the informal version
A zig-zag kind of career
Having enjoyed History at school (lucky to have the quietly charismatic L C B Seaman as teacher) I studied History at Birmingham University (1964-7) where the most interesting courses were those I took with Prof Fage at the Centre for West African Studies. (Kingdoms of the Lower Guinea in the 16th and 17th centuries – how could one resist?)
Along the way I got interested in mass media and made a smart move to the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies which was beginning to blossom under the leadership of Richard Hoggart and Stuart Hall. A steep learning curve but a fascinating time. My PhD thesis on Visual Communication in Advertising, focusing on women’s magazines, was published in 1975 as Images of Woman.
But an academic life talking about structuralism and semiology wasn’t really me, so, now married to a qualified Chemistry teacher, we set off for Zambia where I completed my PGCE at UNZA, with a focus on History (of course) and Geography. We then spent three very full and satisfying years at Nchelenge Secondary School, Luapula Province. I even wrote a book to help teaching African History at Junior Secondary level. I ended up teaching English as well as being Head of History so that when we returned to UK I was able to claim some cred as an English teacher, where there seemed (then) to be more freedom as to what and how you taught.
So off to Mathew Humberstone Comp in Cleethorpes where I met some interesting colleagues and some dire students as well as some delightful ones. Having survived the first year and a term, things got better. Shortly after that I got the job of Head of English at Baysgarth in Barton-upon-Humber. By now with two tots, little did we know how long my association with the school was going to last.
My four years at Baysgarth were pretty good. We put on plays and variety shows and I wrote poems and stories and plays – mainly to entertain my pupils. A shortage of good materials had started me on that path at Cleethorpes. I had no desire to progress up the ladder to Deputy or Head and feet were beginning to itch. I applied for and didn’t get a couple of jobs as Head of Sixth Form and then a post at the United World College of S E Asia in Singapore came up…
There followed three years in the tropics at a great International School where I wrote, published and broadcast short stories and wrote two musicals (well, the words, not the music), The Lorax and Jabberwocky. Great times – but home, friends and family beckoned.
So, back to Humberside and Fern House and a Head of Faculty at Longcroft in Beverley. I was writing a lot now and got a breakthrough with my collection of poems Warning, Too Much Schooling Can Damage Your Health (1988), which went through a number of editions for about 20 years. As a result I started getting asked to visit schools and after a while thought I could actually call myself a ‘Writer-in-Schools’.
A mixture of itchy feet and boredom led me to think of writing and associated work as a career. Luckily, a job as Advisory Teacher for English and IT came up. I knew a bit about using computers as I’d experimented with word processors and databases and, being half a step ahead of the rest, I got the job. So I went to work at HUMMEC (the Humberside Microelectronics in Education Centre – all these had to have snappy acronyms), advising people, including Headteachers, on using computers! It was but a sideways move to then get a post in Doncaster at the regional Centre called Resource. It did mean giving up my secondment and taking a leap into an uncertain world – but worth it, I hoped.
I was editing story collections and getting more and more writing work at this point. My first book about computers and English was called The Mouse and the Muse. I still think it’s a great title – never mind the contents.
I stayed with Resource through ‘interesting times’ as it became a private company and eventually moved to Kegworth. I visited the office 2 days per week and otherwise worked from home or was out promoting educational software for children – mainly primary and Special Needs. I wonder if anyone is still using Dread Dragon Droom or Albert’s House? I even designed some programs myself. I found myself giving talks all over the country and thoroughly enjoying it. Who’d have thought it?
I had kept my membership of NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English) and therefore spotted the advert for Director. It was 3 days a week, involved conferences, talks and all the things I’d been doing for Resource. So, from 1999 I worked 2 days a week for Resource, 3 days for NATE and so began the most hectic period of my career. For five and a half years I was almost constantly on the road (or train).
I carried on with my 2 days at Resource for a while, mixing it with other writing and ICT work until retiring from salaried work of any kind in 2007. It so happened that Creative Partnerships was expanding then and I was in the right place at the right time (once more) and I had three jolly years both as a ‘Creative Agent’ (managing creative people in schools) and a Creative Practitioner, working with some storytellers, percussionists, film-makers, artists…all sorts. The Conservative victory in 2010 put paid to all that!
From then on, there have been bits and pieces of writing, visiting and lecturing, gradually winding down to the present. Still writing resources for Teachit, especially on the Poetry Place and the odd commission – but feeling free to do whatever I feel like, hence Fern House Books.
Education and Employment
Woking Grammar School, leaving 1964
History BA Hons , Birmingham University, 1967
PhD, Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, B’ham 1971
PGCE , University of Zambia, 1971
Teacher of English and Head of History, Nchelenge Secondary School, Zambia, 1971-74
Teacher of English, Mathew Humberstone School, Cleethorpes, 1975-77
Head of English, Baysgarh School, Barton-upon-Humber, 1977-81
Head of Faculty of English, UWC Singapore, 1981-84
Head of Faculty of Languages, Longcroft School, Beverley, 1984-87
Advisory Teacher for English and IT, Humberside, 1987-89
Marketing Director (and many other things), Resource, Doncaster, then Kegworth, 1989 – 2007
Director, National Association for the Teaching of English, 1999 – 2006
Creative Agent & Practitioner for Creative Partnerships, 2007-2010
Self-employed writer, lecturer etc 2010 onwards