Open Eye: Opening up: `I thought: I'm not so dim, after all'

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The Independent Online
Raised in a strict Christian sect that frowned on contact even with other Christians, Marion Field couldn't see a way to fulfil her early ambitions to travel, to act and to write.

After cutting herself off from the sect she achieved all three dreams and a successful teaching career - thanks to her own determination and a little help from an OU degree. In her fifties she launched herself on a second career as a writer...

What was your family background?

I came from a very close family. My sister and I were brought up as members of the Exclusive Brethren - a branch of the Plymouth Brethren, but even more strict. They have a great thing about separation from the world - we were not allowed to go out to dances, go to the theatre, or to wear make-up.

And we had to have long hair, and keep it covered. Fortunately my parents were a little more liberal than some of the Brethren - I was allowed to play cricket and tennis, which I loved. But I sometimes got into trouble when I was seen playing on the `world's tennis courts'.

How were your school years?

I failed my eleven-plus twice, and went to a private school. I wanted to go to university to study arts, but in the 50s you needed Latin and because I hadn't done it at school, I couldn't.

What was your earliest ambition?

I wanted to travel, I wanted to act, and I wanted to write. Probably to write most of all. I also loved sports.

What was your first job?

If you couldn't go to university, the only options for a girl in those days seemed to be nursing, working in an office, or teaching. So I went to teacher training college. It wasn't such a bad thing as I turned out to be a quite good teacher. My first job was teaching PE in a school in Winchester.

What made you start studying with the OU?

My parents and I left the Exclusive Brethren in the early 60s, because we felt the new leader was introducing some dubious practices not in the Bible. My sister stayed in for a further ten years, which was very traumatic because during that time she couldn't have anything to do with other Christians, even members of her own family. I travelled, as a teacher in Canada, and then to a girls' school in Uganda, where I also produced plays. I wrote my first published article - about going to a football match in Canada - in 1966. Coming back to England after six years abroad was difficult. I needed qualifications to get promotion - all the other staff at my school wore academic gowns. The OU seemed tailor-made. I graduated at Alexandra Palace in 1973. Then I went on to do an Honours degree.

What difference has the OU made?

All through my life I felt a failure - until I got an Upper Second with the OU. Then I thought `I'm not so dim after all'. And it did help my career - I got promoted to head of English.

What's your current job involve, and how did you get it?

I'm self-employed as a writer and private teacher. I also act with the Horsell Amateur Dramatics Society, and do my own one-woman show with songs, poems and monologues, in senior citizens clubs, hospitals, day centres, residential clubs - anywhere I'm asked.

I took early retirement in 1989, aged 53, to concentrate on my writing. I got a Business Enterprise allowance, and did the private teaching to make sure I earned some income. I self-published my autobiography Don't Call Me Sister! in 1993, and sold all the copies.

My first book published by a `real' publisher was Shut Up Sarah in 1996 - followed by a biography of John Wesley's mother Susanna this year. I was delighted when Don't Call Me Sister! was reprinted by Highland Books in 1997. I've had two other books published in the How to.... series. I've also done a teaching diploma and an acting diploma with the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The variety - I'm glad I'm not just writing all the time.

..and least?

I can't think of anything.

Would you do more OU study?

I would love to have gone on to do a Masters if the OU had done one at the time I finished my first degree, but now I don't think I have time to do it and write.

What are your goals for the future?

I'd like to have a novel published. I have an idea for one, but don't want to say any more about it at this stage.

To what do you attribute your success?

I do ask God to help me and I when I've been through really bad times, I believe He has. Leaving the Brethren hasn't affected my faith. My parents were always very encouraging, particularly my father. And I have worked hard - it hasn't all just fallen into my lap.

Shut Up Sarah, Don't Call Me Sister and Marion's latest book Susanna Wesley: A Radical in the Rectory are published by Highland Books 01483 424388.

Her How To... Books are Improving Your Written English and Researching For Writers.