The life of Laura Dockrill: writer, drawer, talker

Brixton-born Laura Dockrill – children’s author, poet, songwriter, scriptwriter – says her dreams are “to make sure potatoes always exist because they are sensational.” Read on for more of her brilliantly bonkers thoughts… 

(This was originally published in November 2015)

“I was raised in Brixton, right by the prison, in a small flat with mum, dad and my younger brother and sister. We had a small wonky garden, my mum is a bit of a green fingers and the garden had lots of exciting and tropical plants.

The house, although small and VERY MESSY, always seemed tasteful and even had moments of luxury; nice wallpaper, candles, carpets and chandeliers. My mum is a massive bargain hunter and loved charity shops, carboots and antiques so we always had wonderful pieces.

My siblings and I shared a room for a while, bunk beds and heaps of clothes and toys and fun fancy dress and brilliant bits that our parents had scooped up for us. We never had much money but it didn’t get in the way of our happiness or the stuff we had.

My mum is a really good cook but hard to get in front of the oven and when she did cook she could never recreate the same dish twice. She is amazing at one-pot stuff. Big burnt pans with everything and anything inside but it always tasted good.

She was a brave and experimental cook and never wanted to raise fussy kids so we were eating wonderful food from all around the world from a really young age. She didn’t do anything in halves so when she was making a curry she would have to get the actual ghee butter. She never scrimped. We ate chilli and coriander and olives when we were tiny.

My dad was the opposite. He was a caring and simple chef and put baked beans in everything; shepherd’s pie, pasta, soup! We rarely went to the supermarket as we had a such a great Happy Shopper directly opposite us so we ate loads of white bread, oven chips, turkey dinosaurs and pot noodles when dad cooked for us. It was one or the other: exciting mad food from mum and oven bakes from dad. We loved it all.

My mum told me I could only go if I did everything myself, thinking I’d be too lazy to do the application and the visit let alone the audition. But I did.

I have always written, from a really young age. I would write poems and stories for family and friends. I would make cards for my family with funny pictures and stuff inside.

I was obsessed with Greek mythology, Roald Dahl and fairy tales. Also: pop music, punk music, film, food, people. My imagination was furiously alive and writing just seemed to be the most rewarding and brain-stretching form I could find.

As we never had much money when we were young, both my parents had patches of work, there was lots of waiting around in the car or going into work with them (mostly this was sitting up at the front of my dad’s transit van whilst he made deliveries) and so we had to find things to do. If there was a stack of paper and a pen we could always find our own fun.

My mum had a very unusual career change for the better that took a lot of bravery and chance (from receptionist/hairdresser/kissogram to TV director and now makes Secret Millionaire). To cut a long story short, overnight she became very successful and busy and with her first paycheque – and a bit of borrowing – she sent me to private school. I was the oldest so she thought it was necessary.

She also sold our flat for a scary, big, empty townhouse in Tulse Hill. It had no heating, water or electricity for six months and was falling apart. It was stressful and hard and where money was had always been ‘kind of around’ – now it was non-existent. We all knew we couldn’t keep up the fees at my school too.

One day, aged about 14, I was in the field at school which backed onto a Steiner School and I recognised a girl from my primary school hanging out with the sheep outside. We spoke through the fence and she told me she about The BRIT School. From that moment I could not get it out of my head.

We didn’t have the internet at home so I had to get the phone number from my old school friend the next morning, passed through the fence and I called them up to get a prospectus. My mum told me I could only go if I did everything myself, thinking I’d be too lazy to do the application and the visit let alone the audition. But I did. It was one of the greatest decisions of my life, plus it was free, so that helped out at home too.

Some think the BRIT school is a fame academy that pumps out bubblegum superstars and it REALLY IS NOT. It was the most liberating and creative place that allowed kids to be kids, providing us platforms to stretch and grow and be curious and brave. It’s more like Biker Grove if anything.

Every day is completely different. It begins with rolling out my bed, throwing on whatever bobbly jumper I can find and walking my pug dog, Pig

My first paid job was at the Barry M make-up counter at Topshop. I could not believe it when I got that job. I love make-up and colour and if writing hadn’t worked out for me I might have gone into make-up. For the next few years, I was a receptionist and hair scrubber at Willie Smarts – a hairdressers in Clapham – but I am RUBBISH at hair.

I work for myself now which I love. I write everyday but there are days when I can’t. I DO it but I CAN’T. Creativity is not something you can ‘turn up for’ or monitor, it’s about catching waves and being in control when necessary (deadlines and meetings and boring admin) and out of control when you have to be too, for freedom and risk-taking and to let in inspiration.

Sometimes I do find myself working for people – when I am commissioned, for example. I think it’s important to conduct yourself professionally, to protect your art and yourself. To be honest if a project isn’t going to be the best it can be.

Most of the work I do now is for myself, my readers or collaborations with editors or other artists. I love working in a team, so I’m really enjoying songwriting and theatre-writing. I like collaborative work with actual humans, I think having feedback and other ears and eyes in the room is useful and productive.

I was reading at Camp Bestival a few years ago when my stage got gatecrashed by some kids. I was reading adult work at the time and I freaked out when I saw the children, as the work wasn’t 100% appropriate for kids. I did, however, have a Roald Dahl poem up my sleeve called The Pig, which I learnt for the BBC.

I read that and a few other poems, which I censored as I recited. Afterwards, a publisher approached me and said “you need to think about making this your thing.” And I never looked back.

My first school visit was through Phill Jupitus, his wife Shelley was a librarian at a girls’ school in Leigh-on-Sea. I’ve been back every summer for five years. I took on a project called First Story too – an amazing charity that places authors in schools over the UK. This was what really ignited my enthusiasm for working with young people.

Every day is completely different for me. It begins with rolling out of bed, throwing on whatever bobbly jumper I can find and walking my pug dog, Pig. I find myself waking up every morning somewhere by the duck pond! I then have tea in bed with my husband and we chat about the day and usually listen to one of the Desert Island Disc archives.

I have a juice and go to yoga or spin or something because I often have to sit on my bum all day. After that, the day will usually be writing. Either in the studio, with a singer or a band or producer top-lining or at home working on my new book or a script.

I try and make my meetings all on one day so I can be out and about and then it doesn’t interrupt my writing flow for the rest of the week. Some days I have a school visit or a book tour or radio to record. I really like going for dinner in the night so usually around 5pm I’m ready for a gin and tonic.

I used to have a desk and be really fussy about this because I thought it was essential for all writers to have that designated area but because of the nature of my job I have adapted and learnt to write anywhere and everywhere.

I can write pretty much under most circumstances, I think this is because of the chaotic home I grew up in where there was always noise and stuff going on, people round and I think I flourish in the bacteria of life: the more hectic, the better.

I’d like to be established enough to be in a position to inspire and influence new art and creativity within young people

If I’m struggling I just stop. To write you have to live. Writing is communicating and to communicate you have to make sure you are making contact. It’s not about just language, it’s soaking up environments, listening to music, watching films, walking, travelling. I find people really inspiring.

I also have three big canvasses covered in my illustrations. When I’m stuck, I just pick myself up and have a good old scribble on that with the radio on. Usually I have three or four projects on at a time too, so I just put down one and move onto something else, try not to plan too hard, let the writing lead me.

It was amazing being shortlisted for the Waterstones book of the year. Awards shouldn’t matter but I felt it was the first time I was recognised commercially in that way and it was something I could physically show my nanna, which is always nice – most things go over her head I think.

Darcy Burdock – my series of children’s books – is translated into 12 languages now, which shocks me basically every day. But every time I sign a book I am SO proud. That anybody would ever queue up for me to sign something… Pretty cool!

Right now, i’m working on Darcy Burdock book five, a script for a film and a picture book. I have an idea for a new novel too that I’m playing about with and i’m also songwriting.

My dreams are – in my personal life – to just to be happy and healthy. If my life continued on the way it is now forever, I would be totally content. I feel very fortunate that I am surrounded by such wonderful and beautiful people, I couldn’t ask for anything more. I just want to make sure potatoes always exist because they are sensational.

Work… I am very ambitious. I’m aiming for 10 books before I reach 30 (am close to both figures). I’d like to be established enough to be in a position to inspire and influence new art and creativity within young people.

I’d like to cross more boundaries and explore more platforms and mediums of art, more script, more radio, film and theatre, I’d love to do food writing or a ballet or an opera! Or make my own pyjama range or something. I just want to do everything really.”

Visit Laura’s website
Follow her on Twitter

SHARE THIS: