Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Kathy Sharp—A Teacher’s Influence

Long ago, Thomas Hardy made Dorset famous. The contemporary drama Broadbeach is making the county slightly more familiar to many of us. Now my Crooked Cat colleague, Kathy Sharp, adds her voice to the Dorset song.

Mrs Salt was the kind of teacher who was quietly influential. Probably past retirement age, she had been drafted in to help cope with the great influx of post-war baby boom children in 1950s Britain. The school was full to bursting, and classes were farmed out all over the town, wherever space could be found. My year with Mrs Salt was spent in the unlikely surroundings of a church retreat house, which had a small classroom built out into its beautiful gardens.

She kept forty of us in order without ever raising her voice. There was no caning, no loss of temper, no yelling. If you were guilty of some misdemeanor, she would simply take you aside and murmur, ‘You, of all people. I’m so disappointed in you.’ She looked genuinely unhappy, and the burden of her disappointment was enough to keep us on the straight and narrow. That and the fact that we all loved her.

Each morning, we attended assembly in the crowded main school, and then walked in pairs the half
mile to our classroom, with Mrs Salt, in one of her elaborate hats, leading the way. We could talk, but not shout; skip, but not run. It was a residential district, and it was impressed upon us that we must not disturb people with racketing about. She managed this without squashing the natural exuberance of childhood out of us. She was a quite remarkable person.

The schoolroom was hung with charming proverbs: ‘There is nothing nicer than a good, careful child’; ‘If you have two loaves, sell one and buy a lily.’ As a compulsive reader, even then, I read them so many times over they are still in my head today. And I have my exercise books, complete with Mrs Salt’s comment ‘Good sentences’ written over one of my compositions.

But for me, as a writer, her finest gift was also the most enjoyable. The last half-hour of each school day was story time, and Mrs Salt didn’t waste it on any old rubbish. We had the stories of Greek myth  sea monsters, flying horses and all. Her wonderful retelling of these exciting tales had the whole class entranced, and clamouring for the story of Perseus and Andromeda, or Pegasus the winged horse. The excitement and absorption of hearing those stories, and of their becoming familiar, is still with me, and informs my fiction writing to this day.

When I wrote my novel Isle of Larus, those tales were in the back of my mind, and readers have pointed out its ‘mythical’ feel. Well, I know just where that came from: thank you, Mrs Salt.

More about Kathy Sharp

Growing up by the sea in Kent, back in the 1960s, it was Kathy's ambition to become a writer. Time passed. She married, moved to west London, and had a daughter. She continued to write, and had a small book or two on countryside and nature subjects published. She worked for many years as a desktop publisher for Surrey County Council, and as a tutor in adult education.
And then, one day, she visited a friend who had just moved to the Isle of Portland, Dorset, and fell in love with the place. She has now lived in the Weymouth and Portland area for eight years, and still loves it. The wonderful Jurassic Coast, and Portland in particular, were the inspiration for her first novel, Isle of Larus.
Kathy also sings with, and writes lyrics for, the Island Voices Choir on Portland, and is a keen member of local writing groups, as well as enjoying studying the local flora.

More from Kathy Sharp

Isle of Larus is published by Crooked Cat Publishing and is available in paperback or e-book format

You can also read Kathy’s regular Monday blog on Goodreads:

Or find her on Facebook:


  1. What a delightful reminiscence, Kathy. Mrs Salt and the many teachers like her tend to go unsung, yet they inspired hundreds if not thousands of children - and doubtless some do even today. I'm glad you sang about her; in this brief memory I almost feel I know her.

  2. I can vaguely remember getting a story time at Primary school from my favourite teacher, but it was only for the last half hour on a Friday. However, my English teacher in first year of Secondary was retiring at the end of that session and she dished out some of her fine collection of leather bound volumes to a few of her pupils whom she regarded as being diligent(not top scorers but hard workers). I still have my book of Greek Myths and Fairy Tales. Your post above reminded me of her.

  3. Thanks so much, Nik and Nancy, for dropping by!