Ann Darnton has lived in and around Birmingham all her life and is very proud of the fact; Birmingham is a great place to live. She trained as a primary teacher and spent 17 years in Birmingham schools before moving to Newman College of Higher Education where she has worked as Senior Lecturer in English for the past 18 years. She specializes in research into narrative structure, especially as it is found in narratives written by or for children, and much of her current teaching is related to Children's Literature. Ann blogs at Patternings.
Why do you blog? > One wet afternoon, for no reason I can explain, I fed the words 'book blog' into Google and was amazed at what appeared. That was when I realized that there was this tremendous community of readers out there, all having the experience of sharing their thoughts and feelings about what they were reading, and I was missing out; I wanted to be part of that community.
What has been your best blogging experience? > Every time I log on and find that someone has called by and left a message, it feels like the best time, although that is particularly so if it's someone who hasn't dropped by before.
What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > Stick with it and get out there and make friends. Read other people's blogs and leave comments. If you want people to stop by your blog you have to return the favour. It takes time.
What are you reading at the moment? > The trouble with answering this question is that it will be out of date before anyone reads it. On average, I probably get through three books a week. Right this minute, I'm reading King Dork by Frank Portman. When I've finished that, I have Sophie Hannah's Little Face and Jenny Nimmo's Charlie Bone and the Hidden King on the top of the pile.
Who are your cultural heroes? > Peter Hall and Simon Rattle. Peter Hall because he set up the first company-based theatre at Stratford and has taken that concept with him wherever he's worked, and Simon Rattle because he changed the music scene in Birmingham, and even though he's been gone the best part of 10 years now, we still have world class music on a weekly basis as a result.
What is your favourite poem? > I love the work of e e cummings. If I was forced to pick one, it would be the one that begins 'may my heart always be open to little / birds...'
Who is your favourite composer? > It's almost impossible for me to name just one, but I wanted to answer this question to show that even though, for the most part, I blog about books, music is every bit as important to me. If pushed, I would probably say Haydn, who is so optimistic and civilized and was simply light years ahead of his time.
Can you name a work of non-fiction which has had a major and lasting influence on how you think about the world? > Vera Brittain's Testament of Friendship, which is where I first encountered the thinking of Winifred Holtby. Best remembered for her novel South Riding, Holtby was also a tireless worker for the women's movement and for world peace. Most of all she was a realist, she understood the complexities of a situation; she was no black and white absolutist. There is also a book of Brittain and Holtby's collected journalism, Testament of a Generation, that I re-read again and again. Her writings made me think through my own position in relation to these issues and come, I hope, to a more balanced point of view.
If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > I would remove education from central government control. It's far too important to be at the whim of whoever happens to be in power at the time. What we need in all levels of the education system at the moment is a period of stability and not the constant change that leaves everyone so exhausted.
What would you do with the UN? > I feel about this as Holtby did about the League of Nations: it has to work because the alternative doesn't bear thinking about. Would removing it from America help? I don't know? Where would you site it instead?
What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Intolerance.
What would be your most important piece of advice about life? > Never give up on yourself. I see both sides of this, youngsters who believe they are failures and are ready to run away from life, and older students coming back to education in their forties and fifties and making a real success of it. I was 48 when I got my first PhD. That was in language. I'm reckoning on doing a literature one after I retire.
What do you consider the most important personal quality? > Respect for the views of others.
What personal fault do you most dislike? > Aggression, especially when the person concerned then says, 'I'm just being assertive'. There is a difference.
In what circumstances would you be willing to lie? > Like most mothers, mine never stopped worrying about me. In her final years she became almost paranoid about this, and as far as she knew I spent every night of the last five years of her life at home. She would have worried herself stupid if she'd thought I was out after dark.
What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > I regard watching reality TV as a waste of my time, but if others enjoy it then it isn't necessarily a waste of theirs.
What, if anything, do you worry about? > I worry about what is going to happen to education in the future. I see so many people who come into teaching full of enthusiasm only to be burnt out by the paperwork and stress of the job within five or six years. There are far fewer career teachers out there than there used to be and many of those that remain are my age and approaching retirement. It's another aspect of what I said above - schools need stability and that goes for their staffing situation as well.
If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you'd do differently? > I often think about this. I didn't do my first degree until I was in my late twenties and I was 48 by the time I got my PhD. I often think that my career path would have been very different if I'd gone to university straight from school. But then think of all the experience I would have missed out on. And it's that experience that helps me most when working with young teachers. So no, I think that, all things considered, I'd follow pretty much the same path.
Where would you most like to live (other than where you do)? > I love Birmingham. From where I live, in 20 minutes I can be at Symphony Hall for a concert by a world-acclaimed musician or out in the Worcestershire countryside walking over the Clent Hills. And I can afford it. There are other parts of Birmingham where I might choose to live over and above the area where I live now, but other than that, I'm staying put.
What would your ideal holiday be? > I'm not someone who really enjoys holidays, but what I do like doing is finding a comfortable cottage somewhere in the English countryside where I can walk out when the weather's fine and curl up with a book when it isn't, and indulge in my passion for tea and scones whatever the weather.
What do you like doing in your spare time? > Mostly I read, listen to chamber music, walk and spend time with friends. I do also have a weakness for watching re-runs of Star Trek (NG and DS9) and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
What is your most treasured possession? > My Bears. I have a large family of Bears all given to me by very special people. They are my memory bank of some wonderful times and friends, and they are always there when I need them, never disagreeing or complaining. You can't beat a friendly Bear.
If you had to change your first name, what would you change it to? > Harriet. When I was reading Olivia Manning's Balkan Trilogy, I was going through a particularly difficult time, and her character Harriet was a guiding light in how to deal with everything. Later on I 'met' Harriet Vane as well. Definitely women to look up to.
What talent would you most like to have? > I would love to be able to play the piano with more than two fingers at a time. I would also love to be able to sing without everyone in the neighbourhood then using two fingers to stop their ears.
What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > I can't imagine not teaching in some form or another. If you cut me in two you would find the word 'teacher' running through me just as if I were a stick of rock. But if I had to go another way it would be in some form of retail work. I was brought up in a small corner shop and I suppose it's in my blood. I know how to work with the public.
Who is your favourite comedian or humorist? > I find current comedians seriously unfunny. I'm still a Morecombe and Wise fan, and I love Buster Keaton.
Who are your sporting heroes? > Anyone who overcomes adversity and fights back. I always remember the way in which Roger Black came back from horrendous injury to be second to Michael Johnson in the Olympic 400 metres. He was also sensible enough that day to run his own race. If he'd tried to match Johnson at his own game, he'd have been run out of it completely.
Which English Premiership football team do you support? > I support Warwickshire County Cricket Club. There are other things in life than football.
How, if at all, would you change your life were you suddenly to win or inherit an enormously large sum of money? > It would buy me time to do the things I want to do at my pace. The only thing I don't like about the life I live at the moment is that it's always dictated by someone else's agenda and timetable.
What animal would you most like to be? > This has been a subject of discussion between my final-year students and me, because we've been reading Philip Pullman's Northern Lights. In that book the human soul is animated in the form of an animal that expresses an individual's nature. I would definitely like to be a Labrador dog, living with my friend Jenny, and get spoiled rotten; but the students reckon I'm more of a wolf, capable both of being a pack animal and living on my own - and definitely dangerous if aroused.
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