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Peter Farrell: New Zealand Writer


There are some strong characters in The Lie That Settles.

These four adults probably had more influence than most over how the story unfolds. Any one of them could have the subject of a book of their own.

The challenge for me as the writer was to treat each one with sensitivity, respect and objectivity , bearing in mind I had only met two of them.       

My mother Marion was one of 13 children born in the East End of London. She worked in a munition's factory and in the Women's Land Army whilst still a teenager during the First World War. She later qualified for her SRN at the Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum before finding work with Major Faithfull at his odd 'free' school. She was a founding staff member at Red Hill School - another 'free' school run by Otto Shaw where she stayed for the rest of her life.

Major Faithfull was described by his granddaughter, singer Marianne Faithfull, "as the most dirty old man you could imagine".

Faithfull was a contemporary of A.S.Neill (Summerhill) and Otto Shaw.

Marion met Morris Horovitch when they were working together at Hazeleigh Lodge run by Major Faithfull. They later worked together at Red Hill School in Kent, prior to my birth in 1940.

Otto Shaw was the Principal at Red Hill School, an experimental school which took highly intelligent 'maladjusted' children who could not be placed elsewhere. He appointed Marion as Matron when he set the school up in the 1930s. She remained there for the rest of her life.

He was a charismatic man with a manipulative side to him. He influenced many lives including mine, my mother's and, possibly, my father's.

I don't remember how the end of the War was celebrated but I do remember Shaw standing, unsuccessfully, as the Labour candidate for Maidstone in 1945. It is difficult to see how he could have combined being an MP with running a school like Red Hill which relied so much upon his leadership.

Red Hill School tolerated all manner of eccentric behaviours in its staff and its pupils. For me, my mother's room next to the bed wetter's dorm and my own bedroom which I shared with two of the older boys was home during my early years and the grounds of Red Hill were my playground. I became obsessed with football as only a nine year old can. This drawing was done by an itinerant teacher - one of a number who passed through the school at the time.

I was later to find that being good at sport and a smart mouth were invaluable tools for survival in most institutions.