Former shy and struggling Milton Keynes schoolboy thanks teacher who gave him confidence to become a published author

His book has already won praise from best seller writer Patricia Cornwell

Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 3:16 pm
Updated Tuesday, 28th September 2021, 3:20 pm

A man who was shy and lonely as a schoolboy has given heartfelt thanks to the teacher that gave him confidence to become a journalist and author.

Andy West grew up in Newport Pagnell and went to Portfields primary school in the late 80s and early 90s.

"I was a very shy boy at school and struggled to make friends. I couldn't tell the time, even at that age, and struggled with my spelling," he said.

Andy West today

"I didn't have much confidence in anything really and spent my playtime collecting snails under the bushes behind the legendary Portfields School mound, giving them names and making up snail-related romances and tragedies.

"When I was lonely at night, I would read book after book, escaping to somewhere happy with Enid Blyton or Roald Dahl."

Then, one day in 1992, Andy's "kindly but formidable" teacher Joy Maher said something that was to change the rest of his life.

"Mrs Maher asked me to read my short story in front of the class. I was so nervous but as soon as I started to read, I felt this feeling of complete happiness and pride. It was a story about Howard Carter discovering Tutankhamun's tomb.

Portfields Primary School today

"Afterwards Mrs Maher gave me a cuddle and said my use of the word 'glittering' was very grown up. I had never felt so happy, and at that moment I knew writing was my life's ambition."

Andy graduated to Ousedale School before going to university and finally moving to London and Belfast to work journalist and BBC newsreader.

In 2016 he shot briefly to media fame when he took part in Big Brother and came in 4th place in the finale.

He said: "I followed a career as a TV journalist, but I always had this feeling deep down that I was neglecting the one thing that made me feel complete - writing a book," he said.

Andy's book comes out next month

"It all goes back to that day at Portfields School in Newport Pagnell, with the smell of bleach and sandwiches, when a teacher told me I was good at something. It made me believe in myself."

Next month, on October 7, Andy is proudly launching his debut historical novel, The Spirit Engineer.

Perfect for Halloween, it retells the true story of an Edwardian spiritualist investigator who set out to prove the existence of the afterlife - only to die in very mysterious circumstances.

Already the book has gathered endorsements from household names such as Derren Brown, actress Jodie Whittaker and international bestselling author, Patricia Cornwell.

"To have support from such talent is amazing and it's looking like the book is set to be quite a hit, selling across the UK in Waterstones and Amazon of course, as well as local booksellers," said Andy.

Guest of honour at the book launch will be Andy's former teacher, Mrs Maher.

"She encouraged me to write and now, so many years later, my dream is coming true," he said.

"It must be difficult for teachers to appreciate the differences they make to people's lives; the small, everyday moments that change a child's future.

"That's what my school did for me. When I visit family, I often walk from our old home on Burns Close, across Dove Park and look at the bushes where I used to hide and think about the kid I used to be."

You can find out more about Andy's novel on his website