"Show me a man who has enjoyed his school days and I'll show you a bully and a bore."
— Robert Morely
— Robert Morely
I did not have a good time at school. People who chunter the old adage ‘Schooldays are the best of your life’ are likely to get an eye roll and sneer from this quarter. I was, like many boys I suppose, a slow learner. I had a head full of X-Wings and found spelling a black art perhaps only known by the Sith. Teaching me maths was not unlike showing a dog a cardtrick.
At one particularly low point I found myself dragged out of my chair by my teacher. She’d decided the best way to make me stand was to drag me upright by my hair. I was around 7 or 8, and far from the 6’2” loomer I am now. I’d been cheating on a spelling test out of desperation, soundly tired of getting the lowest scores in the class. Miss Trim, a routine nemesis of mine, gave me a stern dressing down (but never asked if I might like additional help with my spelling). It would be fair to say I wanted the Earth to open up and swallow me.
It’s a wonder I ever got into writing at all, or indeed, ever read for pleasure. But then something wonderful happened. Something magical. The first thing was I got away from Miss Trim. The importance of this cannot be understated. Total hag. Second was that I discovered a series of books called Tim and the Hidden People.
The books were published in the 70s and aimed at kids from 4-7, part of a ‘Flightpath to Reading’ range. I was really reading below my age group, but I got two very important things from these books. The first was pure and total immersion. I loved these books desperately, even staying behind school sometimes to read more. All the bad results, the trouble at home, the bigger kids in the playground – nothing. I was free whilst I read, free of everything. Escapology through fiction. The second thing I got was confidence. I could read, even if my spelling would to continue to suck for years to come. And I came to love words, even if I had to look them up.
Just check out that cover. A kid on a broomstick with a black cat. ZOMG! I’m pretty sure the cat could speak, and there was a silver key, and possibly a ball of magic thread too. So much awesome for an 8 year old.
So thank you Shelia K McCullagh, you changed my life.