Read an exclusive extract from Paris Lees’ What It Feels Like for a Girl

Photography by Stuart Simpson/Penguin Books

The debut book from award-winning journalist Paris Lees is an unflinching account of growing up broke and bullied in noughties Nottingham: one that is as heartbreakingly sad as it is laugh out loud funny (as all the best things are).

Comedown don’t even cover it. We go to Peter’s coz we we’re runnin’ low on fags – not to mention money – but we can’t sleep, so we call Fag Ash. She’s wi’ Liam an’ Nikki, an’ all them lot. They’ve not bin to sleep either. Fag Ash guz, The only way to stop a comedown is to come back up again’, an’ I can’t argue wi’ that so we tell em we’ll get Peter to drop us off in a bit. I don’t really wanna see Liam, but I can’t go home like this, canna? Peter sez we look like we need droppin’ in a cattle dip, an’ makes us jump in the shower before we can sit on his new settee. He’s goin’, Are you sure you want to go back out? Don’t make yourselves ill.’ An’ I’m thinkin’, I’d have gone back to Mammar Joe’s if I wanted all this. I go, Peter, I know yer as old as ma Mammar, but d’ya have to sound like her?’ an’ instantly regret it. He’s only bein’ nice. Fine,’ he sez. Thou can do what thou likes,’ which means he’s pissed off. Me an’ Die start gerrin ready. I don’t know why we are the way we are, but we are.

Them lot are all round Adam’s, Fag Ash’s mate. He’s a makeup artist. He works at Mac an’ has all is stuff with im, so I ask im if he’ll sort me out an’ he sez, Yeah, of course, I’d love to have a go on that face,’ which Fag Ash don’t like one little bit. While he’s doin’ it I start tellin’ everyone about what a great time me an’ Lady Die have had in Leicester, although I din’t say owt about the thing wi’ the toilet brush. I exaggerate a few bits, too, to make it sound even better an’ annoy Fag Ash, which it does. She always takes the bait, that one. She’s like a fuckin’ carp. I go, Ah, it’s a shame ya din’t come, babe. But ya looked like ya were havin’ so much fun wi’ that guy when we left.’ Although I shun’t have set er off really coz then she starts bein’ dead passive aggressive an’ there’s this awkward atmosphere, so Adam sez, Right, let’s go out.’ NG1’s dead again. Adam’s made me look like summat out of a sci fi movie, wi’ silver eyeshadow an’ ma contact lenses. I went out as a boy on Friday, a girl last night, an’ androgynous tonight. It just feels appropriate, coz I don’t feel like a boy or a girl tonight. I feel like a cyborg, an’ I look like one.

We do some more speed, an’ it’s not that bad actually. Lady Die perks up – like a phoenix, risen from the ashtrays – an’ starts shockin’ out to Lisa Maffia. I would say, God knows where she gets er energy,’ but it comes in little white lines off the back o’ toilet seats. Dirty D an’ everyone else turns up an’ Fag Ash is still wearin’ the dress she had on on Friday, although she swears blind she’s bin home an’ had a bath. To be fair, if I had a dress like that I wun’t take it off all weekend either. She does ma ead in, but I do love er. She is funny. But then Lady Die sez she’s goin’ home coz she’s had enough. I sez, Goin’ home? Had enough?’ I’ve never known er to have had enough’ all the time we’ve bin mates, an’ she an’t bin home since 1999. But I’m buzzin’, coz I’ve actually outlasted Lady Die for once. Everyone’s tellin’ me I’m proper hardcore now. Fag Ash sez, Let’s go back to mine.’ They’re playin’ the Prodigy an’ I’m feelin’ good, but then Liam grabs me by the arm as I’m goin’ to the cloakroom an’ sez, Ya better not have said owt to any- one,’ so I go, No, of course not, Liam.’

The moment we get to Asha’s he starts windin’ me up though, makin’ me paranoid an’ that. There’s always someone like that at parties, tryna mess wi’ yer ead. Truth be told, it’s usually me. But I don’t do it the way Liam does. He takes it too far, till the other person’s genuinely freakin’ out. Like I am now. The rest of em go upstairs an’ I’m just laid on the floor in the livin’ room an’ can’t move. Liam’s the only one who stays behind wi’ me, an’ he’s goin’, D’ya hear that?’ an’ I’m like, Hear what?’ an’ he’s like, Oh, it’s probably nuffin,’ an’ all that crap. Yeah, yeah, Liam. I know what yer doin’. But even though I know he’s doin’ it on purpose, it’s still gerrin to me.

They come back down eventually. I reckon they’ve bin doin’ more coke an’ din’t wanna share it with us, which is a bit rude but I’m not even bothered coz I’m alread wasted an’ Liam’s bin feedin’ me bumps of K. But where are ma fags? I’ve bin practically chain-smokin’ all night burra can’t remember when I last had em. I look in ma bag, under the chair, everywhere. I’m freakin’ out. Then Liam pulls em out the back o’ the sofa an’ sez, Lookin’ for these, ya dickhead?’ wi’ this cruel grin on is face. I try an’ snatch em off im, but he makes me beg an’ I’m too tired to argue with im, so I do, I beg. Like a dog.

I spark up, take a drag, an’ I’m thinkin’, Why does he wanna make me look stupid? Is he jealous? Or does he just really hate me? But it tastes funny. I hold it up to gerra closer look, but then I feel this rush of energy, an’ ma eyes roll back into ma ead. I din’t understand what were happenin’ at the time, but I realize now that that were the turnin’ point.

What It Feels Like for a Girl is out on 27th May. Order it here

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