Sunday, February 10, 2019

Mr Patch

My primary school reports
I've often been asked about why I write but never about the origins of the impulse, about what made me a writer from a very early age. The most obvious influence was my father, a teacher of English and Latin with an equal interest in history, a phenomenal reader and throughout his adult life a maker of notes and diaries. After retirement he devoted a lot of time to writing, including an account of his experiences during WWII which he called with habitual irony 'A good war'. I read very widely from his suggestions from the age of 4, having an excellent library of books to draw on.

The first book I wrote was at the age of 8/9. It was about, of all things, the Greek islands. I still have it. Of course I'd never been there or anywhere outside of Gloucestershire and Wales. The Homeric tales and Greek mythology had generated the interest, and islands were an excitingly stimulating whilst unknown phenomenon. My method was organised and surprisingly good: books collected from home and the local library, extensive notes made, a process of selection and then a text in my own words. Not that far from what I do now, except today I have the luxury of airing original thought as well as words. But I did pretty well then without the element of personal experience or widely acquired knowledge.

But here I want to honour someone who had an enormous influence on my writing career. When I was 10 years old, he arrived as a student teacher at the primary school I attended in Stonehouse. His name was Mr Patch. Not only did he teach my class daily English lessons, but we also had extra individual lessons together as my mother had quarreled violently (her speciality) with the RE teacher and withdrawn me from all religious teaching. As I had consistently avowed my desire to be a writer, it was deemed fitting that I concentrated on this in these spare lessons. What lovely and sensible people there were in that school!

Mr Patch set me a series of imaginative and demanding exercises, to write in different styles, to develop character studies, to describe places, to produce dialogue and most of all to stimulate my already maturing imagination. I remember now a newspaper article about an imaginary accident and the physical description of a Red Indian chief and desert setting. I realise now that he must have been an avid writer himself. He praised, corrected, encouraged and challenged me throughout. He gave me scope with discipline. He made me feel like a writer, with a serious purpose and a process of development to follow. He wanted me to be my best self in a context that has mattered to me more than other as my life has progressed.

What gifts for a solitary, serious, hyper-sensitive and hyper-imaginative 10 year old child! Recently finding my primary school reports stimulated this memory of a man who had an enormous influence on my writing, although I have never forgotten him. I'd thank Mr Patch from the bottom of my heart, if he wouldn't gently respond with a word or two about cliché.