I did. I rewrote that book and sent it back to him and then I wrote others. I wrote about four books from the age of 14 to 18. It was a case of get home from school, have your tea, watch Blue Peter, listen to records, and write. It was sort of a secret life.

I was a terrible student. I had a bad time at school and was never that interested. But I was doing this interesting thing - writing these books - and that made me very interested in reading because if you are writing, you think "How did he do it?" I read lots of American books - Salinger, Roth, Bellow and Mailer. They were writing about contemporary life in a way that British writers weren't. Writing didn't come easily to me - I couldn't say that - but it came naturally. I found stories in my head.

When I asked for a story, I found one.

I suppose the reason I didn't tell anyone was that I was afraid of being mocked. This ambition, this desire to be a writer, just seemed so grand compared to what was expected of us. I think I felt rather ashamed, perhaps because it singled me out because it meant that, at age 14 and 15, I was already thinking of the future. I wasn't there any more. In my head I was out.

Nothing else was self-determined. If you are an Asian kid on the streets of south London you feel victimised, not only because people gob on you and hit you, but also because they have ideas about you that have nothing to do with anything but your face. So writing was a way of keeping myself, my personality, my head, together. And a kind of revenge, too.

A book is your own version of the world, not their version. If you are a victim, if you are being humiliated, you need to have your own version. It is my world in my book. I'm in charge: all the characters do what I say. It's a way of grasping some power.

That set the pattern for my writing every day. I feel all that groundwork was important - to have the discipline, to do it when you don't feel like doing it, of developing your material and your talent seriously. I knew you had to write a lot. You write a lot and make a lot of mistakes and then you get a sense of how to organise material. I suppose a lot of the material from those books ended up in The Buddha of Suburbia.

Now I write in the morning, but I still write every day. If I don't, it is as if I haven't done something essential. I've carried on doing the same thing now as when I was sitting in that bedroom. I have done that for a living ever since that day in that classroom. There are very few occasions that you can say something really changed, but that was one of them.

I really had thought, hoped, those first novels would be published. It was a wonderful naivety - the best kind of naivety - that says that you can do anything before you realise that you can't. There was no cynicism there. A few years ago - maybe five or so - I found the books in the attic at my mother's house. They were in a big trunk. I took them down the garden and burnt them. I guess I was afraid somebody might read them and think I was a fool. I was ashamed of what I felt, and of their clumsiness and their foolishness and their innocence. I didn't read them; I just burnt them. I shouldn't have done so, but I did.

Hanif Kureishi's new book of short stories, 'Love in a Blue Time', is published by Faber

and Faber, price pounds 8.99.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Manager

    £35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity to...

    Recruitment Genius: Trainee Manager - Production

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Managers are required to join the UK's...

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Manager

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: You will maximise the effective...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

    Day In a Page

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss