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Sunday, 23 November 2014

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Writer, TV director, educator - Jean is a woman of talents

Jean Briggs may well be one of Maryport’s best kept secrets.

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A GOOD READ: Maryport author Jean Briggs with her latest book, Island in the Mist

How many people know that living on The Beeches is a woman who pioneered TV in schools, has written several books including one that sold more than 40,000 copies, worked with gifted children and ended her illustrious career as a senior inspector in education?

Jean did all that and more, and now she has just finished her second historical novel, called Island in the Mist.

It is set in the Roman fort in Maryport and tells the tale of Flavius, the son of a wealthy Roman family, who is given command of the fort.

It tells how he brings his wife and children with him, but his wife is not taken with the cold isolation of one of Rome’s furthest outposts and returns home.

The book gives a fascinating insight into Roman customs and lives with the added drama of a love affair between Flavius and Elphin, a Celtic maiden from the Isle of Man.

It is 40 years since Jean wrote her first historic novel – a story about Lucrezia Borgia.

She says: “The title was Flame of the Borgias – not my title I might add.

“I loved Venice and came across the story of a Venetian writer who had fallen in love with Lucrezia who was really quite a simple, sad girl.”

The book did well and the publisher Collins tried to persuade Jean to write more.

She adds: “They wanted four books a year and they would pay me a salary, but not even as much as I was getting as an English lecturer.

“When I was working with them they would send cars to take me to fancy restaurants and I got the star treatment.

“When I turned down the contract I was told, very angrily, that books that combined historical politics and a love story would never sell!”

In the meantime, though, Jean had been busy writing educational books, children’s books and, of special interest, books on dealing with gifted children.

She was making her name in a completely different medium, however.

She says: “I was at Brentwood College of Education, which became the first educational institute in the country to use TV to educate.

“For no other reason than that the television was in the room next to my office, I was often asked to look after it and eventually took it over altogether.”

The college moved into production of programmes for use in the school only and Jean’s early use of drama, science and historical programmes as an educational tool was groundbreaking. She became adept at everything from lighting to make-up.

She recalls: “Both the BBC and ITV helped, running courses for us. I suppose that in the end, with everything we had learned from the experts, I was directing programmes – and just because I was in the office next door!"

One of her other great interests was working with gifted children.

She says: “It seemed that children who were not achieving got a lot of attention while gifted children were being ignored.”

She co-wrote a book on gifted children andabout how, despite their abilities, they’re still children underneath.

Jean, who completed a masters degree in medieval English poetry, came to Maryport 12 years ago, lured by a desire to live by the sea.

She adds: “I always thought people who could see the sea every day were so special.

“I used to come up here to go sailing. I was walking around the area one day and saw this house – so I came and stayed. I miss London and Liberty and the British Library but I do enjoy it here.”

She does not tell her age – not because she is coy but she will not be judged by it.

She laughs: “Once you are over 70, and especially if you have a problem walking as I do now, people treat you differently so I don’t talk about my age.”

All profits from Jean’s book, Island in the Mist, will go to Maryport’s Senhouse Roman Museum.

It is available from the Hadrian’s Wall website – www.hadrianswallshop.co.uk – Senhouse Roman Museum and Maryport Post Office.

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