Former Classics teacher Julian Morgan has reflected on his childhood in Yorkshire whilst writing puzzle books based on the great and good of the county. Laura Drysdale reports.
Those households that owned a computer were in a minority when Julian Morgan began experimenting with software in 1984. It was during his teacher training that the Leeds-born publisher and author came across PCs - and, frankly, he thought they were awful.
“I immediately thought ‘that is the enemy’. But then I thought, ‘well if I don’t understand the enemy then I can’t actually win the battle’ and so I started to write programmes.”
It was a decision that shaped his life to come - a master’s degree in educational computing followed three years later and that paved the way to both the development of his own Classics teaching course and the publication of a series of puzzle books.
Since stepping down from classroom teaching in 2016 after more than three decades, much of his attention has been on the latter. He returned to his native Yorkshire, rediscovered his love of the county, and has penned a puzzle collection focusing on all its great and good.
It includes a trio of Yorkshire Puzzles books, featuring crosswords and word-games covering everything from the region’s dialect to cricket, brass bands and beer. His fourth Yorkshire-inspired puzzle book is more specialised - World of James Herriot Puzzles, published in November, is based on the memoirs and TV series written by the famous vet and author Alf Wright - and his fifth, coming soon, will look in detail at the walled city of York.
“The World of James Herriot museum (in Thirsk) sell my books, the Yorkshire puzzle books, and I approached them and asked if they would like to have their own one,” Julian says of the former.
“It was basically because I grew up absolutely loving James Herriot. When I was 12-years-old probably, the first Herriot book came out so I, as a 12, 13, 14-year-old was devouring James Herriot Books. It was really lovely to come back to them and work with them again, extracting data and creating a special puzzle book for the museum out of them.”
Julian, who lives in Duggleby in North Yorkshire, has been taken on a trip down memory lane in producing the puzzle books, capturing memories from his childhood, much of which he spent in Pocklington.
He has also published a collection of 100 poems - Sonnets for Yorkshire Stars - each one celebrating a county hero. The book was inspired by a sonnet Julian wrote as a eulogy for a friend in 2015, encapsulating his life in just 14 lines. A stickler for the “one page rule” he applies to his work - fitting teaching resources, puzzles and poems to one sheet of paper “then no one has to worry about the next page” - he has done the same with the stories of Yorkshire’s best, such as artist Barbara Hepworth, philanthropist Joseph Rowntree and actress Jodie Whittaker.
“It just makes you realise, if you hadn’t before, this is just the most amazing county. There’s something for everybody in Yorkshire. There’s the most beautiful countryside and great people, great history, just everything about it. We are all completely insufferable aren’t we Yorkshiremen? But perhaps because we do have something to be insufferable about I think.”
Julian’s parents were both passionate about county and he recalls frequent childhood visits to the Dales to see his grandparents in Giggleswick as well as exploring the likes of Leeds, York and the North Yorkshire Moors. His late father Humphrey Clifford lectured at York’s St John’s College, as it was known then, and his mother, Doreen, a teacher, was the first chairman of the Yorkshire Wolds Heritage Trust.
She knew her son had written his first Yorkshire puzzle book, and had dedicated it to her, but she died in Luxembourg in 2016, just days before he was due to visit to hand over a copy.
“My parents used to take me out and show me Yorkshire. My father worked in York and I suppose what I’m doing now ties in very closely with the fact that they brought me up to love York and Yorkshire,” Julian says.
“Most of my working life, I lived outside the county,” he adds. “But I think if you’d said to me ‘where do you come from?’, I wouldn’t have said ‘Britain’, I wouldn’t have said ‘England’, I would have always said ‘Yorkshire’.”
Julian spent more than 30 years teaching Classics, a profession that stemmed from his schooldays in the region. From the age of six, he developed a love of Ancient Greek stories and in secondary school, his Classics teacher inspired him to pursue his interest further.
“I was very lucky to be taught by somebody who kind of spoke to me,” he says. “The Classics master at Pocklington School (James Eggleshaw), basically shaped my life.”
Julian, now 60, studied a degree in Ancient Greek with Latin at university in Bristol before spending five years as a pot washer and cook in The Netherlands. By this point, his heart was set on teaching and on his return to the UK, he completed his PGCE in Nottingham. His career saw him teach Classics, English and ICT in London, Northampton, Derby and finally at the European School of Karlsruhe in Germany, where he stayed from 2007 until leaving the profession in 2016.
From 1987 to 1990, he completed a master’s in computers in education. Having already started experimenting with software to help students learn Latin verbs and nouns, he wanted to understand how computers could support teaching and learning.
When computing technology was still in its infancy in 1985, Julian’s business J-PROGS was founded, and it continues to offer resources, in the form of books and software, for teachers and students of Classics in schools and universities. It includes a collection of puzzle books on Latin and Ancient Greek - and Julian believes he is the only person in the world to have written two on the latter.
From 2007 to 2013, Julian penned his own Latin course after discovering Amazon’s Print on Demand facility, a service which allows people to self-publish. His key aim was to make the course short and manageable to help encourage its take-up.
“Children have very short attention spans and if you don’t engage them and make it fun and happy and make sure they’re learning something quickly, they’re just going to turn off,” he says.
“It’s a subject that desperately deserves to be continued...I think of the things I’ve done. I’ve rebuilt car engines, I’ve rewired houses, I’ve learnt about five or six different computing languages. I’m now writing crossword puzzles professionally. All of those things require high levels of analytical skill and that’s what you get from doing Latin and Greek, let alone the pleasure and the thrill and the enjoyment of the literature.”
Julian is not sure what his next project will be - “none of this is planned”, he says - but for the moment at least, he is enjoying using his skills to celebrate Yorkshire, and has his eyes open for more puzzle book potentials in God’s Own Country.