My best teacher

9th March 2001 at 00:00
Miss Jackson was very prim and proper. She was a spinster who didn't have a sense of humour or a huge personality and didn't really know how to handle children. But somehow she and I were on the same wavelength. She had an uncanny way of knowing if you were worried or frightened or itching to ask a question. I felt drawn to her, and where I might be terrified of asking some of the other teachers questions, I wouldn't hesitate to ask Miss Jackson.

She was my English teacher from the age of seven to nine at St Anne's school on the outskirts of Blackburn. She was painstakingly thorough and patient. She wasn't a sweet old lady, although she looked like one. She was small and wore long, panelled tweed skirts and hand-knitted jumpers. She had vivid blue eyes that would pick you out right across the room. When you least expected it, she would pounce and ask: "What did I just say?" She was known as Snake-tongued Jackson because she could cut you in half with her tongue.

She instilled in me a love of literature and words. We had no books at home because it was all my parents could do to shoe and clothe us (I was one of 10 children). One day after school Miss Jackson asked if I would like to borrow some of her books. She took me to her home, a tiny house down a tiny back alley where everything was just like her - absolutely pristine.

I think the first book I borrowed was a collection of Wordsworth - carefully covered in brown paper. My great favourite was Oliver Twist. Some of the books she lent me were a bit above me and when I took them back she always asked me to tell her what I thought of them and she understood if I said I didn't like something.

One Friday we were all asked to collect jam jars over the weekend and told we would get a halfpenny for small ones and a penny for big ones. Being naive, I spent my entire weekend collecting jam jars in my little brother's pram, thinking I was going to be rich. I had so many jars the conductor wouldn't let me on the bus onthe Monday, so I walked the four miles to school, dragging two sacks of jam jars. Miss Jackson took me up on stage in assembly and proudly told everyone how much money I had raised - for charity.

I used to write stories about my granddad and his Scottish terrier, Monty, telling their imaginary adventures. When I was about nine I won a competition for one of these stories and in assembly Miss Jackson handed me my prize and told everyone: "One day the whole world will read Josephine's stories."

Thirty-five years later when my first novel was published I was sitting in W H Smith's in Blackburn signing books when I heard a voice say "Hello Josephine". I looked up and there was Miss Jackson, looking exactly the same as I remembered her. I had mentioned her by her nickname in the book, thinking she was no longer around, and she was absolutely furious.

What had enraged her most was being mentioned without her permission. I felt like a nine-year-old again, trying to hide behind the desk. Eventually my brother Bernard, who was with me, managed to calm her down by saying:

"If it wasn't for you, our Josie wouldn't be a writer." A smile crossed her mouth after we took her for a cup of tea and a slice of cake. Everything was fine.

Josephine Cox is the fourth most borrowed author in public libraries, with more than 1 million loans a year. She was talking to Pamela Coleman


1942 Born Blackburn, Lancashire

1958 Marries at 16

1972 Trains to be a teacher at Bedford teacher training college

1977 First post teaching English and history at Mark Rutherford upper school, Bedford

1984 Gives up teaching to become a full-time novelist

1987 First psychological thriller Scarlet published, under the pseudonym Jane Brindle

1987 First book published under her own name Her Father's Sins

1991 Josephine Cox novels included on reading list at Salford University

2001 February 15 Let it Shine, 26th novel, published

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