All Stories is an initiative that offers free opportunities for underrepresented children's book writers to develop their work. The second programme began in October last year and will end in June '23. Every fortnight, a new mentee introduces themselves and tells us about their experience so far. Please welcome Shuna Beckett.


I feel like a fraud.


I’m not really sure I belong here.


I have no story to tell of entering and winning story competitions aged 9, or writing my first novel aged 18. I began writing seriously when I started writing my current WIP in 2018 – aged 40 – and even then, it wasn’t really for public viewing. I only became an aspiring author when I was told, a year later, that it might just have legs.


BUT, then again, I have always been a writer. I spent a lifetime dabbling with words and stories. I think if, years ago, someone had told my school friends, teachers and parents that one day I would become a writer, they wouldn’t have batted an eyelid. My garage is full of boxes of notebooks bursting with ideas, diary entries, silly poems, (very) short or half-finished stories, random sentences, and other nonsense. 

I have always been interested (nosy) about people, inventing stories about passers-by in the street (still do), and I missed many a landmark because I was so busy in my own head, making stuff up (still am). Becoming an author was a flickering light inside of me that has been off for quite a stretch of my life. The annoying buzz has never gone away, but I think I just got a bit lost along the path. Self-doubt crept up on me and I stopped believing in myself…


You see, words can be difficult. I’ve lost a lot of them.


I have a hearing impairment and worsening Auditory Processing Disorder (APD) which means, among many other things, that I have difficulty understanding others and expressing myself.


So being a writer doesn’t sound like the obvious pursuit.


My APD mostly concerns understanding speech (which can feel very overwhelming at times, like being in another country where I don’t speak the language) but I can also struggle to find the right words in my brain when I’m sat on my own at my laptop. Going against the author code, I rely (sometimes heavily) on my good friend, the thesaurus (I can hear you gasping from here!).


Those of us with APD tend to see the world visually and explain ourselves pictorially. Which, actually, lends itself quite well to children’s writing I suppose.


I’ve spent my adult life using the arts to work with children and young people who have difficulty expressing themselves, due to learning difficulties (many of them, non-verbal), language barriers, trauma, or just because they’ve been taught not to. I’ve learned that self-expression can take on many forms. 

Words themselves can be spoken, written, sung, or signed, but their meaning can be shown in a whole rainbow of ways – through drama, dance, art, puppetry, music, or play. It can manifest as a shout, a whimper, a bang on the table, a blink of an eye (how many different messages can you send through the way you blink your eyes?). I’ve always loved plays without words, books without words, silent films, and a dance performance that tells a story.


I choose to write words on a page (with the help of a thesaurus!) because – in a confusing world where I’m always second-guessing meanings, filling in the gaps, and often getting things wrong – with my pen, I have control. In the safety of a quiet room and in my own time, I can create my own world from scratch, just how I want it to be. I control my characters’ actions (most of the time, when they’re behaving) and their emotional journeys. I can say what I want to say, without having to open my mouth and mess it all up.


At so many points in my life and in so many ways, writing has saved me, it’s unstuck me, it’s freed me, and it’s allowed me to know myself. I began this novel the year after my world fell apart. It’s been nothing but an escape, a therapy for my own trauma, and I have loved every moment of it – even the tough moments. I didn’t know what I was doing to begin with. I wrote it all wrong. But it didn’t matter. By immersing myself in another world, I was writing myself out of a dark hole. I was expressing myself.


A local children’s writing group, the Golden Egg Academy 12 month course (thank you, Arts Council, for the funding), and an All Stories mentorship later, I think I am getting some sort of a clue. Granted, my mentor one2ones have at times made my head hurt and my eyes water, but it is also a joy to know somebody is so invested in my story (and making me think about what I really want to say – because apparently I can’t say everything!). As a tired, overworked, low-income, single mother of two, it has been a long, slow journey, but never painful.


And the themes of my WIP? Self-acceptance and belonging. Themes that have arisen again and again in my writing, my work, my studies, and my personal life. I wrote this story because I want the children who feel like they don’t quite fit to know that there’s nothing wrong with them, that they have nothing to hide, and that they don’t need to change their colours for anyone. They have a voice and it’s worth listening to.


My website states that I aim to help every child reach their potential. I need to learn from my own bold statement, the young people I’ve worked with, my imagined child reader, and my characters who learn – by the end – to sit comfortably in their own skin, to trust in themselves, and that they do belong. 

Maybe it’s time I aim to reach my own potential. Maybe it’s my time to shine. Thank you, All Stories, Catherine Coe, and my incredibly insightful mentor, Genevieve Herr, for helping me to find my voice and for the chance to express myself, in my way, to the world.


I’m not a fraud.


I am a writer.


My words belong here and so do I.


*Header image credit: All Stories


Shuna Beckett is a Creative Wellbeing Practitioner, Drama Facilitator and Storyteller, a Development Worker for Sheffield Young Carers, a trainee Play Therapist, a single mum, and (last, but not least), a writer. She spent four years in South America, mainly using the arts to work with children living on the street, in children’s homes and communities – something which has had a lasting impact. Until recently, most of her writing has centred around silly poems for friends’ birthdays, hen dos, and anniversaries. Her current (and only) WIP, The Lost Children of the Chrysalis – a dual-narrative, middle grade dystopian fantasy – was longlisted for the New Writing North Hachette Children’s Novel Award 2022
Twitter: @BeckettShuna

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