This week I have had a flurry of fan mail from young people who have been reading Someone Like Me for the first time.
It is always great to hear from readers but it is especially good when they contact me after reading Someone Like Me because it allows me to respond to them individually. Someone Like Me is an unusual novel because I can’t really talk about it to people who have not yet read it. Not because I don’t want to. I love talking about all my books. But the ending of Someone Like Me is special and I don’t want to spoil it for them.
What I can do is tell you a funny story. When Someone Like Me was on the shortlist for the NASEN Awards in the UK, I was spending a month as Writer-in-Residence in Northern Ireland. The Awards Ceremony was being held in London on a Thursday evening. Although I was presenting a workshop that morning, at Abacorn College in Banbridge, I decided to attend the Ceremony. It was just too good an opportunity to miss. Anne Fine was presenting the prizes and I had been a fan of Anne’s writing for ever so, even if I didn’t win, at least I would meet her. The flight from Belfast only takes an hour. I could get on the Underground at Heathrow and get off within walking distance of the venue. But when I arrived at the airport in Belfast all the planes were either delayed or cancelled! There had been an accident on one of the runways at Heathrow and everything was banked up for hours. Nevertheless, some planes were getting through and I had plenty of time – so I thought.
I waited. And waited. Then, at last I was on a plane and making the fastest crossing of the Irish Channel that I had ever made in many years of visiting Northern Ireland. Our pilot was determined not to miss his long awaited slot at Heathrow. Even so, it was dark by the time I caught several trains and got through to my destination. I knew that I was, by then, already late for the start of the function. I rushed up to the surface expecting the building I was looking for to be right opposite the station. I walked this way and that, peering at signs and scanning the brightly lit streets. I asked a passer-by, but they’d never heard of it. Finally, in desperation, I hailed a cab. I told the driver where I wanted to go. He looked at me strangely and said ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes!’ I shouted. By then I was frustrated and verging on panic. I had not gone through all this only to be thwarted at the last moment. ‘It’s just down there!’ said the cabby. ‘Fifty metres away.’ I ran. I do remember calling out some sort of thanks to the cabby for his help and rushing up two flights of steps. Then, just as I entered the function room, I heard my name being called out from the podium.
‘This award goes to Elaine Forrestal for Someone Like Me.’ I could not believe my ears! At the publisher’s table one of the Penguin people started to get up, thinking I hadn’t made it. But I rushed up to the front of the room and breathlessly received my award. Anne Fine was wonderful. And I have a treasured photograph of her handing me the framed certificate.