School has a lot to answer for. How many people have had their abilities mocked or their hopes crushed by a teacher with more ignorance than knowledge and more cruelty than compassion. I know there are lots of good and worthy teachers out there but I come across too many people still suffering from the ravages of bad schooling.
One of these came up to me during the writing class I was teaching at the weekend. She wanted to write, she had a great idea for a story but she found, when she sat down, she couldn’t do it. All those voices from her childhood crept into her head telling her that her spelling was appalling, her grammar poor, she had no talent. What could she do?
I sympathised, I too had been marked down in English classes because my characters spoke in the accent of the people around me. This my teacher told me was incorrect. My characters had bad grammar. Now I think, ‘ignorant bleeder. What did she know about writing? Where would Irvine Welsh be if his characters had all spoken the Queens English?’
Another teacher, later on, at university, told me that I would never make a journalist as I ‘had no grasp of the English Language.’ Yet, here I am writing for the BBC.
Of course, over the years I have worked very hard to improve my spelling and grammar and punctuation. Those teachers would undoubtedly be proud of me, but their lack of ability to see that there were things of quality in my writing was their own failing.
What advice did I give to my own student. I told her to sit down and very consciously think of all those negative voices, picture those people who had told her that she couldn’t write and then think ‘balls to them. Those people tried to limit me but I am about to prove them wrong.’ and then write and then, beyond writing, let other people see your work.
This brings me to my second writer of the week, my assistant who also writes, whose writing sounds really interesting, but who never shows his work to anyone. He says this is not why he writes, but somehow it sits uneasily with me and I can’t put my finger on why. I don’t write for fame and I certainly don’t write for money but I do write to be read. I want to be read and enjoyed and I want to know if my writing is any good or not so I put it out there, into the world to be judged. For writing not to be read somehow feels wrong, it feels like hiding something in the darkness which should have light.
But maybe some of us were just crushed too much by those voices from our youth, our thoughts, our words are all wrong in some way and we have learnt to keep them in the darkness.
Teachers, parents, authority figures have a lot to answer for and I hope I can do better with my own students.