Thirteen years ago this summer I produced my first real, paid and published story. The other day I tried to work out how many articles I must have written since then. After adding up wild estimates like “1.5 year in this newsroom, 5 days per week, average 1 story per day” and “3 years contributing to that magazine, 2 stories per month, plus Christmas special”, I gave up. It is thousands – that much I worked out.
The first couple of years my mum used to cut out each and every one of my articles and glued them into albums. Books full of clippings I have of those early days, with the newspaper pages turning more yellow each year. When I was last home, I took some albums off the shelf and flicked through them. I had forgotten a lot of the stories but many came back to mind, especially the people in interviews that I had done.
As I worked my way through the pile of newspaper and magazine pages, I realised just how diverse the topics that I had covered were. In newsrooms I obviously had to follow the news agenda, with council meetings, launches of all sorts and prominent visits of anyone remotely famous. But mostly I wrote about people, and I still do.
Real people, from Dutch greenhouse growers to Namibian scientists. From Danish students to exiled Zimbabwean broadcasters. From Australian expats to Greek street paper sellers. From South Sudanese leprosy sufferers to Indian CEOs. From Afghan child refugees to South African musicians. From London ex-prisoners to Kenyan social workers. From Scottish entrepreneurs to Brazilian homeless footballers.
My business cards have a quote on them that I used to like a lot when I first started writing and travelling: “Make life a story worth telling.” Since I have had the privilege to meet so many people from all walks of life, I know it is more than that. They might not always know where to start, but when you give people your time, trust and a place to express themselves, it is obvious. Everyone has a story to tell.