He was strict and there was the odd roar, but there was no physical abuse...

28th May 2004 at 01:00
... This was an amazing thing in 1970s Ireland

Portrait by Crispin Rodwell

From the age of seven I went to the Christian Brothers school in Wexford town. My best teacher was in the fifth year, when I was about 11 - my father Billy. He was the one who inspired me to become a teacher.

In many ways I think he was ahead of his time. In 1970s Ireland, corporal punishment was the norm and virtually all the teachers had their favourite weapons which they used to chastise the children. I remember distinctly him saying he would not be hitting anybody and that he did not believe in hitting children. He was strict and there was the odd roar, but there was no physical abuse. This was an amazing thing having come from four or five years of teachers liberally using sticks.

He was a big believer in the arts, and we did arts and crafts extensively - something which was previously confined to an hour and a half on a Friday afternoon. For St Patrick's Day we made a Viking longship, the class dressed up as Vikings and we paraded through town on the back of a lorry.

Now it seems not very surprising, but in those days this was an amazing thing. I still meet fellas 30 years later I was at school with then who talk about it.

We had an aquarium, which again is commonplace, but then was the first time a lot of the boys in the class would have seen one. My dad made a little museum which had an old grenade in it; things like that were fascinating.

It was a millennium classroom. I remember looking around me and thinking, "Everybody here is having a great time". We accepted that Dad was different at home and at school. In school he was Sir. I don't remember ever trying it on, although I did forge my mother's signature once on my homework. I got my card marked for that, but I think he was amused rather than cross.

He was never harder on me; he was fair, there wasn't any awkwardness.

My best friend's dad was a teacher too and he had taught us the year before, so I saw the way it worked. Once you got into school he was Sir and you never crossed that boundary. In school he had a teacher persona that was slightly more animated, but that's necessary when you are trying to control 30 boys.

Dad was a very dynamic person. He was artistic, he was a diver, he was a writer, and he tried to foster all these interests in us. He took an art class on a Saturday morning that kids would come to. It sounds so normal, but it wasn't; these were things that normal parents didn't do. He was the only person doing anything like this. He built sets for the amateur dramatic group and would make these little scale models that I found fascinating. And he was a sportsman; he played basketball, squash and golf.

He's not the kind of guy to sit around. Since he retired he has done a PhD and written a history of the south-east of Ireland.

There were five children - me and four brothers - and he made a point of teaching all of us. It was a good way of keeping an eye on us and seeing how we were getting on. It was nice for us to have our dad teaching us, and nice for him too, I think. We were always encouraged; that was the key.

When I became a teacher my parents were delighted. And when I started writing books, Dad's attitude was, "Of course you write books, why wouldn't you?" Anything we wanted to do we knew we had 100 per cent backing from him and my mother; it was unquestioning. I knew from an early age, when I was about 11, that I wanted to teach. I never saw the preparation or the conflict or the hardship; all I saw was that we were all having a great time at school and my dad seemed to make every lesson so enjoyable.

I remember the day I decided it was the job for me, when some guy brought in a water pistol and my dad confiscated it. As punishment dad filled it up with water from the aquarium and shot him. I thought, "It's a licence to kill!"

Author Eoin Colfer (www.eoincolfer.com) was talking to Harvey McGavin

The story so far

1965 Born Waterford, Ireland

1971 Attends Christian Brothers school, Wexford town

1983 Teacher training course at Carysfort college, County Dublin

1985 Teaches at various primary schools in County Wexford

1995 Teaches abroad for four years with his wife Jackie in Saudi Arabia, Italy and Tunisia

1999 Takes post at Coolcotts national school, Wexford town

2000 First book, Benny and Omar, published

2001 Gives up teaching to write full-time. Award-winning Artemis Fowl published

2004 The Legend of Spud Murphy published in March; new book, The Supernaturalist, published in June, by Puffin

2005 Film of Artemis Fowl due for release

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