Never done a Gratituesday post before which is surprising, considering how grateful I am to so many people.
I don’t have enough photos to share here so apologies for that. Rest assured, they are extremely photogenic, all of my family and extended family and I’m very grateful to them. Even when we’re arguing we love each other, even when we’re shouting and swearing. It’s quite frightening how loud we get! But it’s only alarming to visitors and in-laws. We know what’s what. I would never wish for any other family. Grateful to all of them. Really grateful to my husband and our two children who are, generally, less argumentative but just as loving.
I’m grateful to many teachers. Sister Martine, Miss Gilligan and Mrs Hope from Our Lady of Lourdes Primary; Miss FitzSimons, Miss Watts, Mrs Rogers, Mrs Jillings from Tiffin Girls’ School. I’m grateful because they were so respectful to children. How carefully they listened to our ideas as if we were teaching them. I loved the way they communicated their enthusiasm and interest for their subjects. They made us believe we had important work to do.
I had wonderful teachers in later life, as well. I’m thinking about a week at the Arvon Centre in Totleigh Barton in 1992 when John Moat and John Fairfax (now both dead) first put the idea in my head that there might be a way of living that involved writing. While I was there, I picked up a leaflet for an English degree course at the West Sussex Institute of Higher Education where there were modules in Creative Writing.
I didn’t go straight to West Sussex, however. Late that summer my sister Elizabeth telephoned me to say there was an advert in one of the Sunday newspapers for a new degree course at Bournemouth University, starting that September, called ‘Film and TV Scriptwriting.’ “Why don’t you apply?” Elizabeth asked me, “You’ve always wanted to write and it says here no formal qualifications are needed; you can send in a sample of your writing.”
So I sent in the few pieces of writing I’d completed during my Arvon week. One was an haiku about time which had won third prize in the ‘Grand Haiku Competition’ that the two Johns had jocularly officiated at one hilarious night at Arvon. Amazingly, I was offered a place (they would have taken anyone, I later realised).
At this time in my life, I was thirty, single with no dependents. My Dad had just died (weeks after the Arvon course) and I was coming to the end of a job in sales for a training and management consultancy company. I knew I didn’t want to carry on with that life, but I’d bought a tiny flat in south London which had plummeted in value. I had to either keep it on or let it go at a financial loss. I was fortunate enough to find a tenant (through an agency) so I could rent it out and was free to go to study in Bournemouth. It was 1992 so I was entitled to a small maintenance grant from Merton Council and my all students’ fees were paid in those days. They really were the days, weren’t they? I would never in my wildest imaginings have been able to make such a drastic change in my circumstances if I hadn’t had state funding. So, I am eternally grateful to Elizabeth and to Merton Council and for our enlightened education system at that time.
At Bournemouth there were more teachers to be grateful for: John Foster, Russell Murray and Stacy Marking. Studying scriptwriting makes you think about plot and action. I’d love to write more scripts. I’ve written several and had one radio play broadcast (on Radio 4) and one stage play produced (at the Chelsea Theatre, London). However, John suggested that perhaps I should think about an English Literature course, rather than a pure writing course – although I still wanted a course with an element of writing in it. It was then I remembered the leaflet I’d picked up from Arvon and I got in touch with West Sussex Institute of Higher Education.
Believe it or not, I was able to make a transfer and receive funding for another three years studying. Thinking about it now, I know what an absolute privilege that was. And, yes, more teachers to add to my gratitude list: Alison MacLeod, John Saunders, Hugo Donnelly, Vicki Feaver, Hugh Dunkerley and others. These were teachers who gave me confidence and encouraged me to be brave. It was while I was a student at WSIHE (now Chichester University) that I first began to send my work away to magazines and competitions and it was where I first achieved a little bit of writing success.
With my teachers’ help, I applied to study for an MA in Creative Writing at the University of East Anglia where I was not only offered a place, I was also given a generous studentship from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. None of this would have happened without my teachers’ support.
Andrew Motion and Eva Hoffman taught me at UEA and I learned so much – not only from them but also from my MA colleagues who were incredibly magnanimous with their knowledge and critical analysis.
TL;DR Thank you to my many amazing teachers. And my family – because without you, I’d be nowhere. Thank you, thank you, thank you. #Gratituesday