Fresco king;Parting shots;My best teacher;Interview;Kate Mosse

3rd April 1998 at 01:00
I was terribly goal-oriented and right from the beginning I knew I wanted to go to Oxford to read English. at Chichester High School for Girls I kept quiet about my ambition in the lower forms because it was hard to be motivated and also popular.

Music had already become an important part of my life at junior school and when I got to the High, a comprehensive, I discovered you could join orchestras and be in choirs. I joined everything. Throughout my school career I had some sort of music event every evening. I played violin, viola and cello at school and learned piano and accordion outside school.

One of the first teachers to make his mark was a music teacher called Mr Baboneau. By the time I got to secondary school I'd reached a level on the violin, which meant I could audition for the county orchestra. Mr Baboneau was enormously encouraging. He introduced me to listening to serious work. He'd put a piece of Grieg on the record player in class and say "Now listen to this. Beautiful, isn't that beautiful?" I did music at O and A-level, so he was a constant throughout my school life.

Another special teacher was my violin teacher, Miss Herd. She was a legend in Sussex, a very eccentric single woman who taught more than half the members of the Chichester Youth Orchestra. I had lessons with her at school and at her home.

Miss Herd lived in an extraordinary house that was freezing and dark. I remember waiting in the cold damp hall to go into lessons that she gave in the front parlour - the only room in the house that was warm and well lit.

She did not like men and she only took male pupils if they were brilliant. She unashamedly had favourites. My father joked that if I ever failed a music exam he would be sent a bill for my lessons - he never received one.

Miss Herd would never have shown her disappointment, but she thought it was a great waste that I went to university to study English instead of making a career in music. But I realised I wasn't soloist material and for me, music was always a hobby.

I did music, English, history and Latin at A-level and it was my English teacher who had the most profound effect on me.

His name was Henry Thomas and he was like somebody out of an Evelyn Waugh novel. He was young and relatively new to the school - and was the first teacher to become a friend. He was very tall and thin and, now I can see, rather affected, but to all of us 16-year-olds he seemed incredibly glamorous. He wore white suits and a panama in summer. His hair was quite long and he had a black moustache. He spoke Italian, loved Italian culture and spent all his holidays in Italy drinking good wine and looking at frescoes.

Henry was well-liked but he was not one of those teachers who try to become friends by asking about your boyfriend, and he would never have turned up at the sixth-form discos.

From him I developed a genuine love of the craft of writing, not as a writer, but as a reader. I learned to enjoy these things for their own sake and not just to pass exams. He was exactly the sort of teacher I needed at the time and was an inspiration not just to me, but six of us in my year who got places at Oxford.

Henry enthused about writers such as Eliot, Lawrence and Waugh. His favourite was Henry James. He brought in his own books for us to borrow and inspired us to read beyond the curriculum.

He invited all of us who got into Oxford to dinner with him and his wife at their home in Brighton and we stayed in touch for a while. He wasn't surprised that I went into publishing but he assumed it was temporary and always thought I would become a writer. I think he was a frustrated writer himself.

I loved school and was very happy there, but I was obsessed with passing exams with brilliant grades. Henry showed me that there is more to education than that.

Kate Mosse, 36, is the founder of the Orange Prize for women fiction writers. Her latest novel is 'Eskimo Kissing'. She was talking to Pamela Coleman

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