This is a picture of me taken at Rugby School when I was about 15. By then, I was just beginning to get used to the place – and finally putting the memories of my hated prep school behind me.
My first school was a kindergarten in Stanmore, London, but my memory of it is very sketchy. After a year or two there I was sent to Orley Farm, a prep school in Harrow, which I remember far too much about.
Going there was an unbelievably brutal experience and I lost count of the number of times I was beaten by the headmaster, who drew blood when he hit me. I used to scream blue murder at the start of each term when I had to go back: it was a hellhole of the first order.
Prep schools in the early Sixties were filled with teachers who, in my experience, were sadists, perverts or alcoholics – and sometimes all three. There were good teachers, but they were outnumbered by the bad.
The only good thing to come of my time there was that it helped me create a fantasy world for myself – that I was really a spy – which later inspired my Alex Rider novels. I was often told off for telling stories to the other boys after lights out – but they loved them.
Going to Orley Farm filled me with self-loathing and a deep sense of being a failure. But after several unbelievably miserable years there – where the whole ethos seemed to be to try to screw you up utterly for the rest of your life – I went to Rugby, the public school.
When I arrived, aged 13, I was in a pretty bad state. I was very nervous and totally lacking in confidence – but, in due course, Rugby transformed me. Don’t get me wrong, it had its fair share of bullying and I recall the harsh regime involved plenty of cold baths. Within a couple of years, though, I was starting to enjoy Rugby – and my last years there were very happy.
To survive somewhere like that – at least, in my time – you had to learn pretty quickly that it was ruled by a ‘herd’ mentality, and you’ve got to be part of that herd.
Great emphasis was placed on sport, which I was hopeless at. The only way I could, therefore, survive was to be funny, so I learnt to make my classmates laugh.
The quality of the teaching was very high, too, and I had three first-rate teachers who gave me a lasting love of the English language. They spotted the potential in me and nurtured it. So I was encouraged to write plays and stories, and develop my talents in that area.
After Rugby, I went to York University. I’d wanted to be a writer since my days at Orley Farm, but it was only at Rugby I realised it was achievable – thank God, as the only time I’m totally happy is when I’m writing!
Looking back, I’m afraid I have nothing positive to say about Orley Farm. But Rugby sorted me out and for that I’ll always be grateful. I still think going to a boysonly boarding school is a bad thing, though, as it’s much healthier to study alongside girls. So I wish, in hindsight, I’d gone to a co-educational establishment.