Welcome to the School Days, Reminiscences series in which my champion bloggers and authors share reminiscences of their school days. It’s my small way of thanking them for their support and of letting you know about their services and publications.
This week, I am pleased to introduce Anne Goodwin, short story writer, novelist, reviewer and blogger … to list just a few of her many accomplishments. Anne and I have been friends almost since the beginning of my blogging days and she has featured in my posts several times in the past, including here, here and here.
Anne was not the first person I met when I began blogging, but she is the earliest to still be with me on my journey. Interestingly, we met on Twitter where a discussion about singing (or not) led to a blog post and then countless conversations on her blog and mine for more than five years. She also supported me as co-judge for two years running in the Carrot Ranch Rodeo Flash Fiction Contests.
I had the pleasure of meeting Anne in London in 2014 when I was visiting family. We met at the British Library and, during the course of the day, Anne revealed a secret – she had secured a contract for her first novel Sugar and Snails. She was already a published and award-winning writer of short stories, but now she could add novelist to her achievements. I was thrilled to be one of the first to know and I told her that I was pleased to have known her before she became famous.
Since then Anne has published a second novel Underneath and is working towards publication of a third. Her most recent book Becoming Someone is a collection of her short stories. Some of the stories I had previously read, and just as many or more I hadn’t. I had been a fan of Anne’s stories since first encountering them and was thrilled to have a collection in one volume, perfect for savouring morsel by morsel. I was even more delighted with the acknowledgement in the front of the collection ‘For Norah Colvin and Charli Mills’. What’s to not like?
I could continue to ‘sing’ Anne’s praises, but perhaps we should move onto her interview. Before we do, I’ll let Anne tell you a little of herself:
Anne Goodwin’s debut novel, Sugar and Snails, about a woman who has kept her past identity a secret for thirty years, was shortlisted for the 2016 Polari First Book Prize. Her second novel, Underneath, about a man who keeps a woman captive in his cellar, was published in May 2017. Her short story collection, Becoming Someone, on the theme of identity, was published in November 2018. A former clinical psychologist, Anne is also a book blogger with a special interest in fictional therapists.
Now let’s talk school. First of all, where did you go to school, and what was the highest level of education you received?
I attended Catholic (state) schools in a small town in the north of England from the age of 5 to almost 18. I then went to university where I gained a BSc in Mathematics and Psychology and a PhD in Psychology, then an MSc in Clinical Psychology which was also a license to practice.
What work or profession did you choose after school and was there anything in school that influenced this choice?
I suspect my career in Clinical Psychology was despite my schooling – or perhaps unconsciously I wanted to understand why it was so bizarre! (One of my short stories, “Kinky Norm”, which you can read for free, is based on a true story of the impact of repression on adolescent girls.)
What is your earliest memory of school?
It might not be my earliest memory, but I do recall a boy being caught by the teacher picking his nose. ‘Where do you put it?’ she asked, vis-à-vis the snot. ‘Nowhere,’ said the boy, which I thought an excellent answer. I couldn’t understand why she ridiculed him but, in those days, ridicule was the norm.
I also remember being so anxious that, if the teacher said an as in an apple, I heard it as Anne, and assumed some punishment was on its way. I suppose that was a product of the strictness of both school and home cultures, where it was deemed perfectly acceptable for an adult to hit a child. I think (memory being so fickle) I managed to avoid the worst of it by hypervigilance and obedience, which served me in good stead in a system that was less about genuine learning than doing as you were told.
What memories do you have of learning to read?
I couldn’t read on starting school, but quickly learnt, despite the classroom tension. I remember the primers (Janet and John) being ever so dull, but I didn’t mind too much as I soon moved on to better things.
What memories do you have of learning to write?
Learning to write was more frustrating, as described in a post on my blog. The teacher stood at the blackboard etching row upon row of noughts and crosses in coloured chalk. We sat at desks, copying the figures into our books with fat wax crayons. At home, colour meant drawing wherever the inspiration took me. When we progressed to proper letters, I couldn’t see why it was wrong to shape my ‘g’ and ‘a’ as they appeared in a printed book.
What do you remember about maths classes?
We didn’t embark on what I call mathematics (as opposed to arithmetic) until secondary school, with yummy simultaneous equations and those soon-to-be obsolete slide rules, of which I had two (and probably still have somewhere in the loft). Before that came the dreaded times tables, catechism with numbers, yet after hours of chanting (and a 1st class degree) I still can’t tell you what 7×8 makes, without stopping to work it out.
What did you like best about school?
School was a life sentence; I didn’t expect to enjoy it. But I always liked reading and writing, as long as we were free to choose the topic for ourselves. And Music and Movement, which was a radio programme that did what it says on the tin, and features in my debut novel, Sugar and Snails.
What else would you like to tell us about your school days?
I almost left school at sixteen, and stayed on for A’ levels (university entrance) only because the career officer’s recommendation that I work in a bank (being good at maths, albeit not at numbers) seemed even less inspiring. I’m so glad I did! Out of uniform and in classes of no more than a dozen (education post 16 being a new venture for my school), I blossomed, especially in English. (Why didn’t I study that at university? Maybe because I associated reading with leisure, although the texts we picked apart in class were anything but.)
Given my capacity for compliance, I’m lucky I made the transition to critical analysis. Suddenly (although we’d probably been sliding dangerously towards it since the age of eleven), I was expected to have an opinion, to examine texts from different points of view. (Although not in maths, which provided a counterbalance, a safe space where the right answer remained stable over time.)
All credit to Pauline Blair, the teacher who joined the school at the start of our A’ level years. I think she found it a culture shock, and we were equally bewildered by her. She was posh! She claimed to be a feminist which, in my ignorance, I thought meant feminine, given that she ticked me off for slouching and sitting with my legs wide apart. She took us to see the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, and sang (properly, the way I do now) on the long drive home. She’s the only teacher I’d like to meet again, to see what she made of us in that insular part of the world.
What are your thoughts about schools, then and now?
I think it’s great that so many kids these days enjoy school: despite repeated ministerial interference, teachers must be doing something right. It’s great that there’s no physical punishment but, with limited resources, more kids are excluded than in my day. It’s still impossible to tailor teaching to individual learning styles (I’d probably have struggled in a noisy aka lively classroom) and much more pressure (or maybe my school was atypical in being insufficiently clued up for the antediluvian equivalent of league tables) on exams.
How do you think school could be improved?
- Reinvest in SureStart (it was a UK New Labour thing for at-risk preschoolers) so that all kids have the skills they need for school.
- Scrap private schools’ charitable status and put the taxes raised into state education.
- Abolish all religious schools, and schools established to follow a particular fad.
- Provide every child with a light breakfast and a three-course vegan lunch (to avoid the expense of catering for different diets) for free. Kids can’t learn if they’re hungry, and we desperately need to give the adults of tomorrow the skills to pursue a healthy diet. (So cooking and gardening lessons too.)
- Halve class sizes, and give teachers more support, including optional counselling / short-term therapy for anyone working with kids.
- Foreign language and music classes from the early(ish) years and (although I hated it) compulsory exercise through a diversity of sports. (Why should these life-long benefits be restricted to those whose parents can cough up the dosh?)
- Prevent (religious) parents from withdrawing their children from certain lessons, such as sex and relationships, including same-sex couples.
Idealistic? Too expensive? Not if we care about the future society we build.
Thank you for sharing your reminiscences of school and thoughts about education in general, Anne. It’s been wonderful to have you here again. I enjoyed learning about your school days and agree with so many of your recommendations for improving education. Now, if only we could get some of those with the ‘power’ to listen to us.
Find out more about Anne Goodwin:
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Anne-Goodwin/e/B0156O8PMO/
and her books:
Anne’s books: annegoodwin.weebly.com/about-my-books.html
Connect with her on social media:
If you missed previous reminiscences, check them out here:
Look for future interviews in this series to be posted on Sunday evenings AEST.
with more to follow.
Thank you for reading. I appreciate your comments. Please share your thoughts.