About the AuthorOLD
Leonie Martin is a freelance writer with a special interest in local history, community and health issues. She was formerly Bursar at Mary’s Catholic High School and is now a published author of fiction and non-fiction works. She writes occasional articles for regional and national publications, including Reflections Magazine. Leonie has two adult children who both attended St Mary’s.
In preparation for the release of a book celebrating the 150th anniversary of our St Mary’s Catholic High School, Sarah Garland (SG), a member of the 150th anniversary comms team, interviewed the author Leonie Martin (LM) on her connection with the school, how and why she wrote the book, and on some of her ‘memorable moments’.
SG: Lovely to talk with you, Leonie. What inspired you to write the book?
LM: I used to work at St.Mary’s. Both my children went to St. Mary’s and I am also a parishioner at The Annunciation. I went to a school in Sheffield, but I’ve lived in Chesterfield for 26 years. I am also a writer with a special interest in history: local history and the people. I write people features for a local magazine called Reflections; I am very interested in what you call ‘human interest stories’.
I began the book after interviewing the current headteacher of the school, Mr McClafferty, for a feature regarding the school’s connection with the Burkina Faso school in Africa. He mentioned that the school’s 150th anniversary was coming up and that it would be really nice to have a book to celebrate. And that’s how I came to write it!
SG: How interesting was the production of the book?
LM: The school was in possession of the original Victorian log books going back to 1865 – which were fascinating to go through – and I’ve met some inspirational people through interviewing a wide range of past pupils and staff. It’s a celebration of all the people who have helped to shape the school over the past one and a half centuries, through two world wars and the school being on three different sites, and so piecing together this story was extremely interesting.
SG: What was your aim when writing the book?
LM: I didn’t want it to be a boring book; I wanted it to be illustrated with lots of captions so that people can dip in and out of it. It’s a coffee table book rather than a dry textbook. On each double page spread there is at least one illustration to break up the text and keep the reader interested.
SG: Did anything surprise you during your research?
LM: What I hadn’t anticipated was how difficult it would be to source images for the first part of the school’s history. There weren’t many photographs in Victorian times unless you were very wealthy and at that time St. Mary’s was the poorest school in Chesterfield. Many of the kids that went there didn’t even have shoes on their feet.
SG: Do you have a favourite story or an interesting character that you can tell us about from the book?
LM: Yes, I do, and I had to stop myself from going off on a tangent and getting side-tracked with learning all about this particular person. It is the school’s very first head-teacher, Michael Conway, who made the very first entry in the log book in 1865.
SG: Why should people buy the book?
LM: The book will appeal to a wide audience, not only past and present pupils. It’s not just about the Catholic education in Chesterfield; it’s also a social history. From the logbooks and other original sources, we have been bequeathed a ‘behind the scenes’ glimpse of our community through the decades. It’s a really inspiring story! The school started off with children who had nothing – no shoes on their feet and rags on their back – and they had to pay a penny to be educated. Like all good stories the history of the school has its ups and downs. In the middle in the 1960s it was considered to be the worst school in Chesterfield.
What’s more, any proceeds from the book are going to be donated to Ashgate hospice and the Burkina Faso school. Another brilliant reason to buy the book!
SG: In a nutshell, how would you describe the book?
LM: It’s mainly written through the viewpoints of each of the head teachers. It’s the story of a school that began with nothing and has weathered the storms over the decades, through its commitment and faith to founding principles, to become what it is today.