Within the next twenty four hours an old book of mine, which was originally published in 2007, when I was 76, and was my 21st published novel, is going to have life breathed into it again by my current publisher Agora. They are bringing out an e-book edition and a paperback. It’s probably conceited to say this but it pleases me no end because the central character is an admirable honest woman drawn from the life, strengths and faults and all, and the perfect antidote to the political dishonesty and corruption that is going on all round us at the moment. Let me tell you more if I may.
I had a rather chequered educational childhood because of the war and went to ten different schools in all so I saw a lot of different teachers in action, some kind and understanding, some trying to be helpful, some lost, and some absolutely dire. But it wasn’t until I reached was what to be my final school that I found a teacher I could – and did – thoroughly admire. Her name was Miss Davies and she was the Headmistress, wonderfully herself and admirably eccentric. Over the years she had gathered a team of like-minded and equally talented and eccentric teachers around her. It was the perfect place in which to learn. She taught according to a new technique called the Dalton System, which allowed pupils to progress at their own rate and in their own way. It suited me to a T. I loved her to bits.
So naturally when I came to write a story about a teacher, she was my template and I put her words into my heroine’s mouth and sent her to New York to find about the Dalton System, naturally, and made her a suffragette. Here she is explaining her philosophy in a letter of application for a headship.
”I believe that learning should be pleasurable and should bring its own reward. I believe that lack of pleasure in what we ask our pupils to do. A baby learning to feed himself or to stand and walk is utterly absorbed in what he is doing. He doesn’t fear mistakes, since mistake are one way of learning, he doesn’t tire, he is never bored and when he finally succeeds he is quite rapturously happy. If we could find some way to translate that experience into the teaching situation we should revolutionise the lives of our pupils.”
And here she is again at her interview, explaining in answer to a question, how she would deal with her pupils if they misbehaved. “It would depend on the offence. If someone has been hurt, then there must be an apology and an attempt to make amends, if it is caused by bad temper, the reasons for the temper must be discovered and dealt with, if it is laziness, the child must be helped towards greater effort, if it is misery, she will need cheering. There are always reasons for bad behaviour and that’s what I try to tackle.”
And is she relevant now? I think she could be and would certainly be a comfort to those of us who are near desperation at the appalling behaviour of our present government. I’ll let Polly Toynbee put that into words for me – and us – as she does in today’s Guardian.
‘Cronyism is rampant,’ she says, ‘and worse it goes unpunished. The sums are so vast, the secrecy so shocking, that ‘chumocracy’ doesn’t begin to capture what Britain has become…. Nepotism stinks as badly as awarding contracts to VIP pals; glorying in both, the government, rotting from the head, spreads the stench of corruption through everything it touches.’
Spot on Polly And thank you speaking out so clearly. We need voices like yours.
Have fun with my Octavia, friends and followers, if you haven’t met her before. I liked her so much I wrote a trilogy about her and her influence. The second book will be published on May 13th. I should live that long! Available on Amazon here.