I was very happy when I read in today’s Guardian that a statue of Yuri Gagarin is to be placed in London opposite the statue of Captain Cook. Gagarin is a symbol of aspiration, courage and success in Russia, and it’s great that our kids in the UK will have a reason to find out more about this great man and maybe to be inspired to be brave when it comes to following a dream.
When I was a kid, most boys I knew wanted to be like Yuri Gagarin. I was a girl, so I wanted to be like Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. I imagined myself going through vigorous training and then finally going on a mission that would seem like a year to me but would last three hundred years on Earth. I saw myself shaking hands with an alien and eating borsht out of a tube. Of course, adults made sure that I understood all the difficulties of my future profession as soon as they found out about my dream. ‘You might end up training all your life and never going into space. Ever,’ some said. ‘Or you’ll come back to a planet that is so different that you wouldn’t want to be on it.’ I am not a cosmonaut now, so their warnings must have had some effect on my five-year-old self. Instead, I have become a writer. And it has now occured to me that these two professions are very similar. You might write all your life and never get published. Ever. Although in our age of self-publishing that’s becoming increasingly unlikely. And just like a cosmonaut, you lose track of time and sometimes come back after a particularly intensive period of work on a story to a planet that seems so different to the one you’ve just been on that you don’t always want to stay. You get to meet strange aliens that populate your imagination. And you have to be as brave, if not more, as a cosmonaut, to resolve to write no matter what. Whether you ever get to go on a real mission or not. You just do it. You just write.