My best teacher

25th August 2006 at 01:00
I had a very Hollywood upbringing. My father Frank Zappa's record label was being run from our house and there was creativity and food for the imagination all around, and interesting people coming to the house all day long. People who loved my father's music tended to be brainiacs - he was a brainiac too - and they had more interesting jobs than Stones fans. A good friend of his worked for NASA and brought him a piece of meteorite, and I remember looking at it and thinking "this came from outer space". My father had a planet named after him, and a fish. And the air space in the Bermuda triangle is called the Zappa space.

I missed a lot of school because we were on tour with my father: when other kids were reading about faraway places, I was going there. It was a real-world education. And at home we were creating our own universe. But sometimes I had to go to school.

My first school was a private nursery school near our house in the Hollywood Hills. I would do anything to get out of it. With my friend Nat Williams, who became a friend for life, I would raid the medicine cabinet in the teachers' lounge, and sneak into the carwash next door and pee in the cars.

I went on to Oakwood elementary school, where I was miserable. I did fine socially and made good friends, but I had a learning disability (dyslexia) that made reading and writing very hard for me. I had a bad case of book report phobia - we were always having to do book reports. Pictures helped me cheat and get by. I would choose the book with the best cover and perhaps I would manage to read the paragraph of blurb on the back, then I would make up my own story and hope that the teacher hadn't read the book.

I would have so many ideas and it would all be so vivid in my mind but my brain worked faster than my hand and I couldn't express myself in writing.

The pressure was always intense and I was full of rage and frustration.

Fourth grade (equivalent to Year 5) was the year that my learning disability really kicked in, but that was also the only year that I wasn't miserable, because that year Tracy McDonald was my teacher. She was younger than my parents, in her late 20s, and to me she seemed cool and glamorous.

She went the extra mile with me, and gave me a lot of her free time. She had a young daughter and at the weekend or after school she would take me and my little sister out with her daughter, bowling or to a movie. For the whole year everything that we did in school was related to the ancient Egyptians, which I enjoyed. I loved going to school that year. But in fifth grade it was back to the misery.

When I got to eighth grade, I dropped out. I couldn't take it. My parents registered a school at home, which they called Beigemont Academy, so they wouldn't be prosecuted for not sending me to school. Later on I went to a downtown centre to take the high school equivalency certificate: the test was supposed to take four hours and I left after five minutes. So I haven't graduated from high school. Of us four kids, only my younger sister finished high school. My father didn't care about that kind of stuff. He felt the school system was ruining his kids' imagination Until a year and a half ago, I still couldn't express my thoughts on paper.

I had a successful career in television, but my projects always had to be joint ones because I couldn't write the proposals. The first version of my children's book, The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless, was a simple picture book about how to defend yourself against monsters, with a lot of anti-monster recipes and my own artwork and photographs. My lawyer's son gave it to an agent, who doesn't usually handle children's books but she thought as it had been recommended by an eight-year-old she should take a look.

My US publisher, Random House, liked the idea but they wanted a 70-page novel and my agent said "OK, he'll do it" without asking me. My first reaction was, "Let's just make the type bigger." But with encouragement from my agent and editor I found the motivation I needed to write my story.

It means so much to me that for the rest of my life I will be able to sit down and think of something and put it on paper.

Actor, musician and children's author Ahmet Zappa was talking to Geraldine Brennan

The story so far

1974 Born in Los Angeles

1980-86 Oakwood elementary school, Hollywood

From 1986 taught at home, starts TV and film career

1988 Presents 2 Hip 4 TV Saturday morning show on CBS

1990 First significant film role in Pump up the Volume

1993 Releases album with his brother Dweezil, Shampoo Horn

1996 Second album with Dweezil, Music for Pets

2005 Hosts But Can They Sing? (US celebrity show in Pop Idol vein) August 2006 The Monstrous Memoirs of a Mighty McFearless, the first in a trilogy of novels for children aged nine-plus, published by Puffin, priced pound;10.99

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