Passed/Failed: Brian Jacques

An Education in the Life of Brian Jacques, Author of the Redwall Animal Epic Novels. `The Legend of Luke' Is Out This Month.
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The Independent Online
Primary colours: I went to St John's Roman Catholic School at five. I can remember my first day. Sister Mary opened a cupboard and brought out a huge cane: "This is for naughty children." When the nuns hit you, their rosary beads used to rattle.

Eleven plus: Boys in our school did not get the 11-plus - only three kids, I think, in our year. We were pushed in at the deep end: given a 12in wooden ruler, two pencils and a tuppenny return ticket to take the exam at St Francis Xavier College, the grammar school. Kids at our school had a healthy desire not to go to college because, if you walked in our neighbourhood in college cap, blazer and striped tie, kids from Liverpool's tenements would scrag you.

Secondary characteristics: The Big Boyses had a playground on the roof. There was nothing in the school except classrooms: no library, no gymnasium. They used to march us in twos to Stanley Park to play football - with the girls hooting and screaming at 15-year-old boys holding hands. At assembly, miscreants were flogged, usually for stealing sugar. We were close to the Tate & Lyle factory. One boy a year was killed by jumping on the sugar lorries. You had to do it: you weren't one of the boys if you didn't.

Nature notes: Sometimes well-meaning teachers did Nature Studies: a "nature table" with an acorn on it. In fact, the countryside was nowhere near; the docks and the tannery were closer. But on the five or six "holy days" a year we would gather after Mass at the back of the tenements to go to the big pinewoods up the coast.

Puppetmaster: There were a couple of special teachers. Mr Cunningham was a dapper man in a suit and waistcoat who loved reading The Last of the Mohicans to us. He used to make plasticine puppets with us. He had a Punch-and-Judy tent with a little stage, and when I was 12 we went round the schools - including non-Catholic schools! - performing a little play he had written about a dragon and a princess. I made a beautiful dragon head and I was the dragon.

My war hero: Mr Austin Thomas was the last teacher I had before I left school at 15. Every boy in the school admired him. I think that in the War he had been something to do with commandos and long-range desert groups. When he started the lesson, we would ask: "Sir, would that be anything to do with Alexandria?" "Alexandria, yes, and Tobruk," and he would keep us going with his tales.

After school: At 15 I went straight into tugs and dredgers... the romance of the sea. The other day I went to Liverpool College, a private school in the leafy sector; it was like the Elysian Fields: speech day, a big marquee... I wish I'd gone there. I was opening the library and I got my name on a big brass plate - I made it somewhere!

Interview by Jonathan Sale

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