The making of the modern girl part 3: Been there, done that

How do they get what they want?
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Vanessa Walters, 19

Her first novel, `Rude Girls', about black girls and street life, was published in February. She is studying law at University College, London.

I had my A-levels looming, but my headmistress was very impressed to hear I'd written a book and sent the manuscript to her nephew, who was a literary agent.I suppose it's being imaginative but practical that enabled me to do this. I've always been a very enthusiastic person and I really threw myself into my writing. I'm now close to finishing my second novel, and the BBC have bought the film rights to Rude Girls. I'm a lot more organised than I used to be, and I seem to have almost a double life with studying and writing. I think doing this has made me more open-minded about life in general: I used to think it would be a simple progression of university, job and kids, but now it's very different.

Debbie Simmons, 13

Recently organised the 1995 International Children's Conference on the Environment in Eastbourne.

It took me and my team about three years to organise. I was on the junior board of directors at a zoo in Sussex, and didn't feel that children were being listened to on this subject. We made contact with MPs, UN officials, schools and wildlife groups in other countries. We also managed to get sponsorship from BA, who flew in delegates free of charge: 800 people from 85 countries came. I recently went to New York to present a document drawn up by delegates to Elizabeth Dowdeswell, the executive director of the UN environment programme, and since then we have been checking to see what actions based on that have been taken. We now have an environmental issues page on the Internet, and a worldwide newsletter.

Nancy Lodder, 17

At the Anna Scher Theatre School, London.

When I was about 11 I got a part in The House of Elliott, which was quite an ego massage, and in the last couple of years I've had more offers. The big decision has been choosing between professional work and my education, which has been unbearable at times: I decided to sit my GCSEs instead of taking a big showcase part. But my parents have never pressured me one way or the other. I've worked hard, and all my spare time has gone into acting from an early age, but I've also been lucky. I'm now doing three A-levels at sixth form college, and I still find it hard choosing between work and schooling. I'm shortly to appear in the BBC TV series Beck, and plan to keep working on my talent. I'd say talent alone isn't enough to help you make it in this business; you've got to keep in training.

Emma Forrest, 19

Freelance journalist.

I was writing for the school newspaper and interviewed Nigella Lawson, who was very encouraging, and I sent her the piece I'd done. She recommended me to the Evening Standard and when I was 15 I got my first piece published there. From then on I sent my work around and got a few pieces published in the Spectator, and later got a regular column called "Generation X" in the Sunday Times. I was unhappy, though, with being labelled "the voice of youth" so I wanted to get out of that after a while. I only ever do the things I want to do. I knew early on that journalism was what I wanted to do, and stuck with it. It has required a lot of assertiveness: at times I've had to keep on ringing people who didn't return my calls to get the work I wanted. I think from the age of nine I've been going on 45, and I've always been very cynical, which has probably also helped; I wish I were more thick-skinned though, as I can still just burst into tears sometimes when I'm criticised.

Interviews by SCOTT HUGHES

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