My best teacher - Miss Jones by Philip Pullman

12th June 2015 at 01:00
The author loved everything about English at school and found a kindred spirit in his teacher. When she introduced him to Milton's Paradise Lost, he felt as if he had caught on fire

Miss Jones taught English at Ysgol Ardudwy in Harlech, North Wales, which I attended because my stepfather was posted at an RAF base nearby. English was a subject I was good at and enjoyed. I loved reading and writing, and the grammar seemed to come naturally to me, so I was predisposed to like the teacher.

Miss Jones was nice, she was kind and she was the purveyor of the stuff I liked - the books I was interested in reading. I read many things under her guidance and instruction that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. In fact, at the moment I am re-reading Joseph Conrad's Victory, one of the books we studied with her.

She was quite tall with short, wiry, grey hair. Her glasses curved upwards into a point, like the ones Mary Whitehouse wore, so she looked a bit forbidding, but there was great humour there and great warmth.

Once, we were set the usual "The view from my window" essay. From my window I could see the slope down to the estuary and across to the RAF airfield where my stepfather worked, and the trains and the boats and the sand dunes. I described it meticulously and got a very good mark. I know Miss Jones remembered this piece of work because when I saw her last she said, "I never gave you - or anyone - a 10. I was a very hard marker. I think I gave you a 9."

Miss Jones would occasionally let us write a story. I really loved this and relished telling ghost and horror stories. She read out the best ones to the class and I enjoyed being published in that way.

When, at A-level, we came to Milton and Paradise Lost, it was as if I had caught on fire. We read around the class, which wasn't very big, and I loved the sensation of reading aloud. Although you don't fully understand what all the words mean, just the fact that you can pronounce them, get them into your mouth and sense the beat of the iambic pentameter, is a very powerful thing.

Once, after I'd been a bit arrogant, she said one word to me that I'll never forget: "Hubris." To which I replied, "I've got it, Miss Jones. I've got it."

I sent her a copy of every book I ever wrote. She was interested and it was lovely to make contact with her again. When we met up, I talked to her about her own days as a student. She described having a sort of Wordsworthian experience, an almost mystical identification with nature on the bridge by the estuary. I completely understood and sympathised.

My great friend at school was Merfyn Jones, who became vice-chancellor of Bangor University. The university gave me an honorary fellowship, and that was a great day because Enid Jones came along and a lot of reminiscing took place.

She was known as Auntie Enid and she would have been a wonderful aunt. She never married - I don't know why. She died a couple of years ago, in her nineties. I wanted to attend the funeral, but I was engaged to make a speech in Oxford so I couldn't, which was a great sadness.

Philip Pullman was talking to Lily Farrah

The dmon king

Philip Pullman

Born 19 October 1946, Norwich

Education Educated in England, Zimbabwe and Australia before moving to Wales. Attended Ysgol Ardudwy in Harlech. Read English at Exeter College, Oxford

Career Worked as a middle school teacher and later lectured at Westminster College, Oxford. He is most famous for his best-selling His Dark Materials trilogy. Pullman is also a campaigner on issues including library closures and gender-specific children's books

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