OK, let’s get one thing out of the way straight off – the one thing everyone wants to hear about. I was once embraced by 007!
It was a long time ago, admittedly, and he wasn’t 007 then, but I am the teacher who gave Daniel Craig his first acting experience. I won’t say I guided his first steps. It was more a question of standing back in amazement and watching it all happen, because Daniel never need much instruction. It was all there from the start, the charisma, the command of the stage, the instinctive grasp of character, but I like to think my encouragement helped him along the way. After he left school I didn’t hear of him for years, but then his name started cropping up in theatre reviews and on TV. The big break through came with ‘Our Friends in the North’ and after that there was no holding him back. I last saw him when he was appearing with Michael Gambon at the Royal Court Theatre in London, in a play by Caryl Churchill called ‘A Number’. It was a two-hander requiring immense concentration from both actors and Danny was brilliant, as usual. What was truly amazing was that he was filming Sylvia during the day, starting at ungodly hours every morning, and still at the top of his game on stage in the evening. I went back stage afterwards and he greeted me with a big hug. I asked him to sign my copy of the play and he wrote, ‘Thank you for setting me on my way. With much love, Daniel.’
I haven’t seen him for years now, of course. He’s far too grand and busy, and judging from recent interviews he seems to want to forget all about his schooldays. But I still treasure that message.
So how did I come to be teaching at Hilbre High School, where I met Danny?
As I mentioned earlier, in my notes on the inspiration for ‘Follies’, I grew up hopelessly stage struck and insisted on going to drama school, instead of going to university as everyone tried to persuade me to do. My parents did win on one point, however. They insisted that I went somewhere where I would gain a recognised teaching qualification as well. So I went to the Rose Bruford College in Sidcup, Kent,where I soon developed what I call ‘the centipede syndrome’. You know that story? Someone asked a centipede which leg he moved first and the result was frozen immobility while he tried to work out the answer. I became so obsessed with the technicalities of stage craft that I lost whatever natural ability I had in the first place. It didn’t help that the college philosophy was based on the idea that to survive in the profession you had to be able to take any amount of criticism. By the end of my three years I was too scared to even set foot on a stage and it took me decades to get over it.
So I became a teacher. I started in a posh girls boarding school, moved to a Secondary Modern and then went as Head of Drama to Vauxhall Manor School, a comprehensive in Lambeth, south London. By this time I was married to David and when motherhood beckoned I retired to the country and prepared to dedicate myself to bringing up children. Within months, much as I adored my sons, I was climbing the walls with boredom. Being cooped up all day with an inarticulate infant was not for me!
Desperate for some occupation that required me to use my brain, and my training, I applied to my local youth service. Could I start a drama club for young people? They were delighted, and so I came to found the Epsom Youth Theatre. I ran it for ten years and they were some of the happiest in my life. I lost count of how many teenagers passed through the doors over the period but they were the liveliest, most talented bunch you could wish to meet and for many of them the club became not just a hobby but a complete social network, in which I was allowed to join. For ten years in my thirties I was accepted as an honorary teenager – a most rejuvenating experience! One of the members was a boy called Christopher Luscombe, who has gone on to make a very successful career as a theatre director. . But for all those whose professional careers I may have given a kick start to, there have been dozens of others who have simply found pleasure, or companionship, or a rare taste of success by being involved in plays. It is the thought that I have in some way touched those lives that gives me real pleasure.
All this time I was writing, without much success. Then I had three thrillers published by Robert Hale – ‘Centrifuge’, ‘A Woman Called Omega’ and ‘The Fidelio Affair’. But they were pot-boilers and soon disappeared off the shelves – though they are still available in some libraries. Disenchanted, I stopped writing for several years. Encouragement came when I won a short story competition run by the Historical Novel Society(www.historicalnovelsociety.org). The prize was two weeks on the Greek island of Kythira on a writing course tutored by Helen Carey and Louis de Berniere. I had been working on a novel set in Bronze Age Greece for a long time, without finding a publisher. It was with Louis’s encouragement that I started to re-write it.. (See my blog for details.)
At this point I had gone back to teaching at Hilbre School in West Kirby, which is where I encountered Daniel Craig. Later I was allowed to take a year off to do a B.Ed degree at Liverpool University, for which I was awarded First Class honours. I moved to be Director of Drama at the newly opened Birkenhead Sixth Form College, where I spent eight happy years. But I still had the writing bug and in the end I decided that the only thing to do was to take early retirement and concentrate on that. I signed up for the MA in writing at Liverpool John Moores University (www.ljmu.ac.uk), which was the real turning point in my writing career. For the first time I was able to show work to a group of people, not only the tutors but the other students, who would give me informed and unbiased criticism. Within six months of graduating I had finished ‘We’ll Meet Again’ and my agent, Vivien Green of Sheil Land, sold it to Hodder and Stoughton. The day she phoned to give me the news was one of the happiest days of my life! ‘Never Say Goodbye’ followed a year later. I had been thinking of writing something based on my parents experiences and the Follies series which was published over the next three or four years, was the result.
My researches for We’ll Meet Again had led me to the FANY, and the lives of some truly remarkable women. I decided for my next book to go back to World War l and tell their story. The result was the ‘LEONORA’ trilogy, published by Severn House.
Three more novels followed: Operation Kingfisher, set on the French canals during WWll; Aphrodite’s island, a romantic story spanning two generations on the troubled island of Cyprus; and Twice Royal Lady, the story of Queen Matilda and her fight for the English throne. All these were published by Robert Hale. Hale have, sadly, now gone out of business.
My latest publisher is Ebury House, a branch of the Penguin/Random House publishing giant. They asked for four novels set around the workhouse in Victorian Liverpool. Because these are slightly different in genre and setting from the precious books they felt I should write under a nom-de-plume. These books will come out under the name HOLLY GREEN.
And what about the Bronze Age Greece novel? That has finally been published as an e-book under the title THE LAST HERO. Not long ago I had the privilege of meeting one of the archaeologists in charge of the excavations at Pylos, the setting for the book. I am delighted to report that she declared the book not only a great read but completely accurate in its depiction of the place and the period.
Hobbies: I am a keen gardener and I love the outdoors. David and I enjoy walking, especially in the hills. Over the years we have followed the length of the Offa’s Dyke path, the Cotswold Way, the Ridgeway, the Cleveland Way, and many shorter treks in North Wales.. I read, of course, and I love the theatre, including opera and ballet. I also belong to two local bridge clubs, which provide a workout for the brain. .