As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we commissioned 12 writers from Australia and the UK to write a letter to their past or future selves. In response to the question “Who are we now?”, these writers consider what conversations and stories need to be had and created for us to reimagine, rethink and rebuild the world around us.
Writer Elle McNicoll writes to her future self:
“It feels odd to write a letter to the future. I’ve never been able to visualise one. The present is consumed with work that I’ve waited my whole life to be able to do, and people who trample all over it in their eagerness to press their nose against the glass.
My past self is as much of a mystery to me as you are. My masked, carefully constructed former life seems like a failed experiment. She was cold in order to be hidden. And you would be saddened to know just how many people are drawn to coldness.
Coming out publicly about long-hidden secrets, while promoting a book during a pandemic, is perhaps not something I would advise – but it is now as inevitable as the words inside of said book.
You were a stranger to yourself. For decades. There was a half-finished footprint on the sand before they washed it away. The shoes they made were ill-fitting. But you thought their only purpose was to look like everyone else, not to get you where you needed to be. So, you did not complain.
Time to complain.
Suppression with the aim of invisibility is not freedom. Tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Vulgar fascination and voyeuristic questions are not symbols of arrival. I hope you are existing in a future which values your work and respects your accomplishments, and that you are brave enough to say no when people only want your voice and presence so that they can collect you like some strange token.
I hope the story of the imposter will be done. The story you tell yourself every night before closing your eyes. The one where you accuse yourself of being a changeling.
You have not stolen a life. You have merely established one. And the work that you were afraid of for so long is now finally able to come out. The thing you were mocked and ridiculed for has grafted into a key which now unlocks something that will pull you out of the dark.
The work is more important than anything. They cannot take it away from you.
Elle McNicoll is a bestselling and award-winning novelist. Her debut, A Kind of Spark, won the Blue Peter Book Award and the Overall Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, as well as Blackwell’s Book of 2020. She is Carnegie nominated, and was shortlisted for the Books Are My Bag Awards 2020, the Branford Boase Award and The Little Rebels Award. Her second novel, Show Us Who You Are, was Blackwell’s Book of the Month and one of The Bookseller’s Best Books of 2021. She is an advocate for better representation of neurodiversity in publishing, and currently lives in East London.
The Stories We Tell Ourselves is a partnership between Spread the Word, The Wheeler Centre and Melbourne, City of Literature. It is part of the UK/Australia Season; a joint initiative by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
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