I met Ali when I was 9 and just started at a new school, my third primary school in three years. I still remember how my feet dragged as I trailed behind my mum and two younger sisters on that first day. I had been miserable at my first two schools and was dreading starting all over again. I thought that if only I was one of the popular kids I’d be happy, but I was introverted and shy and instant popularity seemed as likely as snow in July.
Meeting Ali made all the difference in the world. We bonded over a shared love of den building and Caramac bars. We didn’t have everything in common. She didn’t enjoy reading as much as I did, but she didn’t seem to mind that I always had my nose in a book. And Ali liked coming round to play at mine, despite the fact that my room was a chaotic mess, shared with my sisters and bursting at the seams. Ali had an immaculately tidy bedroom. Her favourite toys were her collection of Action Man figures, inherited from her older brothers.
Even though we went to different secondary schools, Ali and I used to meet on the train home and plan our weekends. We shared adventures at Guide camp, Friday night art classes, sleepovers and parties.She was talented at art. I wanted to be a writer. We were going to set the creative world alight. And although we saw less of each other when she went off to Glasgow Art School and I went to university, we never lost touch.
We are still close friends more than 40 years later, and have supported each other through good times and bad. I know I can call her any time, as she can call on me. When I was writing The Mixed Up Summer of Lily McLean, I thought a lot about the importance of friendship. I’m sure being the popular kid is lovely, but the truth is, one friend is all it takes. It makes all the difference in the world.