Together through all the twists and turns of life - the story of alumni David and author Pat MoonThursday, 25 November, 2021
Since Bath Spa University opened an invitation last month to former students to apply for an Honorary Degree, more than 400 responses have been received.
The invite to make themselves known, open to all those who completed a Certificate of Education before 31 December 1981 at one of its predecessor colleges, is also an opportunity to share memories of time spent on campus. Photos, stories, experiences – all memories are welcome.
David Moon, husband of poet and children’s book author Pat Moon, got in touch and says he still remembers his time spent studying at Newton Park with his then newlywed wife Pat, very fondly.
Pat wrote prolifically throughout her career, and created works that continue to be widely read today, including her Do Not Read series, novels including The Spying Game, and a collection of poetry called Earth Lines. After giving up the day job in 1991, she published her first books for children. Her first novel, Double Image, was shortlisted for the Smarties Prize.
Her work continues to to be available for purchase in bookshops and other places and a section from The Trouble with Mice was even used for a question in a Key Stage 2 SATS test.
"We still get letters from children to say that they love her books," David said. Letters that he now diligently responds to, on his wife’s behalf. "It’s something I absolutely love to do," he says, holding his wife’s hand.
The little things that "hinted at what was to come"
David has taken up responding to letters from those who still love his wife’s work because she is no longer able to do it herself. At the height of her writing career in 2007, her health began to slowly deteriorate.
"There were several little things that hinted at what was to come," David said. "She would be in a room and not know how to come back out again. She’d not be able to load the dishwasher anymore.
"Throughout the year she would always collect little gifts for pass the parcel at Christmas, and this particular year, she disappeared from the room to do the Christmas presents as usual. But half an hour later she came back and asked me how to do pass the parcel. That was a big signal."
It was when she then coincidentally had her eyes tested, that a series of visits to specialists were prompted, including a neurologist and even a specialist based in Australia. A particularly nasty brain tumor was suspected at first, before the diagnosis of Posterior Cortical Atrophy was made.
This condition is a form of Alzheimers, which causes damage to the posterior cortex of the brain, an area responsible for processing visual information. Those afflicted have increasingly more difficulty with visual tasks, such as reading a line of text, judging distances, distinguishing between moving objects and stationary objects, inability to perceive more than one object at a time, disorientation, and difficulty maneuvering, identifying, and using tools or common objects.
"As a writer when you can’t type anymore, that is really disastrous. Gradually we realized how serious it was. Her writing started to become a complete jumble.
"Over the following years she has been slowly robbed of all her abilities by this cruel illness. She is now wholly unable to communicate, or move independently."
Despite all this, the couple still spend every day together, side by side, in the house where they’ve lived for many years.
"I don’t regret a minute," David said. "We have been able to stay together, and made the downstairs wheelchair friendly.
"Her life span is double what we were told when she was initially diagnosed, and for a long time we carried on travelling, and go for dinner, or to the theatre."
A prolific published author
Before she was struck down by this horrible degenerative illness, Pat had always been creative, even prior to giving up her job as a teacher. David describes their home as still being full of little pots, and other things she created. David describes their home as still being full of things such as pots, plates and even a complete Noah’s Ark – skills she learned in the Newton Park Art Department with Dan Jelly.
"Pat would write little books for our children, not for publication or anything. We all used to love her stories, and she wrote poetry, too."
Completely by chance, they came across an article in the Sunday Times about a writing competition. Pat entered – and won the competition with her first ever piece. The prize for the competition was a week at Hay Festival, in beautiful Hay-on-Wye.
"I went with her, and she spent a week meeting other authors. One of them asked her if she needed an agent, and happened to be a well-known literary agent herself at the time. That’s how things just progressed from there. She’s never had a book refused."
"The other lady who won an award, won for a book that people might recognise today; Harry Potter!"
Meeting J.K. Rowling – at the Blue Peter studios
Pat ended up winning a series of awards for her children’s books, right from when she first started writing. She even met other fellow authors along the way, whose names might ring a bell today.
Back in the 90s, she was invited to a Blue Peter Studio to receive an award for younger children’s fiction, along with another author who was presented for senior children’s fiction that year - J.K.Rowling.
"The other lady who won an award, won for a book that people might recognise today: Harry Potter!"
Pat’s own books since then have been published all over the globe, and have sold thousands of copies. The Moons have books on their own shelves in languages as diverse as Dutch, and Chinese. Pat quickly became successful enough to give up her day job as a teacher, and devote herself completely to writing.
"We had such a lovely time at Newton Park. We were the first married couple to train at Newton Park together."
Married life – and student life – at Newton Park
Pat was David’s girlfriend since they were teenagers, and he still has very fond memories of the time he spent studying at Newton Park.
"We had such a lovely time at Newton Park. We were the first married couple to train at Newton Park together," he recalls.
"I did my first year there, went home for the summer break and then Pat joined me, freshly married. We were mature students - we had both worked before, and we were in our twenties when they married.
"In the next three very memorable years we were able to engage in a full and happy student life. I was privileged to be elected President of the Student Union for 67/68 and Pat was chosen as the Union Secretary for 68/69. They were very active times for the college and we witnessed many notable changes."
After college they both found teaching jobs and enjoyed a long career in education.
"We got a little flat in Upper Church Street in Bath, and students would come round to have a coffee in our flat. It was lovely.
After having three children together (all born in school holidays), David became a headmaster in two schools and also inspected schools in many parts of the world. After retirement, he was even asked by the Spanish Government to set up an inspection system for the British Schools in Spain, often accompanied by his wife.
"Pat was looking after our children in those days and gave me much moral support," David said. "It made sense for me to reciprocate when she got the opportunity to pursue her writing."
Life today, and the impact Newton Park made
Pat has lost her mobility and her ‘neurological’ eyesight, but she still has some senses. David and Pat burn incense and play music every day.
"I take Pat for a walk (in her wheelchair) every day, when it’s warm enough, and we meet so many people that way. Not many people know that she’s a very successful writer!"
When asked how he himself copes with the fulltime care of his wife, David, aged 80 himself, recalls one of the nurses who gave his wife care over the years.
"I am driven by memories of people I admire. I still remember that there was a district nurse who came out to change Pat’s catheter. She wasn’t able to come until 10 at night, and had to come through wet, cold weather.
"She didn’t complain, and told me she really enjoyed being able to do her job, and help people. It turned out she covered a huge patch, all over Norfolk.
“Pat had our children and looked after me for half my life,” David says. “This is only payback time. Of course I love her and I’m not going to let her down.”
"The world became our oyster because of Newton Park."
It still gives him great pleasure to know that his wife inspired so many youngsters to read. And how his wife talked about topics that are prevalent today, but weren’t spoken about as much even a decade ago.
Pat’s work Earth Lines: Poems for the Green Age was written for children to teach them about the ecology, and the detrimental impact of humans on the earth's ecosystems, poisoning food and killing life forms of all kinds. It’s also an excellent reminder for adults.
"This work was so ahead of its time. We are great admirers of Greta [Thunberg], and I’m often struck by how my wife was already talking about these environmental themes, many years ago, before Greta was born."
According to David, the time he and his wife spent at college made all the difference for them and set them up perfectly for the lives they’ve since led.
"I used to live in South London, in a council estate. The world became our oyster because of Newton Park.
"Our family are so pleased to hear about the offer of the Honorary degree," David says. "And I am pleased to have made the application on behalf of Pat."