At the end of 2015, I had the honour of visiting International Grammar School in Sydney to address the Year Seven cohort about Empire of the Waves. It was an especially wonderful honour for me, invited as the guest of one Mr Timothy Lester. Tim had been my English teacher at Trinity Grammar School in Summer Hill not once, but three times, in Year Eight, Year Eleven and Year Twelve.
This might have proved our shared misfortune. Yet, happily, it was otherwise.
In fact, and I will put it on the record here, Tim was my favourite high school English teacher. And that really is saying something, as I had absolutely wonderful high school English teachers. The English Department at Trinity Grammar School in the 1990s, under the leadership of Robert Dickins and then Allan Pride, was truly something to behold.
Tim was one of the first teachers to really encourage my own development as a writer – both as a critic of literature, and as a creator. I flourished in his classes, and loved every opportunity to pursue my passion for writing. I am grateful for all the extra reading Tim encouraged. Like a lot of my friends from that time, I remember fondly how Tim also introduced us to Alan Partridge, Whose Line Is It Anyway?, and The Day Today, among other classics of British comedy. These, along with even more subversive fare, helped turn us into confident cultural omnivores.
Coming at the end of a long year, I was worried the IGS students might be more interested in their forthcoming holidays than Empire of the Waves, a worry compounded by the fact I was speaking during the last period of the day.
I need not have been concerned.
The students were not only attentive, welcoming and kind, but also utterly engaging. After a reading from the first chapter of the novel I spoke for half an hour about the writing process, and how I came to create the world of Salila. Then we broke off into groups to create our own pirate clans! This was such an entertainingly hilarious activity that I will be developing and expanding it for future workshops.
A very successful school visit indeed, and how wonderful to spend it with Tim Lester and his current cohort of students. I am quite sure another generation of young minds will recall what challenges and joys they derived from Tim’s classes, and no doubt a few more young writers too.