With his first children's book coming out, and a career in medicine behind him, Harry Hope is embarking on a new life in the classroom. Geraldine Brennan finds out what's lured him in
Teaching is everything that an intelligent and dynamic person wants as a career," says Harry Hope. "You're thinking on your feet, being creative and communicating." Harry qualified as a doctor and spent a year on the wards of Doncaster Royal Infirmary before switching to a PGCE at Hull University. He starts teaching Year 4 at Bramley Grange Primary School in Rotherham in September and says: "I can't wait to go in and sort out my new classroom. It seems like a happy working environment."
But before then, he's got a book to launch. While Harry was at medical school, he filled notebooks with scenes for the first of five Books of Lore, a series on the classic fantasy theme of good versus evil with a contemporary science-mad schoolboy hero called Alex. "I kept a notebook by my bed, took it with me on the wards, and wrote in any odd moments I had."
Between his fourth and fifth year of medical school, Harry and his partner Jenna, a trainee surgeon, followed a stint volunteering in African hospitals with a safari. A fellow traveller was fundraising for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and Harry decided to self-publish the first book, The Elements of Lore, in aid of the charity. "I had sent earlier versions to agents, but realised that it needed more work. I like to finish what I've started and I want the book to be out there, being read and raising money, so I've gone ahead."
The Elements of Lore is a fast-paced tale for top primary readers and above and it embraces many of Harry's passions: genetics, philosophy, archetypes from Greek myths and English folktales, human rights in old people's homes.
Harry's move to the classroom has been prompted partly by his happy childhood and schooldays (at South Walsham Primary followed by Acle High School in Norfolk). His parents led an alternative lifestyle until he was five, travelling to festivals in a caravan. He is an only child and enjoyed the wide network of friends and evenings spent telling stories round campfires that find echoes in his book.
"My parents stopped travelling when it was time for me to go to school. I loved my village primary school: there were only 10 of us in my year. I was always happy there and I've got a lot to give back in the classroom."
He started to sense during medical school at Sheffield University that he might not pursue his first career. "To keep working in medicine, which can be a brilliant thing to do, you have to be able to cut yourself off when heartbreaking things happen. I found myself getting involved, bringing the job home. Career progression can be cut-throat too. The characters that you often see on ER and Casualty do exist and some of them are not people you would feel comfortable working with."
But, again, he likes to finish what he's started. "So I completed the training and did a year's clinical work, which confirmed that it wasn't for me. If you're not happy, you won't provide the kind of service that you should and you need to be a strong enough person to step off the conveyor belt."
The door to the future opened during his community care placements, which included half a term working with children with special needs in an infants' school in Chesterfield. "I thought, 'I can be good at this job. I can bring the communication skills to it that I've learnt in medicine.' I'm good at dealing with all kinds of people when they are under pressure and I can manage time and stress."
Yet he would not change anything about his career path. "Teaching complements my character more than medicine, but I would do my medical degree again; it challenged me academically."
The reason his particular route to teaching is so rare, he says, is that graduates in medicine who choose not to work as doctors are more likely to move into business. "If the rest of the world saw teaching as a serious profession, you would get more academically strong graduates of all disciplines being snapped up by education who are now going into business. What puts people off is the preconception that teachers are not treated with the respect they deserve - or paid as much as they deserve.
"This happens partly because the general public have no idea what goes on in classrooms today, how many things the teacher has going on at once, how much is fitted into each lesson, and the many skills and talents the teacher needs."
With one teaching practice to finish, Harry is well aware of the demands of his new career. "Children surprise me every day with how perceptive they are. They have a brilliant nose for any areas where you're underprepared and trying to waffle and they are so quick to say what they think."
But he has not yet encountered a serious deterrent. "To be honest," he whispers, "I quite like paperwork."
The Elements of Lore by Harry Hope is published on May 24 at pound;6.99 through www.thebooksoflore.co.uk. Half of all sales go to the Cystic Fibrosis Trust. Visit www.theelementsoflore.co.uk for details of two launch events in Nottinghamshire this weekend and look out for science and literacy key stage 2 and 3 teaching resources to download free later this summer.
You've written your masterpiece? What now?
- Before sending it off to a publisher or agent, get a literate friend or colleague to read it for spelling, grammar and sense (even if you have already spellchecked it).
- Never send a publisher or agent, or indeed anyone, an entire unsolicited novel by email. It might be green but it will not win your book any friends. It's best to submit hard copy in the standard format: 12pt text on one side of A4.
- From Pitch to Publication: Everything you need to know to get your novel published by Carole Blake (Piatkus Books). A literary agent's advice on how to submit a good proposal and then follow it through.
- Writers' and Artists' Yearbook (AC Black). An annual comprehensive listing of publishers and agents, with a separate children's edition. You will also need to do your own research on what sorts of novels fiction publishers are accepting. The book trade magazine, The Bookseller, is a good source.
Where to get help
- If you have already published a book (a textbook, for example) or at least 12 short stories or articles, you may be eligible to join the Society of Authors, which offers members advice and guidance on a range of issues including contracts: www.societyofauthors.org.
- Literary consultancies aim to help unpublished authors develop their work ready for approaching agents. Some have relationships with specific agents; some offer long-term mentoring; all will report on a manuscript's strengths and weaknesses for a fee.
Consultancies are unregulated, so you should compare a few before you commit to using one.
The Arvon Foundation's programme of residential writing courses, taught by professional authors at four centres in England and Scotland, includes several aimed at novelists. www.arvonfoundation.org. Ty Newydd, the National Writers Centre for Wales near Criccieth, Gwynedd, runs courses on a similar model: www.tynewydd.org.