S F Said came to see us…
Posted on 6th November 2018
Do you remember the first Star Wars film? And Watership Down? If not, you may be a little younger than SF Said… When SF watched Star Wars and read Watership Down, as a child, he thought “One day, I’m going to create a story like that…” He’s been working on this dream ever since.
SF Said was asked by one of our children “What would you have been if you hadn’t been an author?” and he replied, “I got 90 rejections. If that had turned into 91, or more, I would have kept writing.” He talked about the process of improving, and of the determination and dedication which has brought him success. Success for him means writing the best book he can. He is not rich. But he is (deservedly) proud of his books.
Varjak Paw was re-drafted 15 times, and SF didn’t ‘discover’ some of the key characters until the last few drafts. Each of his books has taken many years, and many many drafts, to write. When we met him on Thursday he was very excited, because he has just shifted the setting of his latest book, and it is making the whole plot work much better.
Watching his enthusiasm was like watching a football coach who has just put a player in a new position and is seeing a sudden shift in team dynamics which makes everything possible. It is always wonderful to watch experts having ‘eureka’ moments. It helps us to recognise and appreciate our own (however small).
SF said that he had a friend who was a much better writer, but this friend hasn’t spent the last twenty years writing, re-drafting, writing, re-drafting… and so is not a published author. SF Said is a wonderful writer, as anyone knows who has read Varjak Paw, The Outlaw Varjak Paw or Phoenix. But the strongest message he gave was that of disciplined work in the service of what he loves. You only become good at anything by hard work and commitment, and you can only commit if you love what you’re doing. I asked the children “Who likes re-drafting your writing?” and SF Said groaned, and said that he hates it. But he knows he has to do it to make the work good enough, and therefore he wants to do it, even though he hates it.
Over the last 24 hours I have heard or seen the following, in the media:
“Hanging in there is an under-appreciated skill in international sport. No-one sets out to merely survive but keeping your head above water when all others are losing theirs takes an awful lot of fight and guts and an illogical amount of self-belief.” (England rugby yesterday)
“What’s the point of doing something at 67%? With supreme discipline comes freedom. Being alive to risks, doing things that will test you, going further than expectations might suggest you should go…” (actor Tamsin Greig)
“Arsenal have won more points from losing positions than any other team in the Premier League this season…”
“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” Tim Notke, basketball coach.
Resilience… Ninety rejection letters and still going. Ninety rejection letters and still determined to get better. Lots of success and still determined to get even better. SF Said just wants to find out how good a book he can write. Mo Farah wants to find out how fast he can run. We want to find out how good a school we can create, together. The hard work towards the dream is such an important part of being alive.
It was so good to meet SF. He has that great humility which can come with the search for perfection. He has that lovely sense of humour which can come with a recognition of failures. He talked honestly, openly and kindly with our children. Thank you so much, SF, for coming to talk to us.