I heard some really sad news this week; my school drama teacher and VIth form form-tutor, John (Stephen) Godfrey, died last Friday. Friday was my birthday, which makes it somehow worse.
I felt a little bit guilty when I heard the news (which I know is many people's immediate reaction to someone dying), not just because I'd been living it up with champagne and presents, but because, to be honest, I'd been badmouthing him just a little bit recently. Not that he knew, or that it would have made any difference if he had, but anyway...
You see, it's easy to blame others for our failure to write: the kids, the spouse, the postman knocking just as inspiration's about to strike, authors who write better than we think we do, friends and family who don't take us seriously, the dog for needing a walk, the cat who wants to be let in and out so often that there's absolutely NO POINT sitting down at the keyboard... you get the picture.
When I was 17 or 18 I had a careers interview with Mr G (as we called him). He was always a humorous, eccentric sort of chap with an alternative take on most things, so I was really shocked when he told me that I couldn't "just be a writer" and that I needed "a real job".
Fair enough, I can see where he was coming from, but surely there was some better advice he could have given me? (To be fair, he wasn't a careers teacher - cutbacks I suppose, even back then in 1985/86.) Perhaps he could have suggested a degree in Creative Writing or a journalism course. I don't know, but I just remember the world crashing around my ears at that moment. I felt stupid, as though I was kidding myself... and I'm guessing we writers all know that feeling. I have often thought back to that moment over the years. It still feels very real.
There it is, the scene of the crime! Pic from 1986.
So, off I went, did my A Levels and got a job in an office. I grew up, I got married, had my children and didn't have time to write for years and years. Writing never left me, though; it was always there niggling away at the back of my mind and I'd scrawl lines of dialogue, thoughts and descriptions on any piece of paper that came to hand, wherever we were. It was a waiting game.
Perhaps I could have carried on writing through those years, but the belief that I could had left me.
I did start writing again in about 2004, but it was only after losing my lovely mum in 2006 that I started to take it seriously. She never saw me published, but I know she'd be so proud of me.
Back to dear Mr G. He has to carry a little of the can for my stopping writing and getting bogged down in real life, but I can't blame him completely. Looking back, I don't know what I'd have had to write about at the age of 18, and I know his advice was sensible - it just sent me off in an unimaginative direction. I have a lot of experience of life under my belt now; I've met so many different types of people, had so many experiences, loved with all my soul, lost loved ones and had my heart broken. I have so much more to write about than I did then.
My happiest memories of school are all associated with Mr G and his wonderful drama lessons and productions. I can see his face so clearly. I definitely had a little crush on him (as did everyone else, probably!) and still find myself dreaming about him occasionally.
So, although you didn't know Mr G (apart from you, Unmann-Wittering, if you're reading), I'd like to use this post to thank him for being a wonderful teacher and an inspiration to me in many ways. When I teach drama as part of my job he is never far from my mind. I took far more from him than he 'took' from me. In fact, the more I think about it, he didn't really take anything from me. I didn't have to take his advice, after all!
If you're still reading, thank you so much for indulging me!
Have you had a similar experience with a teacher that resulted in you changing your path? Or did you have a teacher who was an inspiration to you? I'd love to know!