CamdenNewJournal

The independent London newspaper

Former Acland Burghley head’s novel view of life when school gates shut

“I wanted to see if I could write fiction. I had always thought: how do people do this?”

24 January, 2019 — By Dan Carrier

THE blurb on the back cover paints a picture of a successful headteacher with a dark secret, the protagonist of a psychological thriller that will “…make you wonder what goes on behind those facades once the school gates close…”

The author is Michael Shew, who says his first novel has drawn on experiences while head of Acland Burghley in Tufnell Park between 2002 and 2010.

But this week he assured current and former staff that they can sleep easy in their beds – as the work is pure fiction.

Mr Shew, who has retired and lives in Kentish Town, said: “I wanted to see if I could write fiction. I had always thought: how do people do this?”

He admitted that after an early draft he had to go back to school to learn the tricks of the writing trade.

“I read it over and realised it was absolutely awful,” he said. “I didn’t have a clue and I needed to do a course to help me.”

He enrolled at Kellogg College in Oxford, which runs a creative writing course, and the result is a secondary-school drama.

He added: “I came away thinking: should I do another course or just plunge in? By then, I had come up with a possible idea.

“They say write about what you know for your first novel. The more you base it in a world you recognise, the more it feels to be true.”

Lessons In Lying features “….Robert Mason, a successful headteacher with an outwardly happy marriage and a national profile… whose achievements are threatened when a co- conspirator from his past threatens to reveal the truth behind a serious incident on a school camp.”

Thankfully for ex- colleagues and pupils, Mr Shew, who worked for the Town Hall’s education department after leaving Acland Burghley, stresses the tale definitely does not feature the school.

“I did not draw on characters from such recent experiences because that could be unfair –but I did draw on incidents overall from my teaching career,” he said. “All of life was there.”

Lessons in Lying: an excerpt

HE saw the note on his sleeping bag as soon as he unzipped the tent flysheet and sat on the grass to read it.

“Hardly spoken to you since we got here. Come over to my tent for a chat when the kids are in their tents? Sue x.”

Sue had begun to irritate him with her unsubtle demands for his attention. It was as if she thought their casual fling four weeks ago meant he owed her something.

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