The writer, illustrator and performance poet Laura Dockrill on happy days at The Brit School in south London
ABSOLUTELY MAMA: What sort of school was The Brit School?
LAURA DOCKRILL: It is magical and special. When I first stepped into the building I immediately felt at home. I had struggled in my previous school to find a footing, as it was very academic, and felt a huge amount of pressure, and was further and further away from what I actually wanted to do. But The Brit School was my habitat and home to my species; it’s an open-minded, free-thinking, risk-taking school that encourages and empowers young people to take leaps and be brave and experiment with form and genre. I am eternally grateful to it.
AM: What was your favourite subject at school?
LD: Theatre. The theatre department was a scrubby little layout of three rooms, all painted black with the most simple of set-ups. Our costume bit was basically made up of a wig, an old moth-eaten armchair, a few weird outfits and a mop. But that was all we needed, the space was a blank canvas.
AM: Which teacher influenced you the most and why?
LD: I have had a lot of wonderful, inspirational teachers in my life. Nick Williams, then the principal of The Brit School, always gave me time in his office to tirelessly go over my essays and poetry, and always encouraged my writing. Then there was Miss Bamford, who taught me at primary school. She was a solid punk with a shaved head, dyed ox-blood red. She had a pierced nose, tattoos and ginormous, wonderful boobies – so great that we would deliberately fall over in the playground just to get a hug from her. I always loved that she came to school dressed like herself. It gave her not only an informality and genuine softness and likeability factor, but made us feel we could trust her, like she was legit ONE OF US.
AM: Did you have a special place at school?
LD: Those rooms at The Brit School. They were cold, intense and completely black, littered with scraps of poetry, crisp packets, browning apple cores and flattened Ribena cartons. And we were obsessed with them. With the curtains closed and the spotlights on full, we would often be still there at 7pm on a Friday just “hanging out”, making up stuff (and school finished at noon on Fridays).
AM: What beliefs do you think they instilled in you?
LD: It endorsed my love and verve for theatre, language and literature, but also allowed me to play across other strands and mediums, pushing me and guiding me. It spoke to me like an adult but let me think like a child. It made me think freely and work collaboratively and actively; and understand rejection, competition, kindness. It practises and demonstrates the importance of valuing and respecting art across
all of its many borders, strands and disciplines. The school showed me how to work hard. To trust that enough is never enough, there is always more to do; more reading, more talking, more ways to be active. That it is illegal to be bored and even worse to be lazy. But, also, I thank it for infusing me politically and socially, bolstering myself as a woman, supporting me as a young feminist and helping me find a confident voice in the competitive world of writing.
AM: What is your most vivid memory?
LD: So many, they all roll into one kind of blurry dream… it was such a happy place. I felt like I really got the chance to thrash out my emo-teen years there – it was a bit like rehab in that way. I remember lots of first encounters, meeting people who have since gone on to become my best friends.
AM: Were you ever too cool for school?
LD: No. I talked to and loved everybody. I wore multi-coloured tights, leopard print Converse, ill-fitting jackets, had bitten-down, painted, chipped nails, knotty hair and was usually eating a tin of tropical fruit in syrup.
AM: What effect did school have on your character? Did it change you?
LD: Yes, for all of the above reasons. Sometimes I meet people and I can’t help but think, “I wish you got the chance to go to Brit”.
AM: Where did you develop your love of writing and drawing?
LD: I have always written and drawn. I’m obsessed with fairy tales, Greek mythology and Roald Dahl. I’ve always believed that words and art go together in some way. I like the way words and art look on a page/screen/stage together. Then I am obsessed with the way humans talk, move, explain themselves. Both my parents raised me to love people, to enjoy the art of conversation and proper storytelling. I think both of my parents led me to believe that the process of an artist is just as important as the end product of the art itself. So I enjoy finding stories within stories. I’ve always been fascinated with a broad, vibrant, experimental approach to making art. And making mistakes, too. I find enjoyment and freedom in just whirling away the hours with a pen and a stack of paper.
AM: Tell us about your latest book.
LD: Big Bones is about a young girl who loves her body. It is an endorsement of body positivity, food, confidence and womanhood. I loved writing it. I wrote it in a really weird time in my life when I turned 30 and thought “WAIT A SEC, WHAT THE HELL AM I DOING?” It is a bit of an apology and love letter to my younger self and a conversation with my younger readers.
AM: How would you sum up your school days in five words?
LD: Escape, play, surreal, magical, precious.
Big Bones was published by Hot Key Books in March 2018