Friday 20 August 2010

Glynn’s Compelling Case For History

‘Not to know what took place before you were born is to remain a child.’ Cicero.

One half of our review team on The Writing Game (see sidebar here) is Glynn, teacher of history for over thirty years, now a trainer of teachers at Durham University and Senior Examiner of A level History for the EdExcel board.

A bit of a renaissance man, Glyn reviews all kinds of books for the programme. For relaxation, he reads crime. However the theme for the the September programme is History - Fact and Fiction so we were right in his territory. Wonderfully, Terry Deary had agreed to be interviewed for this show, talking about his WW2 novel PUT OUT THE LIGHT, and of course his anarchic, very best selling ‘Horrible History’ series.

So Glynn’s review brief for September was Historical Fact. I asked him to review great history books now available. So he came to my smallest room - which is now giving service as a studio – to record his segment. However, before he gave his book recommendations, I asked him for his view on history and its teaching in schools. Glynn’s combination of vision, scholarship and enduring ideals inspired me to include an excerpt from his talk here.


I thought you’d be interested in Glynn’s compelling case for history:

Glynn ‘ ….(learning history) allows children to see the present, it transforms the world about them and it gives them more of a sense of identity than they had without it – a sense of national identity. regional identity, in fact local identity as well. It shows them what man has done and therefore what they are capable of doing, whatever they want to become. And it tells them an awful lot about themselves

‘Not to know what took place before you were born is to remain a child.’ I go along with Cicero on that.

History helps to de-centre them, to show they’re not the centre of the universe. It promotes critical thinking, tells them to weigh evidence, to look at the pros and cons, to make judgements based on evidence … Also it should be a good read. History is a literary subject; good history is well written, it’s exciting stories that can fire the imagination.

How it should be taught? Children learn in a variety of ways and should be taught in a variety of ways There’s certainly a central role within that for a a teacher – a teacher, not a facilitator. The teacher should be the centre of the classroom: stories such as the great fire of London, the Gunpowder Plot again fire the imagination.

Children learn by doing, so things like role play, playing the role of the detective, examining evidence , artefacts, paintings, building, photographs – all these and written evidence at its highest helps them to make judgements.

In the big debate about knowledge and skills, I suppose I’m on the knowledge side . They should leave school with a body of knowledge which helps them to do the things that I have outlined. To apply critical thinking to their actions and attitudes. Armed with this they can look at cause, consequence and change in their own wider experience . …

Wendy: The teacher as the great storyteller as well as the purveyor of knowledge, judgement and experience. That all sounds to me like history should be at the centre of the curriculum,

Glynn: Indeed it should be. Everything has its history, its historical link. It could be seen as the most important…

Wendy: I’ll vote put it at the centre of the curriculum.

Glynn: (laughs) Thank you Wendy

Wendy: So what about your books this month…?

Glynn: Well, never have so many works of history or of such quality been produced than at present, nor has history been so well taught. According to OFSTED it’s the best taught subject on the secondary school curriculum – a far cry from the state of history on which Terry Deary took revenge by producing his Horrible Histories .

I even venture to say that never has (a populariser) like Terry been more important then at the present. History as a subject has suffered terribly at the hands of the outgoing Labour Government to the point where it’s marginalised in many schools, subsumed within general humanities courses ( so the critical discipline is lost. W.) and even discontinued as a GCSE option.

Remarkably in the whole of Europe, only in Britain and Albania is History not a compulsory subject for 14-16year olds … Had there been more historians in the Labour government then (the study of history) would not be in such a parlous state, nor might Britain have such a dubious foreign policy reputation as it has in the world in the moment.

Wendy: (Taking a breath…) And so the the books?

Glynn’s Choice:

I offer then, some BIG history books which I’ve enjoyed reading in the last year and which continue Terry’s and Wendy’s theme of wars in the 20th Century.

THE STORM OF WAR by Andrew Roberts – a well researched narrative history of the Second World War

THE WAR OF THE WORLD, Niall Ferguson’s radical re-interpretation of both Twentieth Century world wars. Like all my books here this book is beautifully written and combines broad brushstrokes of judgement with fascinating detail and anecdote .

HUGH TREVOR ROPER, Adam Sisman’s biography of the historian, son of an Alnwick GP who rose to be England’s top historian, As a young don and army historian Trevor Roper’s detective work produced The Last Days of Hitler which proved that Hitler had indeed died in the bunker and made the historian’s name. He was involved as a writer, scholar an consultant to so many events of the latter twentieth century. (Glyn goes on to outline how the book revealed critical flaws, tragedy and even farce which compromised but did not destroy the genius of this iconic historian.)


Glynn said so much more about these books. but to hear him you will have to wait until after 7pm on September 7th if you are in the area or get the podcast from Bishop FM afterwards. (Earlier Podcasts are there too)

Of course you will also get to hear Terry Deary which is another treat. I’ll put a post on the blog her about Terry and his contribution nearer the time.

It was great to listen to Glynn. I’m certainly inspired to read all of these books , but will make a start with the Nial Ferguson’s War Of The World …

Thursday 12 August 2010

Women and Their Family Ties

From ‘The Romancer’. my memoir in progress:

The close, passionate and sometimes difficult relationship between mothers and daughters features in many of my stories through different faces, different characters and different narratives. One prime example of this is Family Ties. In this novel we have an old mother with a middle-aged daughter who has a daughter in her thirties who has a seventeen year old daughter herself. This novel - a kind of Four Ages of Woman - probably has the most fictional truth deriving from my life. I have plucked elements from my own life for the second, third and fourth generations of the women in this story. But the oldest woman – Kate, perverse, independent, intelligent, secretive, charismatic – most clearly emerges from my deep experience of my mother Barbara. I realise this now, though I have to say I wasn’t conscious of this when I wrote Family Ties.

Excerpt from Family Ties -

Elderly Kate has had an accident and stays with her middle aged daughter Rosa, her thirty something granddaughter Bronwen and Bronwen’s teenage daughter Lily -

- … When she came here from hospital Kate was quiet. The hospital had shocked her more than she would admit. That and the accident. The next morning she was up at her usual time and in the kitchen before I could get there. The table was set. The cereals were standing to attention and she was stirring porridge in the pan.

I remembered my father in Coventry stirring porridge in a pan. And how happy I was then. Before she came back from her nightshift at the hospital. I remembered how, in the bad times at Butler Street, there was no breakfast because she was depressed and anyway she had to be at the factory by seven thirty. And how I fainted in Assembly.

Anyway on the first morning of Kate’s stay I fled upstairs without any breakfast, mumbling something about getting on with my work. I sat here at my desk and told myself that at my age I really shouldn’t be running away from my mother.

Since then I’ve managed to eat the porridge before I flee back upstairs to my study. But here I am, still disturbed by the sound of Kate talking to Bronwen and young Lily, what with the click and clatter as she moves my things here and there and the sputter and sweep of the Hoover. When I go downstairs the place will be tidy and shaved clean and all the ornaments will be slightly out of place. There’s no doubt about it – with Kate here I am slightly out of place.

… Of course she started this herself, by letting Bronwen have the bag of papers with the Tick Book in it. She knew what she was doing. Tick Book*, ticking bomb! Here I am, sailing along, quite content, then Boom! It floods back. Those years are on my mind again: hiding in the house like an injured rabbit; dancing behind closed curtains; writing in the Tick Book about how Brock came; battling with secrets. I weep for the child that was me….

*Shop credit ledger, given to Rosa as a child, in which she kept a diary.

Sunday 8 August 2010

‘Theft’ – The Very First Novel Adventure

How ‘Theft’ came to be published is a story in itself. At that time I was at home with two small children. I loved this time, letting the dust build up somewhat and writing when they were asleep. That was when I wrote Theft. It seemed a time of such freedom.

At that time I was a member of an association called The Federation of Children’s Book Groups which aimed to get more books into the hands of more children. This nationwide forum was lead by a very charismatic young woman called Anne Wood who lived in London but came from my home town and had been to my grammar school, although I’d never met her. One day she came North to visit her father and we had a little meeting in my house,  with other like minded people.  Towards the end of the meeting I mentioned that I’d just finished writing this children’s story called Theft. She asked if she could read it. I handed it to her, apologizing for the rather scruffy copy, as this was my only spare. I was pleased that anyone at all would take the trouble to read this, my first full length novel.

The next morning she rang me to tell me how much she liked it. I was so pleased, as Anne was so informed, so savvy in the field of children’s fiction. Then she continued. ‘So I think we’ll take it.’

We?’ I was puzzled.

‘Corgi Carousel. That’s Transworld.’ That was when she told me she’d just been appointed the first editor for Transworld’s new children’s imprint and had the power, there and then, to say ‘Yes.’ Magic.

Even more interesting than that, this was the Anne Wood who went on to set up an independent TV production company, ‘Ragdoll’ which produced, among other excellent programmes, Rosie and Jim, Tots TV, Teletubbies, and In the Night Garden. This was the Anne Wood who was listed as the third richest person in British broadcasting in 2001, with the value of her business estimated by Broadcast magazine to be £130m. Her charity, The Ragdoll Foundation went on to lead the field in imaginative philanthropy aimed towards children.

I met Anne when she was on the cusp of all this. I sometimes wonder if, like me, she ever got  ‘lines’ at school for reading at the dinner table.‘

This is an extract from ‘The Romancer’

an attempt to mesh together my life and my books.

* After Theft  there was a three year  novel haitus while I pursued my academic career. Still writing, though, I went on to write three more ‘young adult novels (for Hodder & Stoughton) before embarking on full time writing and long adult novels.

Posted by Wendy R at 11:10

Labels: Anne Wood, Theft, writing

Avril said...

The Romancer promises to be an extraordinary and fascinating book.
What a coup getting your first novel published in that way and how modest you were about your talent - great story Wendy.
A x

8 August 2010 12:18

Thursday 5 August 2010

Writing Before Writing


I could write before I could read or write.

Picture this. A little girl less than three years old, playing outside a house in Lancaster. With her head of Shirley Temple curls she is winsome, prettier than she will ever be in the many years to come. She is chalking on the sill of the big bay window vvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvvv

She stands back. That looks right. Just like she’s seen her mother do. But then she frowns her characteristic frown. Is it all in one, or are there breaks in the line of squiggles? She runs inside the house and climbs onto the mantelpiece where she knows there are letters behind the clock.

Letters are big in her house these days. There are letters from Daddy who’s making aero engines in another city. Mammy reads these out to them all. They always end love Bill. There are letters from Cy, the Canadian soldier who stayed once and carried the little girl on his shoulders. Her mother smiles as she reads them. Then there’s the letter that made her mother cry, about Jimmy, whose plane crashed in America. There’s a photo of Jimmy on the mantelpiece in uniform: a sharp face with smiling eyes.

The little girl takes one of her Daddy’s letters and looks carefully at its neat loops. Ah yes. There are gaps between the squiggles. So she goes outside and with the corner of her cardigan – knitted in Fair Isle by her Auntie Louie – she rubs the sill so there are now spaces between some of the squiggles. Now she has done some real writing.

Vvv vvvvvv vv vvv vvvvvv vvvvvv v vvvv vvv


Wednesday 4 August 2010

Radio Gremlins!

As you know here, I am enjoying the work for The Writing Game, my community radio programme all about writing. It is hard work but good on all kinds of levels.* I’ve had good personal response and the people I work with from the station are so kind and clever.

But if you managed to get to hear Tuesday’s programme you will think I’m crazy.

I have to admit that I myself listened with increasing consternation. Gremlins were dancing around in the works. The very good reading by writer Geri Auton was cut altogether; the beginning was cut; the book sequence was cut so that one crucial title was missed. Adverts blasted into the centre of the programme and at one point screeching music from some other line intruded. I have to say I cringed. 

It honestly was a case of crossed wires and probably really nobody’s fault. However, James, the Programme Director is on the problem and he and I are going to re-edit the programme this week and it will go out next Tuesday at seven in its proper form. That version will be on the podcast. He tells me all the podcasts should be available, The previous programmes should be podcasted soon. I’ll let you know here when that happens.

Certainly my learning curve is climbing! Things can only get better from this.


For example, I had the enormous pleasure yesterday of recording a long interview with the extraordinary , iconoclastic Terry Deary, writer of the worldwide best sellers, The Horrible History series. He was talking about his new -  longer-  World War Two children’s novel. Put Out The Light. We have so much to learn from Terry about the Writing Game. This marvellous conversation will go out on The Writing Game the first Tuesday in September.


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