09 +00002014-11-18T21:58:09+00:0030 2012 § 6 Comments
At first light yesterday, I travelled to Spalding High School, my own former school, to which I had returned only once previously since leaving the sixth form. I received a wonderful welcome from Adrian Isted, the newly-appointed Head of English, who began the day’s activities by showing me round the school.
First stop was the office of the headteacher, Mrs. Michele Anderson, who is also fairly new to the school. She was fascinated to hear a little more from me about Mrs. Jeanne Driver, the first married headteacher at the school, who was its leader throughout my school career. Born Jeanne Ouseley, she lived at 10, High Street, a large house of several storeys situated near the River Welland in Spalding. Part of this house was divided into flats and there were usually several other teachers living there, as well as two of my fellow sixth formers, Cheryl Ouseley and Elizabeth Davies, both of whom were her nieces. They called her ‘Auntie Jeanne’, a name that the rest of the sixth form also used affectionately, if unofficially. Mrs. Driver was one of several strong women who influenced me as a girl. She had a strong sense of duty and an even stronger work ethic. We found some of the things she said highly amusing (for example, ‘I stand up whenever I hear the national anthem, even if I’m in the bath.’). Sometimes she took the notion of duty to an extreme. I remember she told us that when her husband, who had been in ill health for some time, finally died, she finished marking a set of books before setting in train the preparations for his funeral. But her influence has lasted all my life.
The school has been added to, but otherwise is little changed. I suppose the thing that struck me most yesterday is how it seems to have shrunk. The corridors seemed longer, the stairways steeper, the ceilings higher when I first attended it as an eleven-year-old, then for only a part of the school week – pupils belonging to the first two school years still spent most of their time at the old school building in London Road, the first home of Spalding High School when it was established in 1920 on the site of its predecessor, the privately-owned ‘Welland Academy for Young Ladies’. (The present school building was completed in 1959, but the London Road property continued to be used by younger pupils for more than twenty years afterwards.) The assembly hall still boasts its luxurious but absurdly impractical parquet floor.
In my day it doubled up as a gym (there is now a separate sports hall) and we were obliged to do PE barefoot, which we all hated, so that the floor wouldn’t become scuffed by gym shoes. The same grand piano stands in the corner, to the left of the stage. In the corridor outside the headteacher’s office are several group photographs taken of all the teachers and pupils at intervals during the school’s history. After some searching, I was able to discover myself on one of these – and I could also name all the other girls in my form and most of the teachers.
After the tour, I was interviewed by Eleanor Toal and Holly Hetherington for High Quarterly, the school’s completely online magazine (which is streets ahead of the drab, dark-red-covered printed production of my youth). Eleanor, the e-zine’s editor, also writes articles for the Spalding Guardian, carrying on the long-standing relationship between the school and the local newspaper. Eleanor and Holly (who edits Gardening and Food in the mag) knew they were going to be asked to interview me only very shortly before we met, because the intended interviewer was ill, but I wouldn’t have known if they hadn’t told me. I was much struck by the sensitivity and perspicacity of their questions and enjoyed answering them.
After lunch, I talked to sixth form English students about how to get published. Jean Hodge, who reports on cultural affairs for the Spalding Guardian, also attended and joined in. It was quite an exciting occasion, because it also took the first steps towards setting up a short-story competition that the Great British Bookshop has agreed to sponsor at the High School. Adrian and his colleagues and I will choose the best ten or twelve stories submitted to be published in a single volume at The Great British Bookshop’s expense. Winners will each receive a free copy of the book, which will then go on sale in TGBB’s extensive distribution network. I’ll be writing more about the competition in this blog very shortly.
I completed my day at the school with a writers’ workshop for Years 7, 8 and 9 students. The participants explored some of the key elements of crime fiction (they proved to be very well read) and collaborated to put some of those into practice. Their discussion illustrated their excellent grasp of linguistic and literary effects and the results were amazing! Nearly all of these students bought one of my books at the end of the session; some bought all three. Thank you!
I can’t conclude this post without saying that a remarkable library now exists at Spalding High School. The library is housed in the same room that I knew, but what a difference in the stock! The emphasis is on supplying students with books to read for pleasure. It’s a place of relaxation and also a place where students can go to work in groups. There’s none of the shushing and grim looks that any talking in the library produced when I was a schoolgirl and all the dusty old Latin grammars and ancient editions of Gray’s Anatomy have been disappeared. Hats off in particular to Kirsty Lees, the School Librarian and Learning Resources Manager, and to her team. The school knows how lucky it is to have them and to be able to enjoy the warm and inviting place (complete with crime scene rug featuring a splayed body) that they have turned it into.
It’s almost impossible for me to thank all the people who made this day so special. I’m deeply grateful to Michele Anderson for making it possible; to Adrian Isted and Kirsty, for making it happen; to Eleanor and Holly, for giving me such a delightful interview; to Jean Hodge, for all her support for Sausage Hall both at this event and elsewhere and, especially, to all the students whom I met yesterday, who were such a joy to work with and who were so keen to develop their own writing. Thank you all!
09 +00002013-01-29T16:06:24+00:0031 2012 § 9 Comments
I recently visited ‘Salty Towers’ (headquarters of Salt Publishing), which, as usual, was an inspiring and energising experience. It was made even more exciting than usual by the fact that Jen Emery, Director, has recently been accepted as the Labour candidate for the forthcoming council elections. As this is her ‘Next Big Thing’, I asked her if she would give me a short interview for this blog.
What made you decide to stand for election as a local councillor?
There has not been a Labour seat on the North Norfolk District Council for ever and there’s a lot that can be improved in Cromer. I’ve been involved in several local campaigns. As a relative newcomer to Norfolk, and a woman, I hope to be able to attract some people to the polling station who didn’t come last time.
What do you want to change in Cromer?
I want there to be decent recreational facilities in the town for everyone, especially children. What we have now for young people or teenagers is pathetic – almost non-existent. People retire to Cromer and when they are visited by grandchildren there is nothing for them to do if they can’t go to the beach. We also need to reduce the car parking charges, in order to attract more visitors and support the town’s retailers.
You’ve been celebrated as the first Labour woman candidate to stand. Do you think that there is a ‘glass ceiling’ in local councils generally?
I don’t know whether it’s a glass ceiling or whether women just don’t get involved. I think that the problem really lies with women feeling that they can’t (or don’t want to) get involved in the first place, which is a real pity. Women make up over 50% of the population and have a valuable perspective to offer, particularly on policies that impact on family and working life.
When do the elections take place?
On the 21st February.
You have been described by the local media as a businesswoman and publisher; you are also a mother. If you’re elected to the council, how will you juggle all of these activities?
Salt Publishing is bigger than I am and, since the Man Booker success of The Lighthouse, we’ve been able to involve more people. If I were elected, I’d split my time between the community and Salt.
What is your greatest achievement as a publisher?
Having a business and making it work for thirteen years is quite an achievement, especially as in that time we’ve consistently grown and have become better-known, whilst surviving the impact of the recession. Getting The Lighthouse shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize is an achievement that is hard to beat.
If you’re elected, do you think that your experiences as a publisher will help you with your work as a councillor?
Yes, because publishing is all about working with people; it is a very people-orientated business and means dealing with everyone in the book supply chain, particularly authors and customers. This, as well as my background in the NHS, will help me to represent the diverse communities of Cromer.
What are the personal strengths that you feel you can bring as a Cromer councillor?
I’m resilient; I have a sense of humour; I can see controversies from lots of different perspectives; I’m broad-minded, with a strong sense of fair play.
Do you think that you might ever be interested in a role in national politics, if the opportunity arose?
I would be interested in one if it directly benefited the public. As long as I could have a positive impact on people’s lives, I would not say no.
Within the context of what’s going on in the world today, both socially and economically, and especially what’s happening in the UK, what’s your top message for 2013 to the readers of this blog?
Make it your mission to be aware of what’s happening – there is a lot going on, politically speaking, right under people’s noses (for example, in the areas of health and benefits), that will have drastic long-term effects on people’s lives. Become super-aware politically and watch what the government is doing (for example, it’s setting one generation against another to detract from the fact that the richest have been given a tax cut). Make it your mission to find out what’s happening and do something about it: there is no room for apathy these days.
Many thanks to Jen for providing this insight into her exciting venture into local politics. I should like to wish her every success in the election, as it’s very clear indeed that she has in mind particular practical improvements for the benefit of everyone in Cromer.