I was sixteen years old and struggling with my homework one evening when an idea came into my head for a story. It concerned a pavement painter who lived beneath the seafront arches in Brighton. At that time I had never been to Brighton, nor had I ever encountered a pavement painter, but I spent the next hour or so lost in an entirely imaginary world. I had, of course, written fiction at school but this was the first time I had done it of my own volition – and I liked it. I liked the escape into a world I could control. But I was also immediately aware that this world could also exert its influence over me. I was putting the words down onto paper, but a strange process was occurring in which the words were speaking back. The dialogue had begun.
I failed my English Lit A level which ultimately helped me in my career as a novelist. Had I studied literature at university I suspect I would have become too intimidated to try and join the ranks of the published. Sometime in my mid twenties I sent in a short story to Radio 4’s “Morning Story” producer/editor, a character called Mitch Raper. I worked for the BBC at the time as a studio manager and often spotted Mitch wandering the corridors of the fourth floor in his slippers and carrying a box of Kleenex. He always had a cold. He didn’t take the story but wrote back an encouraging letter in which he told me I could write and suggested I read some of the short stories of H E Bates. I did and then bombarded Mitch with a number of fairly dreadful stories about countryfolk and WW2 airmen. He always wrote back but never commissioned me. I then turned to plays. My ear for dialogue was fairly decent so I sent in a couple to “Thirty Minute Theatre”. To my amazement one of them was bought and transmitted: “Way Station”. Hollywood seemed just a short step away. Frustratingly the plays that followed were all returned with polite refusals, as were my attempts to break into TV writing. I remember one brutal - but honest - rejection letter from the BBC TV script unit which, after telling me how awful my submitted script was, finished with something along the lines of “I’m sorry, but it would be unfair to the ranks of those who earn a living as writers to offer you any encouragement.” I gave up on drama and decided to try and write a novel. The first one took about a year. I wrote on my rail commute between Brighton and London and the result - “Deserters”, got me an agent, Deborah Rogers. I was incredibly lucky to be taken under Deborah’s wing. She represented some of the most significant novelists of the time, nurturing them from obscurity to worldwide acclaim. She could’t sell “Deserters”. The follow-up, “Draper’s Gazette” was pretty dreadful and she suggested we consign it to the bin instead of troubling publishers with it. I knew the third, “Way Station”, was different from the way she greeted me when I went to her office to see her. “We can sell this,” she said. And she did, a week later, to Jonathan Cape. Eight novels followed. Some are still in print. I’ve never troubled the bestseller ranks or been invited to any glitzy prize-giving ceremonies though I have picked up a few minor accolades. It doesn’t matter. I’ve been lucky to have been published and supported by some incredible people. My latest book, my first nonfiction, came out in 2017. “Reading Allowed: True stories and curious incidents from a provincial library” has earned more attention than my nine novels put together. It details my new life as a part time librarian and the encounters with those who use the service. Constable and Robinson have published it and none of the regulars in the library has yet taken me aside and complained at the way they’ve been portrayed. I’ve recently finished another novel which I’m hoping will be published, but we’ll see.
Painting came late in life, after I took redundancy from my job as a radio producer for the BBC. My grandfather was a painter - he painted the crests on railway locomotives. My great uncle also painted. He worked for a company supplying scenery to the fledgling TV industry and painted in oils in his spare time. I have my grandfather’s paint brushes and one of my great uncle’s landscapes. I’d always admired those who can draw and paint and, one Christmas, my wife Julie bought me two lessons with Kate Osborne - a friend of ours and a wonderful watercolour painter (www.kateosborneart.com). Watercolours led to charcoal and pencil drawing which led to acrylics and then to oils. You can see the results in the galleries on this site.
Many of the pictures are for sale, almost all are also available as prints. Please use the contact page if you’d like to get in touch. I’m aiming to write an occasional blog about my work for anyone who’s vaguely interested.
Thanks for visiting.