Friday, 25 October 2013

Writing Inspirations

I don't know about you, but I'm a real sucker for those 'Inspirational Teacher Movies'.

You know the ones, Dead Poets' Society, Mona Lisa Smile, Dangerous Minds - they all follow the same basic plot: 

New teacher joins school - new teacher has problems with class - new teacher manages to engage class - even the most cynical of students become inspired - lives are changed forever - new teacher tragically has to leave school - previously cynical students rally round in a heart-warming show of support.

And I am reduced to a quivering, tear-stained wreck every single time!

If you're lucky enough to have had a teacher like the ones featured in these movies, I don't think you ever forget them.

Mine was Miss Maybin - my English teacher back when I was 13.

One week, in class, she got us to do a comprehension exercise on a poem by Seamus Heaney.

The poem was called Blackberry Picking and there was something about the richness of the description and the bitter sweet content that had me rapt.

Instantly I was transported back to holidays in Ireland and blackberry-picking expeditions with my cousin:

"You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it
Leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

To me, the experience of reading the poem was beyond anything I'd ever felt as a reader before - and I was an official Book Worm with a degree in Word Nerdery.

My love for the poem must have shone through in my comprehension exercise because after class, Miss Maybin called me back.

'Did you enjoy reading that poem?' she asked.

I nodded eagerly. 

She just smiled and let me go.

But after our next lesson, she called me back after class again and handed me a bundle of photocopies. 

Over the weekend, she had made me a collection of some of Heaney's greatest poems.

I treasured those photocopies for years, until the print had faded and the edges become dog-eared.

I have vivid memories of curling up on my bed and poring over the words, revelling in the emotions they conjured, smiling one minute, crying the next.

Like all great teachers, Miss Maybin had spotted a spark in me and kindled it into a flame.

Seamus Heaney's poems made me see what was possible when it came to the written word.

He made me see how you could take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. 

He made me want to write.

In August this year, Seamus Heaney died.

When I heard the news I burst into tears.

At first, I was shocked by the force of my reaction - after all, it wasn't as if I knew him.

But that's the thing about our inspirations - we don't have to know them for them to leave an imprint on our very being. 

They help to form the people we become, often without ever realising it.

This week, I signed a book deal with the publisher Faber & Faber.

In a twist as bitter sweet as one of Heaney's poems, this had been his publisher too.

It's too late for me to contact Seamus Heaney but I wish I could track down Miss Maybin, and tell her what she sparked.

Who knows, maybe one day I will . . .

You can watch Seamus Heaney reading Blackberry Picking right here


Now, over to you. Who are your writing inspirations? Who made you love to read and / or write? I'd love to know, so feel free to write your own personal tributes in the comments below.


  1. Lovely post, Siobhan! This reminds me of something I haven’t thought about for years. When I was at uni I loved Denise Riley's poetry, and wanted to write about her for an essay, but couldn't get hold of her books anywhere in the library. My dad (who is not what you’d call a poetry fan) managed to get hold of a library copy in my home town. Every lunchbreak for weeks he painstakingly photocopied the poems I needed then posted them to me.

    There are so many people who have shaped and supported my love of reading and writing along the way. I owe them such a debt!

    1. Thanks so much for sharing this, Sarah. The more I think about this, the more I realise that we all owe so much to the people who nurture and encourage our passions - whatever they might be. And I love the image of your dad painstakingly photocopying those poems for you :)