This is a first for my Interview with… series, in two respects. It’s my first time interviewing a non-fiction author, and my first time interviewing someone I know in real life. Rachel and I went to school together. Her book Behaviour Barriers and Beyond aims to help educators effectively support children with a range of Social, Emotional and Mental Health (SEMH) needs and Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (SEND).
Rachel qualified as a teacher at Bath College of Higher Education (now Bath Spa University) in 1996. Since then she has taught in both mainstream and specialist settings, in the UK and Malaysia. She has taught from Nursery to Key Stage 3 and has also taught children with English as an Additional Language.
Rachel is currently the Outreach Lead in an outstanding, attachment-aware specialist provision for pupils with SEMH needs. She works with staff in local mainstream schools, from early years to Key Stage 4, specialising in providing training, advice and guidance from whole school level through to planning for individual pupils in order to provide support for the effective inclusion of pupils with SEMH needs in school.
She is also a Specialist Leader in Education for Behaviour and Special Educational Needs, working with school leaders to develop inclusive practices and remove barriers to learning to help children to flourish.
Rachel lives in Dorset, UK, with her husband, two children and her little dog Milo and loves going for walks in the countryside and at the beach.
Welcome to the Fountain Pen, Rachel, tell us a little bit more about yourself.
I live in Dorset with my husband Paul, two fabulous daughters and a little dog. I love travelling and exploring the world, both near and far. I am an avid reader and belong to a lovely little book club. I love good food, good wine and socialising with friends.
Pre-children, I over-came a fear of putting my face in the water and developed a love of Scuba diving, becoming a Padi rescue diver – a hobby that I may be brave enough to dip into again in the future. Since the pandemic, we have taken up paddle boarding, as a family. I am by far the most nervous and wobbly one but will persevere.
Having taught for over 25 years, my current job as an Outreach teacher is to go into local mainstream schools to ensure staff have the skills and knowledge to put effective strategies into place to support pupils experiencing difficulties regulating their behaviour and with social, emotional and mental health needs to be successful and thrive in school.
Part of my role is delivering training. It still amazes me that I can actually stand up in front of adult audiences, since most of my childhood was spent being painfully shy and in my late teens my social anxiety rendered me situationally mute (more about this in the personal case study in the Anxiety chapter of my book).
How did come to write Behaviour Barriers and Beyond? Was writing always something you wanted to do?
Writing a book has always been a dream – one which I never envisaged would come true.
Through work, I write a lot of advice for school staff and I thought it might be useful to put my ideas down, in book form, all in one place, so busy school staff can pick it up and find easy-to-implement strategies quickly. During lockdown, with a couple of cancelled holidays and a bit more time on my hands, I thought to myself, OK, let’s try this…
How did you approach the project?
I knew I wanted to write about those key areas I am most often asked to advise on, including behaviour as communication, self-regulation as well as more specific areas such as autism, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), trauma, Tic Disorders to name but a few.
I wanted a consistent, accessible model throughout. I knew I wanted case studies for each chapter and for the focus to be on pupils’ strengths, positives and easy to implement advice, with each chapter concluding with a printable checklist as a quick reminder. I think I tried to write it as the book I would have most wanted to turn to for advice as a busy classroom teacher trying to support a range of needs within the classroom.
I then dived in and wrote random chapters at a time, starting with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and, strangely, wrote the first two, more general chapters (Behaviour is communication and Self-regulation), last.
Was the writing process how you imagined it would be? What were the best parts?
I don’t know how I ever imagined it would be, as writing a book had always seemed like a fairy tale or pipe dream. I don’t think I was prepared for how obsessed I would become – I think it was all I thought about and talked about for a year.
What I hadn’t imagined was the immense amount of re-reading, editing and re-writing that went with it. Each time I tried to proof-read a chapter, I ended up re-writing huge chunks, then had to start the proof-reading all over again. It felt like a process which could actually go on forever if I wasn’t careful.
However, I absolutely loved the process and loved writing the book. The best parts… oh gosh, there were so many… definitely that moment when Routledge said ‘yep, go on then’ (or words to that effect), all the learning and research along the way, the sense of accomplishment as each chapter was finished (even if just to be re-written to within an inch of its life) and definitely when Pooky Knightsmith, a professional I have admired for a long time, agreed to write the foreword – and what an amazing one it is! And obviously, seeing it as a real life, actual book, on my bookshelf – eek!
As a fiction writer, I have a certain pen I like to draft write with, specific colours to edit with, a favourite radio station to listen to etc. Did you have anything like that to help you get in the mood to write?
I mainly typed it, using a lot of red as a signal to come back to something later. I was surrounded by books and journals. I couldn’t listen to music or the radio, I needed absolute silence.
A surprise writing mascot came in the form of my little dog Milo, who we were lucky enough to re-home half way through the writing process. He would sit on my lap for hours, so much of the book was typed at an uncomfortable angle and one-handed, but I loved and appreciated the company and he was fabulous therapy if I was feeling stressed.
What would be your top tips for people thinking about writing non-fiction?
- Go on do it!
- Be clear who your audience is and what you want to achieve.
- Stick to a consistent structure.
- For me, the key thing was time – time to research, time to write (and re-write) and time to edit. I hate the feeling of being under time pressure and knew that would make me stressed, so I was really strict with myself and set my own target way ahead of the publisher’s deadline.
- Enjoy it! Choose a subject that you are interested in and passionate about so that all the research becomes a joy to explore. This passion will then be reflected in your end product.
Has life changed for you since writing the book?
Erm no, not at all. Although, a few weeks ago, I was in a school talking to a member of staff; I had just signed her copy of my book, so it was sitting on the table between us. A visitor walked in the room declaring ‘I have that book in my bag to read’, the member of staff replied ‘Oh, meet the author’ and introduced me. I signed her copy from her bag and felt like a mini-celeb for half a minute – had a massive smile on my face for the rest of the day!
Actually, it has, perhaps, changed a bit. I have done a couple of podcasts, have interacted with several interesting and fabulous people on social media and I think I actually feel a bit more confident in myself and in what I know and what I do.
How cool to meet one of your readers in such a random way! Is there another book in you – either on this subject or something else?
I would love to write another educational text – there is always so much more to learn and discover.
I actually started a fiction book at about the same time, but that got abandoned in the excitement of publishing this book. In the past I have started a play and another fiction book, but never had the creativity or courage to pursue them. Perhaps in time I may be brave enough…
They both sound like great goals! Thanks for chatting with me today and good luck.