Dear Ken

A Letter to myself

Ken Preston

16 May 2024

A school photograph from 1980, with the author standing on the back row

Have you ever written a letter to your future self? Did you even know it was a thing?

I love the idea of writing to me, the five or ten years older me, with words of wisdom and reflection, and hope for the future. I wonder what the emotional impact would be of receiving that letter, and opening it up and reading it?

Pretty heavy stuff I would imagine.

I might even do it one day, although I should really think about doing it soon, as I’m at that stage in life where I have more days behind me than I have in front.

When I first came across this idea of writing to my future self, it got me thinking; what if I could write to my past self? Surely that would be a lot more useful, having the benefit of hindsight?

So I gave it a go.

And to be honest, once I’d written it and I read it back, I think it was probably a lot more useful for me now, than me then.

Writing in the Shadows is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

Dear Ken,

Hey, it’s me. No, I mean, it’s you.

All right, this is confusing I know, just hear me out.

This is me, Ken aged fifty-nine, writing to you, Ken aged sixteen, to tell you a few things.

Yes, I know, all these years later and you’re still around. How cool is that?

And that’s the first thing I want to say to you.

It’s going to be okay.

Actually, it’s going to be more than okay, it’s going to be pretty damn good.

Unfortunately, you’ve got to get through some pretty heavy shit first.

I know, I know, I just told you everything’s going to be all right and then I hit you with the ‘pretty heavy shit’ thing. I’m sorry but, you know, forewarned is forearmed, etc, etc.

So, have you calmed down yet? Dug yourself out of that existential crisis?

Whatever you do, don’t throw away this letter and go pick up a Spider-Man comic, okay? You need to read this, and there will be plenty of time later to read that Spider-Man comic again. (And, by the way, I have to tell you there are a couple of incredible Spider-Man movies coming your way in the future, much better than that crappy TV series with whatsisface from The Sound of Music in it.)

Anyway, where was I?

Oh yes the second point I want to make is this:

You’re going to come out of school next summer with only one qualification, and that’s in Art. Many years later you discover the fact that David Bowie also left school with one O Level (they’re called GCSE’s now) in Art, but you’re not Bowie and you’re going on a different career path.

Yep, one Art O Level and that’s it, I’m afraid. You’ve got another year after that at college retaking O Levels to get your English and your Maths at the very least.

Unless, and listen carefully, you put down the Spider-Man comics and actually do some revision when it comes around to exam time.

I’m telling you this now because nobody else will, but your parents aren’t going to be encouraging you to revise. I mean, it’s kind of difficult to do that from the pub, isn’t it?

So it’s up to you.

Nobody else.


What else? Oh yes.



I know, you’re not particularly interested at the moment, are you? But believe me, and honestly I can say in all truthfulness that I have been there, you soon will be.

Look, all I want to say on this particular subject is, don’t stress about it too much.

At all, in fact.

It all works out great.

Ooh, one word of warning though. A couple of years from now, you’re going to wind up in a nightclub kissing Karen. Yes, that Karen. The one in your form at school who you hate and detest with every fibre of your being and who feels the same way about you. But don’t worry, you don’t start dating or anything. She already has a boyfriend when the two of you are giving each other mouth to mouth resuscitation. In fact, she’s sitting on his lap at the time.

Yeah, it’s a bit complicated.

Oh, and one more thing. In 1984 you move to Birmingham, and there’s this one day when you’re a bit lost in the city and this man asks if he can help you and offers to give you a lift in his car. Say no thank you, and walk away.

Walk away.

Look, there’s a ton of things you need to know, but it’s probably best if I let you discover them yourself. So, instead of dwelling on specifics, here’s a general list of things to think about.

  • When you’ve been sat in the pub with your mates all night and the bell rings for last orders, someone will always say, “Shall we have one more?”
    Say no, okay? Just refuse. I’ve got to tell you, I’m still struggling with that one even now. But, no matter how tempting it is at the time, you will always regret it the following morning.
  • Say yes to the opportunities that will come your way. It doesn’t matter if they don’t work out, more opportunities will come along. Just don’t say no to them, say yes. Even if they are scary. Actually, especially if they are scary.
  • Stop worrying about what everybody might be thinking of you, and just get on with being you. The truth of the matter is, most people won’t be thinking about you much anyway. They’re all too worried about what everybody is thinking about them.
  • Think for yourself. Make up your own mind up about shit, and don’t let anybody else do it for you. There will be lots of people who will delight in attempting to make up your mind for you. Forget about them. You think for yourself.
  • By the way, the world doesn’t end. Yes, there will be moments where it will feel like it’s about to. But it doesn’t. Not happened yet, anyway.
  • Oh, and on the subject of the world ending, stop worrying about the coming of a second ice age. It ain’t gonna happen. Just the opposite in fact.
  • Don’t go cycling down dark country, winding lanes at night without any bicycle lights on. You will get hurt. Badly.
  • And don’t fall asleep on the last train home and miss your stop and then wake up when the driver is taking the train to be parked for the night. It’s embarrassing.
  • If, when you are living in the halls of residence in your first year at college, you decide one night when you need the toilet that you don’t need to bother putting any clothes on as the communal toilet is just opposite your room, don’t forget that the door to your room automatically shuts and locks, all right? And if you didn’t take your key . . .
    Just, please, put some clothes on. That was more embarrassing than the train incident.

Well, it looks like we’re getting into specifics after all, so I think I’d better stop here.

Honestly though, stop worrying, it all turns out great.

After the heavy shit of course.

I can’t lie to you, it’s going to get pretty grim for a while.

But you’re going to do good.

Real good.