My best teacher - Lauren Child

29th May 2009 at 01:00
The children's author became a Latin lover after unique lessons that have informed her writing to this day

I was born in a tiny Berkshire village, so the move to Marlborough and St John's School, a big comprehensive, felt like quite a marked change for me. But my Latin teacher, Alan Clague ("as in plague", he always said), helped.

What I liked so much was the fact that he was the first teacher to really speak to me as if I was on the same level as him. We must have been about 11 or 12, but he never talked down to us. Instead, he shared responsibility for learning. There was no point being rebellious in his class. He never told you to be quiet, but I think he just thought misbehaving was a bit pathetic, so no one did.

I loved Latin because of him. Mr Clague's classes always felt so different. He spoke to us as if we should all be as passionate about the subject as he was and it worked.

He also chose a really interesting syllabus. It was wonderful for me that we learnt history, language and literacy on an even basis. It wasn't all heavy duty translations. Instead, we learnt where our language comes from and could then see the relevance of Latin.

I was really keen on the history side of things. We followed a Pompeii family up to the volcano eruption and it was based on real events and people, which made it feel more immediate. On the literature side of things, we read Dido and Aeneas, which was fascinating, plus quite a lot of poetry.

The way Mr Clague taught Latin made the subject very approachable. He was good at explaining and his laidback attitude meant you always felt comfortable asking him for help.

I think Mr Clague was confident in his ability so he didn't need to be very authoritarian. He had the ability to make the class believe and trust in him so we didn't want to act up.

I always had very differing reports at school. My French teacher thought I was awful, probably because I found the lessons boring and I didn't like her. My Latin reports were always good though.

I did OK in my Latin exams, but not marvellously. By the time I was 16, I so wanted to be good socially and to be popular and fashionable, that I let the academic side of things slip. I would have carried on doing Latin at A-level if I'd stayed at St John's, but instead I moved to college and gave it up.

I didn't keep in touch with Mr Clague, but then we re-met last year as part of a Radio 4 programme. He obviously looked quite different 20 years on, but was easily recognisable. It felt really odd to tell him what I thought about his teaching. You never usually get the opportunity, but I enjoyed it.

I have so many memories of him. For me, he marked out my week in a very particular way, but I must have been just one of many pupils for him. He said he remembered me, but I'd understand if he didn't.

I called him by his first name because it felt ridiculous not to, but I felt nervous; a bit like meeting someone you've always admired but never met. There was a different dynamic now we're both adults, but he was incredibly easy to talk to.

He knew my books and TV shows and was very generous about them, while always emphasising that they were nothing to do with him. But books are influenced by everyone in your life. What we're taught goes in, explodes in your head and then comes out in some way. Mr Clague's lessons were inspirational. I have no doubt they have informed my writing

Lauren Child is a multi-award winning children's author and illustrator best known for her Charlie and Lola books and Clarice Bean novels, which celebrate their 10th anniversary this year. She was talking to Hannah Frankel.

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