well, if that title doesn’t get my old students reading…

Today we had our second French lesson with a tutor. I suppose I’ve been a student of French since late last year, but I’ve only had a teacher for a week.

Ever since becoming a teacher I have thought that, should I go back to being a student, I’d be a much better student than I was the first time around. At school and university I did a bit more than the bare minimum, but a long way off from my best. I always had other things going on and I’m not sure I regret that. I had friends, work… a life outside of school. But I could have worked a bit harder, dedicated a little more interest. If a book was set reading it suddenly lost most of its appeal. If there were thirty questions in a maths exercise I tried to get away with doing every third one. If I could watch television while answering geography questions from the textbook, then so much the better.

I’m not sure why exactly, but I decided early in high school that I didn’t like maths or sciences. I was good at both subjects, but they held no interest. When I was teaching, however, the sciences became much more interesting (thanks in part, no doubt, to my friendship with the head of science) and every now and then I’d help a student with some maths homework and remember the thrill of figuring out a difficult equation.

My favourite subjects at school were the essay-writing ones. (No surprise, eh?) Unfortunately I didn’t naturally excel at these. Making clear points and supporting with evidence just went right over my head. Perhaps the memory of this struggle helped me to break down and teach essay writing more clearly when I came to it.

As for English and creative writing, I occasionally got as much as a B grade. The exception was 6th form Creative Writing – a whole separate course full of a variety of genres. I have never done well with short stories, but that was only a small part of this course. There was a children’s literature unit, a romance unit, even one act plays. I was in my element! Out of sheer joy and passion I came top of the class (there were just 12 of us by the end of the year). There were several kids MUCH more talented than I, but I was the biggest writing-nut. That was one of the few times I was an excellent student.

Ah, think what I could have done if I’d poured that kind of dedication into my other subjects.

But, I wouldn’t have had time to be a youth leader, and I probably wouldn’t have learned all the moves to several Britney Spears songs, and at least one chart-topper by S Club 7. I probably wouldn’t have written my first novel (ah, the thought makes me cringe!). I definitely wouldn’t have written a dozen fanfiction stories. But then they might eventually pay off – not the ones I wrote at high school, because they’re just embarrassing, but since then I have written a few that still pull rave reviews on an almost-weekly basis.

Can you believe I’m being so honest? Britney Spears and fanfiction in the same paragraph? Neither.

I suppose one of the advantages of moving to the other side of the world, to a country where you know no one and barely speak a complete sentence of the language, is that your free time is suddenly very free.

I started out in France with ZERO community involvement, no social commitments, nothing. I can carefully choose just a few things to really focus my energy on, and hopefully I can avoid signing up for all sorts of other things unintentionally.

I want to focus on learning french, because I might only be in France for a short time and it’s a rare chance to become fluent in another language. If/when we return to NZ I would struggle to progress further, or even retain what I’ve learned, but if I can get to fluency it’d be a huge achievement.

My other focus is obviously my writing. I am a student here as well. There are two parts to this – the writing craft and the path toward publishing.

As a student of writing I mostly practice. Practice practice practice… If I am patient and persistent I will improve.

It’s working for my culinary skills… Today’s lunch: tomato, feta and lime juice salad.

Totally made it up! Delish. (And very healthy: 2 small ripe tomatoes, diced, chunks of feta, squirt of lime juice, salt and pepper… mix and munch.)

As to publishing – the industry baffles me. I have just started reading a book about the process, From Pitch to Publication, written by a literary agent, and in fact recommended by that same literary agent in the same letter in which she rejected (kindly, but still) my manuscript.

I am taking her advice, to read her book, but I bought it second hand online. (I paid five times as much for the postage as I did for the book, and it still came in under 10Euro. If she’d given me more than the stock ‘thanks but no thanks’ letter I might have forked out and bought a new copy.)

It could be a long, slow process toward publication – whether I decide to self-publish or not. I suppose the other thing I’m learning (besides French and to be a better writer) is patience.

Now that’s a fun lesson.