My best teacher - Francesca Simon
I was quite argumentative at home, but at school I was a really good student. I enjoyed learning; I loved English and reading. In fact, my life basically centred on giving myself maximum reading time. I used to read about six hours a day. I would come home from school and automatically do my homework so I had the rest of the time free.
I went to many schools. We moved around a lot - New York, California, London, France, then back to America. I was seven and eight when I went to school in London and Paris and I became aware that there was more than one way of doing something.
When I arrived at Webster Elementary School in Malibu, I caused a bit of a sensation because I shook hands with people. I was considered a little odd but rather ferocious. People didn't really tease me. They tried but I was hard to tease, because I'm pretty sharp and I wasn't so odd that I looked like a victim. I did have a sort of European way with me.
Another effect was that moving around always made me think that friendship was temporary. But the lasting effect was that I never learned to print. In France I had learnt to write with a pen dipped in an inkwell, so I came back to America at eight with this very beautiful, precise handwriting. They tried to make me write on big pieces of paper but I couldn't make these huge letters that weren't connected.
At 15, I had an English teacher at Palisades ("Pali") Junior High, called Jean O'Brien. She was so intelligent, so challenging, very inspiring. She was sort of unnerving because she was a very large woman with iron-grey hair, cut very severely.
She had complete control. But she was also unbelievably perceptive. She would walk around the class getting a feel for people and one of the first things she did was give all of us - individually - a different book to read that she thought we would find interesting and that she was sure we had never heard of. I read the autobiography of Lincoln Steffens, a muck- raking journalist, which I loved. She had a rather wicked sense of humour, which I also liked.
She always had lunch in her classroom and a whole number of us would come in and have lunch with her. It was a little bit of a sanctuary and I appreciated the refuge. It was never really discussed but her door was always open. I liked the fact that even though she was so ferocious, we still had that time with her.
She recognised that I was smart, but odd for the school, and encouraged me in my reading and in my efforts to make sense of my place in the world. I maintained a level of contact with her afterwards and she wrote one of my recommendations for Yale.
I still see Professor Eric Stanley, who taught me at Yale (I did medieval studies). He is a world-renowned expert in Anglo-Saxon language and literature. He had come from Oxford University and arrived at Yale in a three-piece suit, thick glasses, tall, upright. He is fabulous, unbelievably learned and so much fun. One of the things that's so great about him - considering he is one of the most eminent scholars in the world - is that he absolutely adores undergraduates; he really loves teaching.
He insists I call him Eric, which still feels very transgressive. He's 87 now, but he's exactly how he always was. He also taught me later at Oxford. I was pretty much failing and he let me sit in on all his graduate classes to get me through. He's terribly blunt. His assessment of me was that I was a good student, but not brilliant.
Francesca Simon's latest novel `The Sleeping Army' is now on sale. She was talking to Anne Joseph
Personal profile Born: St Louis, 1955 Education: Schools in New York, London and France; Yale and Oxford universities Career: Francesca Simon has published more than 50 books, including the immensely popular Horrid Henry series.
Born: St Louis, 1955 Education: Schools in New York, London and France; Yale and Oxford universities Career: Francesca Simon has published more than 50 books, including the immensely popular Horrid Henry series.
Education: Schools in New York, London and France; Yale and Oxford universities Career: Francesca Simon has published more than 50 books, including the immensely popular Horrid Henry series.