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Jack Sheffield

Q & A with Jack Sheffield

3 January 2017

Jack Sheffield was born in 1945 and grew up in north-east Leeds.

His first job was ‘pitch boy’, carrying buckets of boiling bitumen up a ladder to repair roofs. In the 1960s he trained to be a teacher at the St John’s College, York, and spent his summers as a Corona Pop Man. He worked as a teacher and a headteacher at schools in Yorkshire before becoming Senior Lecturer in Primary Education at Leeds University. It was at this time he began to record his many amusing stories of village life. The audio book of Star Teacher is out this month.

How did you start writing? Can you tell us about your journey to becoming a writer?
I began writing full-time when I retired after a long career in education. Prior to that, throughout my teaching career I wrote short stories concerning the happy and occasionally poignant times in my professional life.

You worked as a teacher and head teacher for many years which must have given you a rich source of ideas for your books?
YES! The Teacher series is based upon my experiences throughout my teaching career.

What were your favourite books when you were growing up?
The first book I owned was a Christmas present in 1953, a second hand copy of 'Five Go Off To Camp, by Enid Blyton. It started me on a lifetime of reading that continued at a very young age with the Famous Five, Billy Bunter and the William books. Since the age of ten I have read a novel every week and, as a teenager, I recall reading the complete works of Charles Dickens.

What do you enjoy about writing?
Reading and writing have always been my hobbies. Writing provides me with an opportunity to create a world where truth and happiness usually win in the end.

How long does it take you to write a book and can you tell us about your writing day?
Each year I allocate twenty weeks to write a novel and work fifty hours each week. So...a thousand hours.

How do you come up with storylines for your books? Do you plan the whole plot before you start writing?
The storylines emerge after a discussion with my wife who is far better than me at plotting the next novel! Then I consider the various conflicts that will underpin the story and, in consequence, have a good idea of the ending before I begin.

How many books have you written so far?
I have written ten books in the Teacher series, Teacher, Teacher!, Mister Teacher, Dear Teacher, Village Teacher, Please Sir!, Educating Jack, School's Out!, Silent Night, Star Teacher and Happiest Days. A short story, 'An Angel Called Harold' has also been published.

What are you planning next?
My editor at Penguin Random House has asked me to write two prequels to the Teacher series, one set in the 1950s and one in the 1960s.

What’s the best writing advice anyone’s ever given you?
Quite simply: write about what you know. In my case it was village life and teaching.

Do you ever use your local library and how important is it that libraries stay open?
Libraries are the cornerstone of a cultural society and without them I should not have become an author. As a child I spent countless hours in my local library. These days I visit the British Library in London to research the newspapers of the time in which my novels are set.

Interview by Nicky Solloway at Magna Large Print Books.