Tag Archives: creativewriting

Great Teaching Is Not About The Subject.

Last week, one of my most influential teachers died. Mrs Mason was my Year Eight form tutor. I’d been in regular contact with her and her son for many years, calling her Pat far longer than the few years for which she was Mrs Mason. But it was as Mrs Mason she gave me a definitive example of how – and why – to be a real teacher. 

Mrs Mason once told my mother the reason she liked having Year Eight classes was “That’s when they realise life isn’t fair.” Yet, with Mrs Mason as my form tutor, it was. A benign, sensible power greater than myself was on my side in everything I did. I knew it wouldn’t let me get away with laziness or murder, but I also knew I was seen: recognised and supported for who I was. Like everyone who understands the practical applications of kindness, Mrs Mason created though her own behaviour the world she believed should be, making it a reality as far as her power stretched. 

Years later, during my LAMDA Exams teaching diploma, the senior colleague observing my lesson commented I treated pupils “with respect”, recognised their individuality and spoke to that. Mrs Mason is the reason it would never occur to me to do anything else. Respect for my individuality was a given. She recognised how my dyspraxia affected my coordination and socialisation, and how consistency, respect and empathy created a solid ground beneath me, letting me be, and explore, my full self. That is what I try to offer every person I work with now.

The best bit? Mrs Mason taught my worst subject. Maths was never something I was talented or interested enough in to excel, which is why her taking the trouble to consider how I thought and who I was, helping me become myself on my own terms, made her such an important ally and example. I got the C I needed in GCSE Maths, moved on with my own interests, but most of all I learned from Mrs Mason that our greatest and most significant connections won’t just be those with the same experiences, abilities, talents or tastes. If they were, perhaps we wouldn’t need them so much.

Hineini and Hello! Writing and Speaking June 2021

Every part of my job – writing, speaking, acting – is about connecting with an audience. Sometimes that’s through the page, sometimes it’s in one-to-one coaching or group workshops, other times it’s a large room of total strangers. That’s one of the reasons for the word I wear around my neck. 
Hineini literally translates as ‘here I am’, or ‘I am here’, less literally as ‘bring it on’. It turns up when characters are invited out of their comfort zone. For me, it’s a reminder of the key to a successful audience relationship. Focus on your objective of connection and communication, not on your worries about how you’re coming across, and welcome the audience into your space. That’s what being ‘in the moment’ is all about, whether you’re on a stage, podium, or the end of a phone. A good performer or presenter is a ‘present’ one. 
The idea of Hineini featured in my Limmud North America workshop on 13 June – but even more so in my preparation for it! The session was based on my series The E.I. of Sci-fi (Starburst Magazine, Episode 5 dropping 9 July). I was presenting Jewish Ethics in Science Fiction, ideas that conceived the series. But I was still out of my comfort zone. It was my first Limmud session, and I’d watched others I admire do it wonderfully over the decades! It took a lot of reminding myself to move away from comparing myself and share what I prepared, thought and loved. That authenticity was reciprocated: even over Zoom, you see your story resonate in people’s smiles. Several even asked for a reading list at the end – a big compliment to a speaker! But even then, my brain harnessed what ifs: would they be disappointed it was mostly internet links, that there weren’t books out there doing what I was doing? So when I emailed the list I thanked them for making me realise just that – as now I plan to write one!  
Your audience doesn’t want perfect. Your audience wants you. Impostor syndrome is entirely natural – and is a better alternative to overconfidence, which can mean forgetting the audience is the reason you’re up there in the first place.  Hineini is a reminder we can’t control or predict what anyone else might think. What we can do is share our stories authentically. 
This month in Writing
It’s nearly a month since the launch of my debut short story collection Beyond Glass, which includes my prize-winning 2016 story Wolf in the Mirror. You can order from your local bookshop, or directly from the publisher. If you enjoy it, I’d be thrilled if you’d post a review on Amazon! You can also catch me this month in the current issue of The Dark Side magazine, talking about how I upped my game as a writer through engaging with horror, and in Jewish Renaissance talking more about how Jewish stories and ethics influence my writing, coaching and presenting. 

This month in Coaching
1:1 writing/life coaching continues over the summer (although LAMDA Exams and 11+/GCSE English and Drama take a break for school holidays).
On Saturdays from 3 July, I’m running a new memoir and fiction course,  Write From Life. Explore techniques for turning the everyday – and the extraordinary – into strong, unique material. Everyone who writes or wants to write is very welcome. Book here!
Communication and performance are the world’s most transferable skills. There’s no job or conversation where they don’t apply. If you’d like to develop your voice, on the page or out loud, I’d love to hear from you.