Monday, 7 May 2012


In reading my diaries from three years ago, something really stands out which helped me to get where I am today. So I'm going to share the secret of my success*

I read a book by Keri Smith, called Living Out Loud. I borrowed it from the library at Batley School of Art when I visited my friend Claudia, before I even studied there. It seemed really exciting at the time being able to borrow a book about art. I copied down loads of things out of it, instead of just buying it, and it occurs to me I still don't own a copy. I'm remedying that immediately after writing this.

In March 2009, I was deciding what to do with my life. My sick pay had run out, I couldn't get job seekers allowance, and the job centre recommended going self-employed. My diary is full of histrionic entries about my lack of care, interspersed with me talking about tidying my house. It's during one of these entries that I wrote this:

This morning I got up at 6am, and started moving things around in the study and dining room again. Whilst doing so, I had a BRILLIANT IDEA and built a tent out of blankets, put loads of pillows in it, and sat under it. I think I read somewhere that it's good for being creative. It kept falling down, so in the end I was just sitting on pillows with a blanket over my head like a parrot. 

Me in my shop, where I enjoy playing daily

That, dear friends, was something I read in the Keri Smith book. Whenever I talk to people now about this book, why I'm OK with not having children, or how I started being creative for a living, this story always trots its way out of my mouth. This is because my life became better when I started behaving more like a child.

You see, I love being around children, and I always have. I was a babysitter from the age of 12, not just evenings, but the whole of school holidays too. My work experience trials at school were both in schools because I wanted to be a teacher. After I left school, I carried on volunteering with children in schools through Volunteer Reading Help, and worked as an Applied Behavioural therapist with autistic children.

Everyone told me I'd make a great mother, but as I got older, and we realised having children was looking more unlikely, it upset me. Luckily, my friends started having them instead - I'm one of those people who looks forward to seeing friends' children as well as the friends. I have a toy box (shaped like a treasure chest) which gets dragged out, two shelves of children's books, and I'm usually to be found sitting on the floor playing games with them while their parents try and talk to me.

I definitely treat children like small adults. I've never been into 'goo goo-ing' at babies, and I use the same vocabulary as I do with everyone else – I just explain what the longer words mean if the child asks. Usually they don't, they get the meaning of the sentence as a whole (like people for whom English isn't their first language I guess). I'm not saying this is the right way to talk to children, by any means, I'm just showing how I see adults and children, which should make better sense of this post.

What I'm trying to explain is that to me acting like a child isn't about regressing my behaviour, being naughty, eating sweets and so on. It's the way I view my world and the things within it. There's not a massive delineation in my head between talking to a child and talking to an adult – I swear less obviously, but otherwise I talk the same gobbledegook. I agree with the ideas they come up with, laugh at the same jokes, and get annoyed at the same things.

The way children look at the world is so creative. When we wrote stories at school, we'd always draw a picture, we stopped for playtime two or three times a day – and we were, on the whole, happy. Can you remember laughing more than when you were pre-teen? I see my friends filling their children's school holidays with art projects, play dates, and visits to museums and galleries.

Keri Smith's book advocates all these things for adults too, and reading it gave me 'permission' to do these things and not feel guilty. Once I realised I didn't have to have children of my own to 'play', my mood lifted considerably. I went on play dates with myself, packing a rucksack with pencils, paper and a bottle of squash. As mentioned above, I built a den in my spare bedroom, and sat under it reading.

It's not just about making time for yourself, an oft quoted women's magazine obsession – I don't want to put on a face mask or have a relaxing bath, although I don't begrudge anyone who does enjoy that. Children fill their free time doing things they want to do, and it's only when they aren't allowed to that they get upset – it's a good lesson for adulthood, because we can't always get what we want, can we?

When I did my art course, I'd just been doing it so long, it didn't seem stupid any more. Drawing was just what I did, as I kept having to explain to people who wanted to know how I'd managed to do so much homework. I had to explain that making a pen holder out of old toilet rolls was not a compulsory part of the course, but I was making it anyway, and it fitted the brief.

Some people on my course never got this. However, the ones who did really well were the ones for whom being creative was either just part of their life, or it became a part of their life once they found the right medium. Two examples spring to mind.

  1. Kim was someone who had always drawn all the time at home. She came on our course, and after gaining confidence in her drawing, she opened a tattoo studio at the age of 20. This has been a fantastic success, and now she's fully booked all the time, and she's still only 21.
  2. AM had been a florist, and thought she wasn't very good at art, although she felt creative. She struggled while we were painting or drawing, but kept on 'playing' Then, once we started doing photography, she blossomed. She ended up doing the rest of the course in half the time, and is now an award winning photographer.

So today I urge you to do something fun. Doodle something on your telephone message pad, and if you think you can't draw (and everyone can, it's just some are better than others) then get yourself a colouring book. Drag out that knitting you never finished, and use the wool to make a pom-pom with a cardboard circle like at school. If you have children, borrow some of their toys, set up their doll's house in a way that pleases you or redress their Barbie doll.

Like everything, it'll take practice. You'll feel like an idiot at first, but once you learn to let go, it's liberating, and you might find a hidden talent.

For more information, go to Keri Smith's website at

If you're in the Leeds area, there's something exciting going on you might be interested in as well - Playful Leeds

* success as quantified by being happy in my work, not monetary


  1. Amazing post by an amazing person :) I just talked today on my blog about dolls houses and such. You're spot on as usual. Think I need to add that book to my wishlist!

  2. Good post. Look forward to reading more.

  3. postingan yang bagus tentang"Playing "

  4. Thanks for Nice Post, i enjoying your writing! and sure i will keep read your articles.

  5. It is very nice to read this… there are people who are afraid to be seen their childhood in them. Thinking that it is being childish and will not do you any good for it is associated with immaturity. But you are right… children and when they are playing is a replica of good things and good mind. All they have around them is beauty and carefree. This is inspiring for adult readers that we can also learn from children…

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