I adored my English teacher at school. The previous one had been a hard act to follow, but she managed it. At junior school I’d had a class teacher, Mrs Shimwell (of blessed memory!), who’d had the imagination and courage to introduce 9 year olds to Matthew Arnold’s Sohrab and Rustum, and from that moment I was hooked on English poetry, a passion still undiminished half a century later.
At secondary school my English teacher was a poised and pretty Indian lady by the name of Mrs Jaggi. She needed, and possessed, an authoritative presence which meant that despite her small stature, nobody messed with her. She inspired me to write, not only the assignments she set, but to go on writing simply for the pleasure of it. I penned stories and poems in my spare time and passed them to her for comment. She was under no obligation to read them, and certainly had more things to do with her time. Yet she always took the time to read what I had written and write encouraging comments. I remember the frisson of pleasure I derived from reading, on the bottom of one of these efforts, her comment, “Beautiful. You have made the circle of illusion complete.”
There was, however, one problem with Mrs Jaggi’s influence on my writing. She had herself studied English at an Indian university which favoured a very florid, extravagant style of prose, and as I tried to follow her advice my work became increasingly unwieldy. Part of my journey at university was learning to shed that style and develop my own, a process which continued in my early twenties as I found myself at home caring for young children, and began writing for Christian and other magazines as a way of keeping the old grey matter alive.
Over time I learned to love plain, Anglo-Saxon nouns, colourful verbs that did all the work themselves without the need for flowery adverbs, and vivid writing that conjured up pictures without resort to the overuse of metaphor. I’m certain it’s a process that never ends over the course of a writer’s life. I’m still learning and developing my style. Nevertheless I frequently think back to my two childhood mentors, Mrs Shimwell and Mrs Jaggi, and thank God for their influence in my life.
I would love to hear from other writers via the comments below – who were your childhood influences, and what do you remember of them?
Ros Bayes has 10 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/. Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.