Hit and run victim and teacher Paul Read used time off to write a novel

Paul Read

Paul Read - Credit: Archant

When Paul Read was knocked down in a hit and run accident outside Hornsey Station, he was forced to take six months off work.

The Art Teacher

The Art Teacher - Credit: Archant

When Paul Read was knocked down in a hit and run accident outside Hornsey Station, he was forced to take six months off work.

But he turned a grim experience into a positive by using the downtime to write his debut novel.

Set in a sink school, The Art Teacher (Legend Press) is emphatically not based on Alexandra Park School where Read taught art for eight years.

But the gritty, compelling tale of a fallible teacher intimidated by his students and drawn into gang warfare owes much to his observation of North London’s teachers and teens.

“It’s entirely fictional, Alexandra Park is an outstanding school, while the school in the book is in special measures. It’s more based on a time I spent supply teaching and one school in particular,” he says.

“Alexandra Park gets a lot right because its management are committed and give the staff a lot of support, they’re are all very dedicated and singing form the same hymn sheet. But some schools battle a lack of funding and lack of interest from pupils, parents and even teachers.”

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When ex rock musician and art teacher Patrick Owen has a run-in with a tough pupil, his life starts to spiral out of control. Feeling threatened by the kids on the local estate, he gets involved with the mother of one pupil and implicated in the murder of another.

“He is a man out of his depth fighting a losing battle because he really can’t interest these children and they don’t want to be interested,” says Read.

“Against his better judgement he becomes involved in a local gang and it snowballs quickly. Pushed too far he makes a series of catastrophic choices through desperation and fear”.

Read had been expecting to write a literary novel and it was a surprise even to himself that it turned out a taut, dark, crime thriller.

“I started with the characters and setting and they had other ideas. That’s what the book wanted to be and I went with it. Even the twists at the end I didn’t see coming.”

Patrick’s exhausting daily battle with a flawed social and education system is very current in contemporary London.

“But whatever school you are in it’s a stressful job,” says Read. “You are under pressure to prepare Ofsted proof lessons which can suck the originality out of teaching.”

Read was on Tottenham Lane on a dark February day, when he was knocked down, breaking five bones in his legs.

“I don’t remember much of the accident because I was in shock but I was only 25 foot from my front door. The driver swung round the corner with no lights on and didn’t stop. I was in hospital for a week and a half then in a wheelchair for two months,” he says.

“At the time it felt stressful, but I found a purpose in the time off, writing the first draft. And I got to see my son’s first steps and hear his first words. I became grateful for the time off – it was harder for my girlfriend because she basically had two children in the house.”

Now living in Italy where he teaches English, Read has written a second novel, and used The Art Teacher’s dedication page to propose to his girlfriend asking: Mi vuoi sposare? (Will you marry me?)

“When I presented it to her, she picked it up and seemed to start from the back page in slow motion until she finally got to the front, read it and said: ‘what the hell is this?’”

“Then she said ‘OK.’”

Read may have turned around a bad situation, but he still regrets the accident.

“Especially when I try to run and find my right leg doesn’t respond. I’ve now got metal pins from knee to ankle that set off security alarms.”