I was an extremely late starter, not going to University until I was 52 and then only for a year to do a Creative Writing Master’s. On my first day, I took an overstuffed pencil case, two A4 writing pads, a laptop with charger, three random books off the reading list, an empty folder just in case, my driver’s licence for identification, (I mean, what if they asked me to prove who I was?), wine gums and Maltesers (obvs), phone and spare battery (again, obvs) and an umbrella to protect everything in case it rained. Oh yes, all carried in a brand new rucksack with reinforced straps.
On that first day, we introduced ourselves and then sat around all day drinking coffee and shuffling up staircases looking for the right room. I think we talked about books but maybe not. We eventually got around to writing after a few weeks by which time my back was bent out of shape and my rucksack had to be thinned out. All but the sweets. It was the best year of my life.
I left home at sixteen and never felt I missed out on University. I had some wild years and then just settled down to live my life doing what people do, going from job to job, making a home, having children. But when I eventually got the chance to spend a whole year doing something I knew I loved, with other people doing the same, being in a classroom again but this time out of choice, listening to experts and famous authors, trying to get my heart and hand and head to sync well enough and long enough to write something worth reading - when I had that chance, I grabbed it quick, put a lot in and got even more out.
Whether you’re 18 or 52 or 92 I hope your University days are everything you dreamed of. We are never too old to change our minds and never too young to ask – or tackle – the big questions.
Whatever subject you’re doing, I wish you wonder and investigation, brain ache and belly laughs, I wish you clear thinking and long deadlines. I wish you the certain knowledge that ‘I don’t know’ is a good thing, so is your opinion, so is your voice. I wish you new friendships that will last a lifetime and along with the many gigabytes of dazzling information, I wish you wisdom and kindness, given and received.
I wrote My Name is Leon with the hope that people would simply read it and enjoy it, maybe pass it on to someone else and say ‘It’s good.’ I wrote it, I hope, with compassion for the many different people whose lives are affected by loss and injustice, loneliness and disadvantage. But I also hope you find humour and light in his story and that you’re left with a sense of optimism for Leon and for the future.
Enjoy the book and keep your bag light.
All the very best,
Kit de Waal