I have to say I feel honoured to be given star billing in the Timeless Fiction Newsletter, especially as the interviews I had with the Publishing Associate at Agora Books were such fun. Thank you Peyton! And writing the book was fun too, although there was rather more hard work and effort attached to that, but many pleasures too as I hope my answer to the first question on her Q&A will show.
She asked ‘What is your favourite thing about writing historical fiction?‘
And here is my answer ‘My favourite thing is finding out about different times and different people, both of which are fascinating.‘
So I then looked out some of the things I discovered while I was doing research for this particular book and it’s predecessor and here are some of the choicer things I found.
Here is Octavia writing about the children she is trying to teach, very different children as you will see from the ones who are in our schools today. These were kids growing up in appalling poverty.
“Most of our children are underfed and poorly clothed, many are ill. They have head lice and adenoids and toothache. When the weather’s bad they cough all the time. And they truant. If they’re girls and their mother goes to work they have to stay at home to look after the little’uns. If they’re boys and their father is working he takes them along as an extra pair of hands. And who can blame him? They need the money.”
She’s quite critical of the teachers who toil alongside her our Octavia. Partly because she can see that they are actually making rods for their own backs by the way they treat their pupils.
“Why do people think it’s necessary to shout at children so much?” she says to her father. “You don’t have to shout at them. When they’re happy they will listen to a whisper. There are times when I think the others just want to punish the poor little things, they shout so much and cane them for so little… Sometimes I suspect that they’re just doing what they’ve always done, without thinking about it.”
By the end of the book she has discovered that there is a process to learning and by then she is being asked to speak to would-be teachers in teacher training colleges. Here she is again in full flow. Oh I did enjoy writing that bit.
“To begin at the beginning. We know that learning is a natural process, like breathing, feeding, sleeping and all the other natural processes that are necessary to us if we are to live and thrive. In fact in many ways it is almost exactly similar to the digestive process. Both begin with an appetite, for food in the one case, for knowledge and new experiences in the other. That is the first phase. Both are followed by activities which satisfy the appetite – eating and drinking on the one hand, questioning and dogged experimentation on the other. That is the second phase. It will go on apparently indefatigably and sometimes for a very long time. Both are followed by a period of digestion, when the child is satisfied and happy. That is the third stage. After that there is a fourth stage – and this may surprise you if your study of the learning process has not so far been much extended – a fourth phase when what is learnt seems to have been forgotten. Haven’t we all heard teachers who say ‘I tell them over and over again and they still don’t know it’? Take heart. There is a fifth phase and this one will encourage you. The fifth phase is a return to the knowledge or skill that has been learnt in phase two. And, lo and behold, when the child has learnt according to the natural process she has not forgotten, any more than you forget when you haven’t ridden a bicycle for a few days. You simply get into the saddle and pedal away. It is all beautifully modulated and beautifully simple. You wait for the appetite, you provide the child with the information and material it needs and the child learns.”
Of course I’m biased in her favour, I spent the years between 1952 and 1985 teaching, sometimes part time, sometimes full time and this was the theory I followed, having imbibed it from the pioneering educationalists of my time. I still think it has a lot going for it and so (not surprisingly) does the hero of the third book in the Octavia Trilogy. I’ve travelled a long road with Octavia.
If I haven’t put you off by all this stuff about the theory of education and you would like a copy of the newsletter, you can read it here.