The early years
For as long as I can remember, daydreaming and thinking up imaginary conversations and scenarios have been among my favourite occupations.
I was born in Southampton in 1965 and grew up in Romsey, a small market town in southern England.
Apparently I wrote my first ‘novel’ while still at primary school – unfortunately I don’t have a copy so no idea if my writing has improved.
I was a voracious and precocious reader as a child – getting through things like Thomas Hardy, Tolkien and Victor Hugo before I was into my teens.
I also read huge amounts of science fiction and adventure classics – escapism was always a big draw. (The fact we didn’t have a television probably had a lot to do with my book consumption.)
I never really concentrated on any particular subject while at school – to be quite honest I never really focused much on school.
Eventually (certainly seemed a very long time to me), I drifted out of the far end of the education system with a 2.1 in Politics & Sociology: moderately interesting but not particularly useful when it came to looking for a job.
After a year or so of trying various careers like fruit-picking, bar work and landscape gardening, I eventually got a job as a trainee journalist on an old-fashioned weekly paper in my home town.
Over the following years I worked on newspapers in Cumbria and Devon – then met Carolyn, my wife-to-be, and set off on a rather belated gap year backpacking around New Zealand, Australia, South East Asia and Nepal & India.
On our return, I fancied a change from journalism and drifted into the PR/communications field – doing everything from PR for a theatre to the communications strategy for a European funding programme. (Believe me, the theatre was much more fun.)
Never give up
In the meantime I kept writing, concentrating on novels with the odd short story when the mood took me.
The first novel I completed was a sci-fi drama about man’s first contact with an alien race. I started that book while a student and it took me six years to finish. Probably because I spent so long rewriting every chapter rather than getting on and finishing the thing.
The next novel only took a couple of years. This time it was a book inspired by a magazine article about how so many child film stars ended their years in poverty and obscurity.
More books followed and writing did get faster – and easier. Like so many authors, though, what never got easier were the rejection letters. I’d send samples to agents and publishers and wait and wait and wait (often for months) before getting a reply.
There were some positive comments but I also got a large collection of standardised letters that leave you wondering if anyone ever actually read your work.
The big break
Eventually, I got my first break in 2005 when The Tale Of Findo Gask won the national prize in a new contest for first-time writers called Undiscoved Authors. One of the best things about this was that the judging panel wasn’t just made up of people from the company involved but included literary agents and others from the publishing world.
The prize money – £10,000 – was wonderful and I was equally thrilled to see printed copies of my first published novel. The sad side is that the company behind Undiscovered Authors seemed to get into all kinds of problems and subsequently folded.
The tragedy for me was that although my novel was ‘officially’ published, nothing was ever done to promote it and sales were negligible.
The experience did rather put me off for a while but then, eventually, the writing bug kicked in and the next couple of novels emerged. Unfortunately though, I was back to square one in terms of having no agent, no publishing company – and no track record of sales to boast about!
Change of direction
As writing wasn’t going to keep me fed, I had to keep on with work… although it was never one of my favourite occupations.
After a second gap year – this time riding a tandem bicycle around France, Spain and Portugal – I ended up taking on a job managing the publicity and fundraising for the disaster relief charity ShelterBox.
A fascinating and very rewarding job but ultimately I found myself still spending too much time sitting in front of a computer screen.
In 2008, Carolyn and I decided to retrain to teach English as a foreign language (TEFL). We’ve just completed our third year of teaching English in Portugal – we took a year off between July 2010 and 2011.
That ‘gap year’ had a bit more of a purpose. We embarked on a 10,000-mile tandem ride across North America, New Zealand and parts of Australia and Europe to promote ShelterBox.
It was an amazing journey. In the end we rode nearly 11,000 miles and raised getting on for £50,000 for the charity. One day, we might write a book about the experience – the blog we created for the journey is at http://tandem10.wordpress.com
The writing got shelved while we were riding but since we returned to ‘normal’ life in autumn 2011, I’ve been publishing some of my older novels on Kindle and starting work on the next one.
The job in Portugal finished this summer – we’re now back in the UK… working out which direction to go next.