Tag Archives: Natalie Cherry

Dear Mr Letters

This post is inspired by last week’s guest blog from young writer Natalie Cherry, who ended with an apology letter to her Year Five Teacher (go and read the post to find out why). This got me thinking about teachers who influenced me during my school years and the first one who came to mind was my English Teacher, Mr Letters. Yes, that really is his name.

Mr Letters was a young teacher (although I didn’t think so at the time), who taught one of my English classes when I was in the second year at school (I think that’s known as year eight now! Showing my age…). With his dark floppy hair and round glasses – slightly too big to be considered ‘hippy’ style but that sort of design, he could have been the subject of many a schoolgirl crush. Perhaps he was. I certainly had a crush of sorts on him but it was more of the ‘wow you’re so clever I wish I was as clever as you’ type crush than the usual infatuation teenage girls (and boys!) tend towards. I saved those crushes for my peers. Anyway, if anyone did have a crush on Mr Letters they would never have admitted it as he was considered too ‘old’ (he was probably about 25!) and too ‘geeky’ to be attractive. So, what was the attraction for me – other than his obvious intelligence? It was passion. So few of my teachers at the time had the same passion for their subject, with two notable exceptions (unfortunately one of these turned out to have a habit of snorting coke between lessons so I’ll leave their names out of this, lest the wrong teacher be accused). They both taught maths though, which was of little interest to me. However, the way Mr Letters wielded his words… It didn’t make me want him, it made me want to be  him.

To be honest, despite this idolisation of my former teacher, I only actually have one memory of him that really stands out for me but perhaps it is this memory* that sums him up.

One afternoon, we all sauntered into his class and sat down, waiting for the lesson to begin. Mr Letters waited until everyone stopped talking (proving, as Natalie recently pointed out, that it’s not necessary to shout to get a class to pay attention) and then, with a flick of his hair and a flourish of his hand, he began to speak:

“`Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.”

As he recited the Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll, I was entranced.  I had no idea what these nonsense words were supposed to mean but under his command, they came to life. I saw the wabe, with it’s slithy toves gimbling, and felt the outgrabe of the mome raths. I have no idea what the rest of the class thought as they faded into the background. I expect some of them continued to pass notes and poke the girls/boys they fancied with pencils as I lost myself in Mr Letters (well, Lewis Carroll’s) words. I once again entertained by secret dream of being a writer, of creating words like this for another teacher to bring to life. Curious now, with hindsight, that it didn’t make me want to be a teacher… Like Natalie, I guess  I must have known.

I thought of Mr Letters again years later, the first time I stepped on a stage and wielded my own words at a poetry open mic night and wondered whether I would be able to pull the audience in the way he did me. I still think of him now, especially when I hear any kind of nonsense poem. That day, Mr Letters’ homework for the class was simply to memorise the Jabberwocky ahead of the next lesson. I say ‘simply,’ because for me, he had already given the poem meaning so all I did was play a movie of each stanza in my head and I could easily recall the words. I’m lucky to have a pretty good visual memory, I know this method doesn’t work for everyone. I enjoyed this ‘easy’ assignment. I did, however, wonder at the point of the homework. Memorise a poem? For what purpose? Well, I will end with a short letter to Mr Letters, with apologies to Natalie for stealing her style…

Dear Mr Letters,

I get it now. The purpose was for us to give the words meaning, that we would remember them and understand both the power of words, and the importance of their delivery.

Thank you for sharing your passion, and igniting mine. I hope you continue to do the same for all the future writers who cross your path.

With respect,
Rachael

How writing crept up on me (A guest post from Natalie Cherry)

This is a guest post from a talented young writer Natalie Cherry, who I recently discovered when she wrote a post over at SJB Teaching on the teacher stereotypes she would like to see less of. I enjoyed her laugh-out-loud descriptions of the PowerPoint addict (I know, they’re everywhere!) and the Shouter,  so I popped over to her blog to read some more of her work and was impressed with what I found. I got in touch and asked her is she would be interested in sharing her thoughts about writing so that you, too, could discover this young talent. I’ll let Natalie take it from here… 

Natalie CherryIt started, unbeknownst to me, in Year Five. In my feverish nine-year-old brain I was convinced that my class teacher hated me. There was no proof, but I just knew it. I saw looks that weren’t really there and heard a distasteful tone of voice that seldom existed and for that whole year I spent day after day playing out a ridiculous battle in my head.

The funny thing is, it turns out that this teacher, my great villain, knew me better than I did. She saw what others didn’t see. She knew that I would write.

It’s strange really, because looking back now I can’t understand how I didn’t realise that’s what I wanted to do. I blundered about for so long, oblivious to all the signs quite plainly telling me that my life was centred around writing. Piles of books and magazines teetered on my bedside table from about eight years old, while reams and reams of list after list scaled the walls and filled up small scribbled notebooks. I wrote a daily diary (and continue to do so), documenting every day down to the most insignificant of details.

Natalie's diaries

Then came the stories – scenarios focused around that year’s crush that played out in my head, written down in the Disney-esque hope that they might spring off the pages and into reality. Needless to say, these have been thoroughly hidden.  I once started to write a film based on a Katy Perry song and I even used to bring writing into my everyday life, using letters to say sorry to my family after big arguments, leaving them outside the door like an overly emotional postman. I always loved English at school too, and every year I started a new project, story or series of books that led me along a long literary trail where anything was possible.

I’ve always read books, often older than my age group, naturally enjoying the way language moves across the page and into my life. My window of education on the world of the teenage girl world came from the Princess Diaries; my understanding of the opposite sex limited to Harry Potter. Most of all, though, I loved to tackle books that I had to really think about when reading – my beach read at fourteen was Barack Obama’s autobiography, and I picked up a battered copy of Little Women at around twelve. The big jump into reality happened when I started reading newspapers, however, and now I access the news obsessively in every available format. Oh, and don’t even get me started on the stacks of travel magazines that sit waiting, calling me to their glossy pages.

My childhood threw just about everything it could at me, and yet I still didn’t know writing was the path I would take until last year. Of course, my Year Five teacher did. Yes, after seven years of believing that she hated me, I have discovered the truth. My mother revealed recently that at parents evening my teacher had told her that she believed I had great talent in literacy and should consider becoming a writer someday. I was shocked. My mighty enemy, my grand opponent, my fictitious foe was really a friend? Excuse me while I look sheepish for a while.

Once over the disbelief, I couldn’t help but think that I may have realised my potential sooner if I had let go of my deluded misgivings. Of course it’s always easy to say that with hindsight, and perhaps I needed to pass through my life completely clueless in order to develop, unaffected by pressure or expectation. Either way, I’ll never know for sure. There is one thing that I do know for sure, however, and that is what I must say now;

Dear [my] Year Five teacher,
Apologies for my dishonourable daydreams – especially the unfriendly ones.
I didn’t know.
Love,
Natalie.

Natalie is 16 and a bit busy working through her A-levels at the moment but she hopes to become a journalist and write everyday. In the meantime, she blogs over at Life as a unicorn. If you enjoyed this post, why not head on over now and hit ‘follow’?