My next book – The Battered Body Beneath the Flagstones and other Victorian Scandals – is dedicated to the headmasters of my primary and secondary schools. It was an absolute pleasure to dedicate the book to them, particularly as my secondary school headmaster, Mr Tyler was also my English teacher and had pushed me hard in my studies. I recently reconnected with Mr Tyler and he remembered me immediately and even read one of my books! He gave me a glowing report afterwards I’m thrilled to say, and his words encouraged me just as much now as they did then.
However, while Mr Tyler was a terrific teacher and someone who greatly helped my writing career, there have been other teachers in my life who have impacted it in quite different ways. The biggest example of this would be a woman I actually hired as a drama teacher from the age of 19 to 21. It’s almost 30 years since I began lessons with her, but I still remember how negative she was towards me and how much my confidence was blown as a result of her classes.
The teacher – let’s call her Mrs No-Hope – was well in her sixties when I began studying with her, and as far as I can tell, never actually had a career on stage or screen herself. If she did, she certainly did not tell me about it, nor did I ever find any evidence that she was in the least bit successful. However, that did not put me off at the time because she was registered with a prestigious drama school and I believed she would be my ticket into that school when the time came.
At aged 19 I was fairly confident in the presence of friends and family, but with strangers – particularly older ones – I was always quiet until they got to know me. Unfortunately, my quiet demeanour aggravated Mrs No-Hope from day one and while I went to see her every single Saturday for the next two years, I don’t think I ever won her approval. Hell, to be honest I don’t even think she could stand the sight of me!
“Oh how I wish you were like Joanna,” she’d say. “She comes into my classes like a fireball! Dancing and bouncing her way across the room…. Oh how I wish you were more like her!” I used to sit in Mrs No-Hope’s front room and think about how much I disliked Joanna, and I didn’t even know the girl!
One thing I appreciated about Mrs No-Hope was that she put me in for a variety of acting exams, and I always passed with flying colours. In fact in at least one exam I got a distinction, which was the most marks I could have achieved. Every time I passed an exam I would be ecstatic, but when I visited Mrs No-Hope the week after, my confidence would be shattered. She would always – without fail – sit in her arm chair and lecture me on how terrible I was, how I could not act, I would never get anywhere in my career and that I would not have passed the exam had it been with any other examiner. How Mrs No-Hope knew this is a mystery, since she was not in the room whenever I had an exam!
Every time she would lecture me, Mrs No-Hope would never, ever look at me. It was the strangest thing and I can only imagine it was because she knew she was shattering me to the point of bullying. She would keep her eyes firmly on the wall or her notebook or whatever, while she told me how absolutely hopeless I was. “You will never be an actress because you wear glasses!” she told me during one post-exam talk. I came away thinking that it really didn’t matter what I said I wanted to be, she’d always tell me I couldn’t do it.
One day when Mrs No-Hope had sent me off with the words “You’re no good” ringing in my ears, I found myself in W H Smith, trawling their acting and study guides. I vowed to study as hard as I could so that I would be rubbish no more, and I decided not to tell my parents because I couldn’t bear the embarrassment and shame of being so goddamn awful.
I can’t remember how it all came about, but several days after this confidence blow, I did decide to tell my mum what Mrs No-Hope had said. My mum hit the roof and was absolutely appalled that this woman had treated me so badly. It was after that bombshell conversation that I realised – it wasn’t me who had a problem, it was Mrs No-Hope! When I told my dad and boyfriend (now husband) what had been happening, they totally agreed with my mum’s observation that Mrs No-Hope was not the sort of person I should be taught by. And to think I was paying her too! 🙁
Shortly after this, I told Mrs No-Hope that I no longer required her services and mentioned that I had gone off being an actress and wanted to become a writer instead. She sniffed loudly and thrust her head high in the air, which gave her the perfect position to look down her nose at me. She then told me what a terribly hard profession writing was, and how she doubted I would ever be published…
Several years later I sent her a copy of my first book, Marilyn’s Addresses. She wrote back with a very stilted “congratulations” and I never heard from her again… 🙂
Until next time,