IN my late teens, when God didn’t appear for me, I tried to find solace in the equally theatric, tempestuous and often-punishing world of acting.

I was lucky to have an inspirational working-class drama teacher – a Liverpudlian socialist who believed the work he did was a radical act of political change. In fact, what I loved more than anything were books, but I had no idea how they came to sit on library shelves. Certainly, I had no idea where authors came from but I was fairly sure it wasn’t the same streets as me.

But, in the glow of the TV, I watched Coronation Street, Boys from the Black Stuff and Band of Gold, and recognised characters who talked and acted like me. Sometimes their lives were more dramatic than mine, often a lot less. On screen, I saw it so I believed that, just maybe, I could be it.

If it was hard back in the 1990s to access the arts even with the ability to claim the dole with relatively little DSS terrorising and in the era of free or still not too expensive student loans, now, I believe it is 100 times harder.

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I’ve noticed the term "nepo baby" being splashed across headlines recently. While the gilded uber-celebrity of children of A-listers is a relatively new phenomenon, the fact that it's helpful to have a network of contacts, family money and the inherent confidence of the comfortably-off that life is going to go well for you, is nothing new.

In 2023, you can add in the inequality of a cost of living crisis, a housing crisis and an ever more competitive industry where funding is steadily cut and it's easy to understand why a recent report revealed that those in working-class creative positions had fallen by almost 50 per cent since the 1970s.

This is very much on my mind as this weekend Scotland's brightest and best literary figures will attend the fourth year of Paisley Book Festival. Four years isn't a long time if you compare it with say, Edinburgh Festival’s 40 years but Paisley Book Festival has made a huge impact because it was created in the spirit of social consciousness, inclusivity and genuine actual engagement in the local community.

This year, to acknowledge the cost of living crisis and to make sure that affordability isn't a barrier to anyone who wants to attend, they have even introduced a pay what you can model for almost all events.

Programmers Heather McDaid and Sha Nazir, Scottish literary superstars in their own right, have created a programme as diverse and vibrant as the Scottish arts scene itself, including the Hebridean Baker, Darren McGarvey, Jackie Kay and Michael Pedersen, and Denise Mina and Tariq Ashkanani along with the First Minister interviewing Chitra Ramaswamy.

It won't surprise you to hear that when my family returned to Scotland from a few years in Prague and I heard that they were looking for a Writer in Residence, I jumped at the chance to be involved.

My proposal for my time at the festival was effectively that we returned the power to the people. For the next 12 months, I'm not a writer in residence, but I'm a writer in service. The events and workshops that I do over the 12 months of my residency will reflect what the people of Paisley would find most valuable.

The Herald: Jackie Kay and Darren McGarvey are among those appearing at the Paisley Book FestivalJackie Kay and Darren McGarvey are among those appearing at the Paisley Book Festival (Image: Newsquest)

It is no accident that this weekend I am interviewing three working-class writers each at the top of their respective game, who I believe can be an inspiration to other working-class emerging writers. These include Darren McGarvey, Graham Armstrong and Kirstin Innes.

It's no accident either that when it was time for me to find workshop participants I didn't simply send an email to my literary networks. But I put up a post on Facebook’s "Paisley Crowd" group and asked for recommendations from those working on the frontline of the public and charity sector.

As a result, I'll deliver workshops to women's groups, those accessing mental health facilities, care-experienced young people and those in later life. I cannot wait to see the stories they have to tell because I know there is narrative gold in them there hills.

I will always remember starting out as a young debut novelist, shaking in my boots, clutching my plastic pint glass of wine in the Edinburgh Festival Authors’ Yurt and not feeling any judgment from people from different worlds who couldn't possibly imagine what it had taken me to get there as I did in the London scene. Instead, I was welcomed in with open arms by Scottish working-class writers who recognised that what I had done to get there was one of the things that had made my work distinctive.

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I know how hard it is to imagine working in the arts when you are a working-class kid or even an adult hoping to take that leap from another career but I believe that with festivals like the Paisley Book Festival, the arts can flourish in Scotland. As Sha Nazir says, ‘books are a great equaliser. And the festival is a great place to find that inspiration which will give any new and aspiring writer the courage to fill an empty page.’

I see the Paisley Book Festival as a celebration in the truest sense of the word. It is a celebration of community. Fittingly, the theme this year is "Rebel and Remake". I believe we in Scotland have always rebelled against the tidal wave of depreciation of value for the arts across the UK and have consistently remade an even better, brighter culture for Scotland. I hope it continues to do so, for my kid, all kids, in the future. Let’s make the creative arts a jewel in Scotland’s crown.