Like many people, I think my approach to writing was shaped by experiences whilst still at school – though why I should remember some of the minor incidents, I don’t know. (Other than because I have that kind of niggly mind, as my husband will testify…)

Writing about Mr Majic, I was challenged by my junior school teacher as to the spelling. Quick as a flash I responded that it was spelt like that because it was a name, not because it was meant to be the word ‘magic’. I still have a feeling that he didn’t quite believe me (and yes, I was fibbing, but it was pretty quick thinking for a 7 year old, wouldn’t you agree?), but he had the good sense to congratulate me on my imaginative approach. I thought I’d fooled him and I’d been told it was sound thinking, so yay – here was my passport to imaginative writing!

A couple of years later and the same teacher, Mr Heads, was my form tutor once more. He encouraged me to enter into an essay writing competition on a local event – the Miners’ Picnic. My mother duly tore the article apart and asked me if I’d never learned anything about imaginative writing. (Clearly his first lesson hadn’t stuck.) I’ll never forget how she took each of my phrases and coached me, in her own words, what was effectively the mantra, ‘show don’t tell’. How did it feel, Julie? What sounds were there? Smells? This from a woman who didn’t lack intellect, just a formal education, and who had been unable to take up her place at grammar school because of cost. What she lacked in schooling she made up for in natural ability. So ‘The Miners’ Picnic’ became packed full of descriptions of miners’ banners proudly paraded, brass and highland bands marching (or in some cases swaying, having over-stayed their welcome in the local hostelries which adopted them for the day), juvenile marching bands with their less-than-tuneful kazoos buzzing out the Z-Cars theme but enjoying every minute of their moment of glory, the sickly smell of beer swilling out of the pubs and abandoned candy floss lying limp in the gutter….

And yes, I won the plaque for the best essay, presented by the local Council. There are photos to prove it. Sadly,though, also proving that distinctly unflattering Dame Edna Everage specs were in vogue at the time, along with Toni perms.