Thursday 2 February 2023

Have I made a Difference?


We all like to think we have and in particular we writers hope that our words might have.I can now tell you three little stories of where I think I may have had a little impact.

Gavin and the Isolation Room

After I gave up the day job in order to concentrate more on my writing I still did some supply teaching and in particular for the school where I’d previously been head of languages.  Most Fridays I would run their isolation room. This was where students were parked for the day rather than being suspended. They arrived at school a little earlier than the rest and went home a little later. They were allowed breaks and bathroom visits but not at the same time as the other students. We ordered a “room service” lunch from the school canteen. .

They beavered away all day at work I extracted form a huge cupboard. There were lessons for each subject for each year group. Sometimes teachers supplied very precise things they wanted certain students to do.  I could take my laptop with me and get on with my own work. 

By about two o’clock we were all fidgety, me included. They would often ask me what I was doing. I would explain about writing, drafting editing and about the publishing process.

One day Gavin met me in the corridor. “I’m not in isolation today,” he boasted. “But I’ll carry your laptop to the isolation room if you like.”

He was very chatty as we walked along the corridors. “Have you found a publisher yet for that book you read some of to us?” he asked.

“No yet,” I replied.  “It isn’t quite right yet.”

“What will you do if you can’t get a publisher to take it?”

“I’ll be a bit upset, I guess.”

 “And if it is published and you get bad reviews?”

Well, if nothing else I’d taught Gavin something about the publishing industry.

Competing with Harry Potter

I would allow the students to stop working at what would be break time.  They weren’t at this point allowed to talk but I would let them read a book instead of working. Oddly they would more often than not opt to carry on working. Yet they did seem to like me reading to them, even though many of the stories I read to them then were really for a younger age group.

One day Rachel came along with Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire under her arm. She was a frequent visitor to the Isolation Room but this week she was the only student. She was never any trouble. In fact the students weren’t on the whole. Only once did I have to call for extra help with an aggressive student.

Also, when I looked in the cupboard for some English work for her it transpired that she had competed everything,  I happened to have  a hard draft copy of one of my novels with me and I asked her to write down what she’d found out about the characters in the first four chapters. This would be useful to me as well: had she understood what I’d meant her to understand? Was my writing working?

Break time came along. She was now working on maths.

“You can read your Harry Potter book now,” I said.

“Actually, can I read some more of your book?” she asked.


Lines in the Sand

I had a short piece of fiction published in this anthology. The book was a protest response to the war in Iraq and contained short stories and extracts from longer pieces by many diverse writers.  I based a school workshop about tolerance and empathy on my story. I dressed up as one of the characters and invited the children to ask me questions.

We sold copies of the book.

At the end of the day the headteacher came up to me very excited.

“Alex had bought a copy of the book.  He enjoyed your story and he wants to read more like it. This is wonderful.  He’s our most reluctant reader.”

Even if I eventually write a bestseller that enables me to buy a house with a book-shaped swimming pool I’ll remain proud of these three moments.               

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