An Interview With Gervase Phinn

Posted on: 16 December 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves

To mark the release of his new book and DVD, 50connect talks to bestselling author Professor Gervase Phinn.

An Interview With Gervase PhinnGervase Phinn has had a number of successful careers.  He has published a series of autobiography, collections of poetry, children’s stories and a number of books about school life. He has a continued role in education, with a particular interest in children's literature and literacy and is hugely popular as a lively and entertaining speaker.

Gervase is currently in the middle of a theatre tour and has recently played to a 1,400 strong crowd at Leeds Grand Theatre which he says was an incredible experience.

So just how did this witty and outspoken Yorkshireman go from being a teacher and later a schools inspector to being one of the UK’s most loved writers?

“I started work as an English teacher in 1970. All the time, I always wanted to be a writer - I dreamt of having a book with a little penguin on the cover! I kept a notebook with me all the time - my tutor at university had advised me to always carry a book and note down descriptions of all the people and things that you see. I’ve done it since I was 19 and now I have a whole shelf of these jottings and scribbles.

“By 1998, I was a schools inspector in Doncaster and a patron of the Northern ChildLine and I did a talk and met Esther Rantzen there. All I remember of our first meeting were these sparkling eyes and big smile.  She invited me on to her show to talk - her producer was against it but she insisted. I was on the show three times and got a great reaction from the public.” 

Esther describes Gervase as “…a real star with a unique understanding and love of children, and a wonderful gift for storytelling”

Shortly after his appearance on the Esther Rantzen Show, Gervase got the letter he’d dreamt of for so long. It was from James Herriot's editor at Penguin.

“I met the editor at the Dorchester Hotel in London. There’s me a Yorkshire lad, never been to such a place. £17 for a cup of tea! It was surreal; there I was sitting in this plush hotel beside James Herriot."

"I’d sent Penguin some of my work and the editor just loved it and she gave me a contract there and then. After that, all my books were all successful. I’ve written 49 books now, with five bestsellers and more coming out in 2009.”

Gervase is the first to admit that that’s a formidable output for any writer, especially one who spends so much time touring, as well as his charity work and continued support of education; he is visiting Professor of Education at Teeside University and the President of the School Library Association.

“I’ll admit I’m a workaholic. I don’t watch TV and I get up very early in the morning and can get a few hours’ work done before 9 o’clock.”

And outside of all that work, he’s just about as happy as any one man can be.

“It’s a great life. I’ve got four grown up children who were all no bother when they were growing up, all did well academically and they live all over the world now - one in Bermuda, one in China, one in Japan and one in Geneva.

"I’ve been married to the same wonderful woman for 35 years. I get invited to do some lovely things and give a lot of time to charity. I have a wonderful, wonderful life. I’m a very lucky man.”

In the short-term, Gervase is looking forward to Christmas with his family. It sounds like a massive Christmas do; children, grandchildren, brothers, sisters, parents - the lot.

And, as if that isn’t fabulous enough, Gervase starts a round of talks on cruise ships in January, so when the UK is frozen, He’ll be somewhere in the Caribbean - something he quite naturally enjoys immensely.

“There was one amazing time when I was on a ship in the Panama Canal, sitting on deck with a gin and tonic and a good book in the sunshine and these wonderful pale blue butterflies came and settled on me. A lady was walking past this blissful scene and joked, ‘Well Mr Phinn, I bet you miss school inspecting in Yorkshire now!’”

He’s right, you know, he is a very lucky man indeed!

By Emily Bird

Gervase's latest DVD, A School Inspector Calls is available in all DVD and video shops or online at Amazon for £11.98.

His new book, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is also now available from all good book shops or online at Amazon for £7.

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