I’m new to this writing game. I was 51 when I went to university to do an MA in creative writing. At sixteen I got a job as a typist, then a filing clerk, an office manager, a paralegal in criminal and family law, a project manager in social services, a massage therapist, waitress and backing singer, became a Member of the Employment Tribunal, the Adoption Panel and then a Magistrate. I had a busy life. So, when I eventually started writing, I felt I had something to say.

Not only that, I’d paid my dues, eaten my way through the classics and a bit of contemporary literature, read too many books by old white men and loved them, avoided non-fiction and politics, dabbled in biography but only actors and nobodies, knew a bit of Shakespeare and swathes of Dickens, stumbled across the Channel and discovered Zola, Flaubert, Mauriac and Maupassant then headed in the other direction to Henry James, Mark Twain, Willa Cather and Edith Wharton, quite a journey for a child that grew up in a house without books.

At home, we had a narrow choice of reading matter: the News of The World that my Caribbean father bought every Sunday or a daily dose of The Bible from my Irish mother. The News of the World had racy bits of scandal but was overstuffed with sport, and The Bible was pushed at us so often that by the time I was 15 I had read it cover to cover twice. And anyway, reading was what you did at school, why bring it home?

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That is not to say that I didn’t love the stories that we read in rote around the classroom but I never thought of reading as a voluntary pastime. In my careers essay I said I wanted to be a journalist but working-class girls with immigrant parents girls didn’t go to university, they became secretaries and nurses so I cheerfully left school at the first opportunity and read nothing until my mid twenties. Then through books I discovered the world.

The advice you’re given when you start is ‘write what you know’. What did I know? I knew about criminal lives, about women who lose their children, about foster care and angry kids, being broke, drugs, how to do a handbrake turn, burglaries, solicitors, barristers, social workers, bad flats, stale food, no food, cold, desperation, loving and laughing, survival and living. This wasn’t suitable material for a book, at least not any of the books I’d read so I looked again at the writers I loved because surely that’s the place to go for inspiration. I found was that it wasn’t the prose style of writers like Somerset Maugham, Arnold Bennett and Patrick Hamilton that had me hooked all these years but it was the content of their stories, tales about the ordinary, about the woman at the edge of things, the man in the bedsit, the quiet domestic lives with huge micro-dramas, stories about ill-fitters or non-fitters, people like me, off-centre.

But when I looked closer still, I found that many of these writers were peering in on those lives from a place of relative privilege and ease. Arnold Bennett, a solicitor; Somerset Maugham, a doctor; Patrick Hamilton, Graham Green, Gustave Flaubert – all from the comfortable middle-classes. Even George Orwell went to Eton and I was the daughter of a bus driver and a childminder.

The truth is, and I heard this more than once, "literature is a record of the middle classes for the middle classes." Certainly the definitions of literature and what constitutes good taste are tightly bound up with class. What the working-class or underclass produce is rarely included in the canon: street literature, songs, hymns, spoken word, dialect and oral storytelling is nowhere to be found, neither is it taught in schools or universities. After all, universal education has only been around for 100 years. How many working-class writers would have been able to write a book even given the luxury of time, space and an audience?

The term working class has never had more problems. According to a major BBC survey using economic, social and cultural indicators there are now seven social classes, ranging from the elite at the top to a "precariat" – the poor, precarious proletariat – at the bottom. The closer you get to the bottom, the more likely we are to find marginalised communities and social exclusion, and the less likely we are to find writing that speaks of those lives written by writers who live it every day. But why?

Well, for one thing, we need to be invited to the party. That invitation comes from the experience of seeing ourselves included, knowing that writing by us and about us and for us has a place at the table. I remember watching the BBC weather as a teenager and after the presenter had covered the cold in Lancashire and the rain in Kent he smiled and pointed at Switzerland. "At least we’ll have some snow on the slopes for half-term," he said and went on to give the skiing forecast. No-one I knew had ever been skiing. Skiing was for posh people. "I’m not included," I thought. He wasn’t talking to me any more than Evelyn Waugh was talking to me when he wrote of grand country houses and Oxford’s "cloistral hush". Even Jane Eyre, a poor orphan, was well educated, spoke French and played the piano, ultimately and conveniently becoming a rich heiress. Who would I have been had I lived at Thornfield Hall with Mr Rochester? The housekeeper? More likely I would have been Leah, the maid of whom we are given few details and no sense of her life and passions, or whether Charlotte Bronte considered her, like Jane, a "free human being with an independent will".

The more we reinforce the stereotypes of who writes and who reads, the more the notion of exclusivity is reinforced. It takes balls to gatecrash a party but some do it. They eke a few hours after working full-time, no mean feat in itself but then find that a writer’s life costs money. Even if you can’t stretch to a £7,000 creative writing masters degree, things like joining a writers’ group, networking events, competition entry fees, manuscript assessment, hearing your favourite author give a talk – these can run into the thousands. Even free events require money to get there and maybe a drink with your friends afterwards.

Let’s say you can afford all of the above and say you live in Stoke-on-Trent or Paisley and, scribbling night after night after work, you’ve finally written something good, a novel about a council tenant fighting a corrupt landlord. The agents are all in London. The big publishing houses ditto. You trawl through the Writers & Agents Yearbook (£20 incidentally), locate an agent you like the look of, post your manuscript at considerable cost and you wait.

Who is reading your book about Stoke-on-Trent or Paisley? Do they know where those places are? In a study exposing race, class, gender and pay inequalities, published in the journal Cultural Trends, researchers found that some 43% of people working in publishing, 28% in music and 26% in design come from a privileged background, compared with 14% of the population as a whole. You have to hope that whoever reads your book doesn’t equate working class with "white trash" sink estates populated by chavs and single mothers in tower blocks – that they don’t reach for the lazy label "gritty", "dark", and "northern" when you’re only halfway up the country, that their life experience and interests go beyond university and the London literati.

You have to hope that the gatekeepers in literary agencies and publishing houses are open to alternative narratives about how we live now in a Britain of multiple, overlapping ethnic and cultural identities. It can all too easily become a vicious circle of exclusion and disappointment and even when you do break through, the typical income for a professional author in 2013 was just £11,000, more than £5,000 below the income level considered to be a socially acceptable standard of living.

Some writers do get lucky. I was one. My debut novel, My Name is Leon, went to auction and I got a great advance. I got the chance to have my story heard, the story of a boy separated from his baby brother because his brother is white and he is not. It’s about foster care and mental ill-health, about social workers and not having enough to eat, of riots and police brutality, of being adrift in the world and finding love and the unexpected people who get you through difficult times. I got the opportunity to give real voice to the outsiders. Three days after finding out I had a publishing deal, I went about setting up a scholarship for a writer from a disadvantaged background to do a Creative Writing MA at Birkbeck University, fees paid, travel paid and a bit of subsistence so the scholar can have a cup of coffee and a sandwich in the campus café at the end of the day.

It was exciting stuff and I told people about it, asked them to spread the word deep into the communities that would least be able to afford two years of tuition fees for something they felt passionate about. The response was overwhelming not only in that over a 130 people applied for the scholarship but professionals from the literary establishment, finding a mechanism for addressing their concerns, contacted me to get involved and their generosity has materialised: the staff at Waterstone’s Birmingham are paying for the books from the reading list, a friend is paying for a laptop and stationery, Arvon are donating a week at a writer’s retreat. And then Penguin Random House, Spread the Word, The Literacy Consultancy, The Word Factory and my agent, Jo Unwin, are all donating time, meetings, events, advice and support to another five runners up. And there’s more, Birkbeck are running a Masterclass for a further fifteen applicants with many well-known writers lecturing for free.

Publishing – like the rest of the arts – needs new markets. There are writers and readers in the working and underclasses, ready to see their lives depicted in literature, stories that speak of their concerns and their lifestyles, written with authenticity and humour from beyond the metropolitan elite. The publishing industry can no longer ignore the clamour for more inclusion and must begin to value the diverse experiences of people from under-represented communities.

The response I had to the Scholarship makes me believe that things are slowly changing. This year, Penguin Random House are taking #WriteNow – a new outreach and mentoring program – to Birmingham and Manchester to connect to local writers from diverse backgrounds and have for the first time relaxed the requirement for all job applicants to have a University degree. And their interns are paid. Faber’s CEO recently said that publishing’s London-centric nature "had to stop" and many other organisations are waking up to the need for publishing to invite and embrace and include and support and help and recognize and champion all good writers no matter where they’re from.

The first recipient of the Kit de Waal Scholarship is a young, mixed-race boxer from Birmingham who hid poems in his gloves. The author of the Stoke novel Sitting Ducks is Lisa Blower who got her book published by a tiny outfit called Fair Acre Press, one of a number of small regional publishing houses doing great things with very little money or recognition. We’re still waiting for the Paisley novel. It’s out there.

It’s time for the industry, for the literary agents, for the editors and commissioners, for the judges of prizes and awards, for the organisers of literary festivals and all the many established authors who know what it’s like to struggle at the bottom, to gather together and share their enthusiasm for change, to be outward facing and open-armed and to come together (count me in) and ensure that their initiatives are fairly distributed around the country, east and west, north and south and into those areas of London economically and culturally far beyond the reaches of Bloomsbury, to include white and black working-class writers, writers with disabilities, those from small rural communities where poverty and isolation is often over-looked, writers who have looked at publishing and said "They’re not talking to me." Let’s invite them all.

There are stories already written which deserve to be read and new stories that will remain lost or untold until something changes.