Bernard Beckett is one of those rare teachers who can turn a dry mathematics lesson into an entertaining drama class and an economics lecture into an engrossing session on philosophy and mathematics. He is a writer of fiction for young adults and his work includes novels and plays. He has published ten books, and won many awards including the 2010 Prix Sorcieres for his book Genesis, which was the result of a Royal Society teaching fellowship and a year spent at The Allan Wilson Centre examining the field of molecular biology and DNA mutations.
What’s happening in your world for 2013?
I'm back in full time paid work for the first time since my sons (now three and a half) were born. Which is, by comparison, really quite relaxing. Teaching Drama at Hutt Valley High, and loving it. I've just finished the third draft of a screenplay based on my novel, August, and am probably a month or so off having my new novel, Lullaby, completed.
Describe the most generous person you know and how they influence you.
I'd nominate a group of people, rather than an individual example, and that group is parents. Having spent a good deal of the last few years in places where parents congregate (parks, swimming pools, kindy gym) I have a certain awe for the way these people (mostly mothers, but fathers too, grandparents, aunties...) operate. It's the most demanding type of work I know, frequently tedious, always emotional, and oh so relentless. And yet people get on and do it, with that instinctive sense of commitment and generosity that ultimately allowed us to be where we are. In terms of influence, to see this buoys me, because it reminds me that so many of our deepest instincts are generous and noble.
Tell us three things that inspire you and why.
1. Teenagers. I love their energy, their sense of possibility, their innate curiosity.
2. Great communicators. People who have the knack of taking the most complex idea and leading you through it, careful step at a time. Those who give us all the chance to feel much smarter than we ever thought we could be.
2. The ocean. I love being near the water. Which is lucky, given I live in a country that's little more than a scribble of coastline.
Name an everyday action that makes the world a better place, yet is underrated.
The act of resisting the urge to make all value relative. Our society is tremendously good at encouraging us to believe good and better are synonyms. Schools are shocking in this regard, seeking ever more imaginative ways to sort the putative successes from the failures. We delight in celebrating what we consider to be our very best, and lament our Tall Poppy Syndrome (which in fact is one of our most valuable cultural traits). How we look, what we earn, where we live, what we produce; we are tricked into believing that to be good, they must compare favourably to the norm. And that's nuts, for two reasons. First, no matter how high you fly, someone will always soar above you, so to compare is to guarantee failure. Second, and more important, none of the good things in life involve beating somebody else. Watching a great movie is not great because you are somehow viewing it better than the other people in the theatre. Nor is a great meal made so by the superior capacity of your taste buds. The parties, the holidays, the beaches, the conversations, the ideas, the novels, the lovers, the days goofing around with your children; none of the things that make life worth living derive their value from our ability to be better at them than other people. So there's the action. Refuse to measure, refuse to be measured. Easier said than done, but well worth the effort.