Neither ugly nor shy, Laura Dockrill is "loving life" and, if you'll pardon the rhyme, it's easy to see why. A headline act at this month's Latitude festival, the young poet will this weekend launch her first novel and second book with a "magical afternoon of poetry, music and stories" at London's Queen Elizabeth Hall, where she will be supported by her best friend, the singer Kate Nash.
Quite brimming over with ideas, Dockrill, 23, will use the occasion to launch her 10-piece Word Orchestra, a groundbreaking "choir of words" concept that she believes could become a West End hit in its own right. Her distinctive illustrations, familiar to those who own Nash's CDs and merchandise, are set to morph into a range of greetings cards. And her dress style is a blaze of colour that reflects an infectious joie de vivre that recently prompted Vogue magazine to note that "Everyone's falling for poet Laura Dockrill."
It seems incongruous that someone so radiant with confidence, so enthralled by possibilities and opportunities, should choose to write about the crippling self-doubt that clouds the lives of so many teenage girls. Yet Ugly Shy Girl, Dockrill's second book, is an exercise in empathy with the sixth-form loner, the kind of girl who feels "like a tiny speck of dust that the Hoover has forgotten to suck up", as the book puts it.
"I definitely wasn't always comfortable with myself and I think that's something that happens with a lot of women... and boys. It's that age when every day is so gripe-y, and no matter what you do you feel like the big ugly thumb that always stands out," she says. "I have been like that. I was like a big round ball when I was growing up, with a bad hair cut."
I have known Laura since she was four years old, growing up in scenes of happy chaos in a flat behind Brixton prison in south London. Her father, Kerry, now a care worker, was then a delivery driver who would take me to football matches in his white van. Her mother, Jaine, was struggling to bring up a young family while cherishing dreams to make television programmes, which she has since realised.
Visiting the Dockrill home was never anything less than a memorable experience. "Mental!" says the poet, by way of recalling her childhood environment. "The boyfriend of one of my mum's workfriends said he wouldn't come to the house because 'There are cats in the Frosties and dogs in the Coco Pops'. That's so bang on what our house was like."
Her upbringing exposed her to a breadth of experience that now infuses her writing. "I have had a touch of life in so many different ways. Going to that school in Brixton and seeing kids who couldn't afford to have any new toys and came to school looking malnourished. I was geeky and left out but I was also smart and so I had that to keep me going. When all my friends were listening to Biggie and Tupac I was listening to Blur and Oasis. Then going to that private school where I was sucked out for three weeks because we couldn't afford to pay the fees and I was always the one that couldn't afford to pay," she says, referring to her own ugly, shy-kid moment. "Being in that posh school amongst that flock of blonde size 6s with mums working for Elle magazine or Liberty. It was just a tragedy, really."
Only after she was accepted into the Brit School of Performing Arts did she feel in her element. It was not all like the television series Fame but a coming together of disparate souls who wanted to express their creativity. "I've made some amazing friends from there." She was a contemporary and flatmate of the Grammy-winning singer Adele. Nash was in the year below and auditioned for a part in Dockrill's play. They have been inseparable ever since. "We are really similar people and we think the same about a lot of things. We get on and our families get on."
It was Nash who gave her friend her first break, encouraging her to read a poem called "Rolf Harris" ahead of a gig at the Foundry in east London. This parody of an obsessive fan of the hirsute didgeridoo blower launched Dockrill's career as spoken-word artist Dockers MC. Subsequent compositions, such as "Rude Girl", which demonstrated her knowledge of south London street culture, led to a surge in interest in her MySpace page, where she now has more than 7,000 followers.
Latitude, the arts-based festival in Suffolk where Dockrill will this year headline the poetry stage on the opening day, was her second ever gig, in 2007. "Latitude has been a really good gradient for me to test my progress. The first year was my second gig and then I was invited back and got paid and now this time I'm headlining and being paid properly. I can't imagine what it will be next year, working with the Pet Shop Boys or something."
Though she has been portrayed as an internet poet, she has "committed suicide on Facebook", by scrapping her page on that site, and many of her influences, from the punk-rock tastes that she inherited from her father to the sassy retro dress sense that she learned from her mother, owe something to the past. She acknowledges the influence of Roald Dahl on her drawing style and Steven Berkoff on her stage performance.
Although Ugly Shy Girl is an illustrated novel, she considers herself primarily a poet. "Writing a short story is outside my comfort zone. It isn't poetry, which comes naturally to me. I felt really nervous about it but it was something that I had to do." She hopes the book will attract a wider audience than her first, poetry-based title Mistakes in the Background, but in doing so will encourage more young people to listen to rhyme.
Rhythm is extremely important to the delivery of her poetry and she incorporates hip-hop styles to maximise expression in her live performance. "By keeping a rhythm and keeping your flow interesting that's going to help your audience stay involved," says Dockrill, who will be performing at Camp Bestival in Dorset and the Edinburgh Fringe alongside Phill Jupitus and the Norwich-based poet Luke Wright, who has been a key mentor. This week, she will be interviewed by Cerys Matthews on BBC 6 Music and appear the following day as a guest on Radio 4's Woman's Hour.
She is more than happy with such a punishing schedule. "I just feel so grateful that I get to do what I want to do and it can be my job, it's just amazing," she says. "I'm a really impatient person and I feel time goes so fast it scares me so much. Every day just speeds by and I feel like I have the life of a butterfly." Though she's referring to transience, the butterfly metaphor is apt in other ways. Something similarly beautiful, she would argue, is there inside every ugly shy girl.
'Ugly Shy Girls': Laura Dockrill, Kate Nash, Peggy Sue & Brigitte Aphrodite, 11 July, 4pm, Queen Elizabeth Hall, (0871 663 2500; www.southbankcentre.co.uk ). 'Ugly Shy Girl' is published by HarperCollins
Dockrill's doggerel: Selected poems
Dear incredible Rolf Harris,
I woke up this morning feeling incredibly embarrassed,
This is my 26th letter and you still have not responded,
It's not my fault you are so great that my thoughts have been
Bombarded by your indescribable ways,
Your connection with music,
I have your signature on my wall so I never, ever lose it
I'll never forget your didgeridoo
I'm learning it still and have scraped a Grade 2
She grew up in one of those places where the lift stank of piss-
ing down with rain outside, she watched her old man ruin the face of the next door neighbour.
A bust lip and a smashed nose and left his ear hanging of-
ten she would wonder why she was born into this world
Where her mother cooked a roast dinner from a packet and nobody in her family even liked music-
ally she was incredible, she had ears like a hound.
Her brain was like a satellite or a dictionary for sound.
The duck is ill.
He is living in a box upstairs
Filled with hay.
There has been talk of duck for Christmas.
I guess it isn't duck's day.
Punk music, R&B and electro
Pop, rock and roll, 2-step and disco – let's go –
To museums and waterparks
Have a picnic in the park – in the dark
Play Connect 4 on Tower Bridge or just walk through
Mazes... Or have you seen Labyrinth?
David Bowie – oh my gosh – he is sick, yes?
Later as the party heats up
I'm sipping my rum from a paper cup
Eyeing up the fly boys, dancing well rude
To some local boy's garage tune
Usher boy steps next to me
Whispers he wants to chat to me, see
I was drunk and feeling silly
Everybody in the club getting tipsy
He holds my hand well smoothly
And says he wants to move me
(Taken from 'Mistakes in the Background', published by HarperCollins)
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