As most of you know, I used to work in education and a very long time ago I was a secondary English teacher. Consequently, when Fran Hill got in touch about her latest book Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? I simply had to invite her onto the Linda’s Book Bag to tell me all about it. Luckily Fran agreed to stay in with me.
Staying in with Fran Hill
Hi Fran. Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag and thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
It is my pleasure, Linda. Thank you so much for inviting me. Anyway, as we’ve discovered lately, staying in is the new going out!
It certainly is! As we’re in together this evening, which of your books have you brought along to share and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought my new book Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?, published by SPCK Publishing on 21 May. It’s the first book I’ve had traditionally published.
My debut Being Miss was self-published. I did have interest from publishers but it was too short, being only a novella, and would have slid down the back of Waterstones bookshelves unnoticed, so I didn’t get a deal for that one. It’s had great reviews, though, and is still out there.
It is and is available here!
What can we expect from an evening in with Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean??
I suppose if my book were a dinner guest, talking about her experiences at school, you could expect plenty of laughs at the way children – and teachers – can misbehave, and the messes they get into. But then, perhaps just after the starter, you’d start realising there was a serious side to your guest as she starts opening up about her childhood and the troubles which shaped her adult perceptions, behaviours, and attitudes to her profession. There’d still be laughs along the way, but you’d begin to see another, darker thread emerging in her conversation. Much wine would be drunk, no doubt.
That sounds brilliant.
Reviewers have commented on the book’s combination of LOL moments with a moving, gradually developing back story and they’ve loved that.
I think Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? sounds perfect for me to read Fran.
What else have you brought along and why?
Okay, so I’ve brought along a bathroom mirror. In the book, it features as a character, and its name is Mirror, which I thought astoundingly original of me.
It is. No-one has brought one along before. Why a bathroom mirror?
Sylvia Plath wrote a poem called Mirror which I think both funny and tragic and I never tire of it. I’ve used it to teach children that writing about inanimate objects can give you insights into yourself. Inanimate objects have thoughts, personalities, angst and attitudes, just as humans can, and they often get the raw end of the deal. Have you ever wondered how your fridge feels when you leave a leaking, mouldy cucumber in it? Or how your mobile phone feels about you only using a tenth of its capacities? Or how a teddy bear feels when no one sews up its torn clothing?
Erm. No. I haven’t. But I will now!
In Mirror, Plath describes how the mirror feels because a woman never stops complaining about the way it reflects her. I’m only doing my job, the mirror says, and it feels aggrieved. Its owner is so unreasonable and her expectations ridiculous. The poem ends, brilliantly and dramatically, ‘In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman/Rises towards her, day after day, like a terrible fish.’
In my book, which I’m beginning to call Incomprehensible because, honestly, who has the TIME, the character Mirror represents my worries about ageing although I’m not quite at ‘terrible fish’ stage. Yet.
Spending day after day in front of fresh-faced youngsters takes confidence. Mirror is joined by Bathroom Scales in the book and their reactions to me are not exactly sympathetic.
Oh I know exactly how those to inanimate objects behave Fran!
I’ve also brought you some cake. Cake features a lot in school staffrooms and comes to represent kindness in the book – one of the characters is always feeding others and it’s a kind of camaraderie or solidarity. As you can guess, the frequent cake-eating and Mirror are also connected.
I bet! I think Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean? sounds such a good read Fran and I wish you every success with it. Thanks for staying in with me. You cut the cake and I’ll give blog readers the details they need:
Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?
A funny, life-affirming memoir, in diary form. Set in the manic world of a busy teacher, and based on real experiences, Fran Hill’s account of one typical year shows it’s not just the pupils who misbehave.
English teacher ‘Miss’ starts the Autumn term beleaguered by self-doubts. She’s mid-menopause, insomniac, and Mirror and Bathroom Scales are blisteringly unsympathetic. Her pupils make her laugh, weep, fume and despair, often in the same lesson. Her unremitting workload blights family time and she feels guilty for missing church events to catch up on marking. After all, God-lady is watching.
Meanwhile, the new Head of Department seems unreachable, an Ofsted inspection looms, her sixth formers (against school policy) insist on sitting in rows, and there’s a school magazine to produce …
When childhood secrets demand attention Miss doesn’t want to give them, life gets complicated.
About Fran Hill
Fran Hill is a writer, blogger and English tutor from Warwickshire, England. She has written and published many stories, poems and articles over the past 20 years and was selected for the 2016-17 prestigious Writing West Midlands emerging writers’ development programme. She sometimes performs her work on stage and, more recently, since public stages became not so popular, on Facebook Live.