From comic strips and adventure stories as a child, to scraps of poetry, short stories and long letters and even an early, very flawed eighties novel (Letters to the Editor), I have enjoyed writing as long as I can remember, but a career in teaching has meant that most of my energy and imagination have over the years been spent in the classroom. I still write in the first instance purely for fun and a sense of achievement.
After thirty-two years teaching Modern Languages I stepped away from school life in 2010. I dropped straight away into a part-time driving job which allowed me plenty of time to write.
I like to deal with discordant personal tales, moral dilemmas, moments of awkwardness which hover between sadness and comedy. I have found myself reacting to and reinterpreting elements of contemporary news stories. I have written short stories with angles on the effect of the banking crisis on a small business (At the Bench with a View of Kettle Point), the Jeremy Forrest schoolgirl abduction case (Runaways) and Operation Yewtree (Where did he touch you?), for example, and Snakeskin, a novella, has the Snowden revelations about Britain’s surveillance culture in the background.
Within eighteen months of leaving Milton Abbey I had completed my first extended piece of writing, Bailing Out, which at the time I considered to be a novel but now realise that at under 40,000 words it is somewhat short of that. I wrote it in an unconventional style, part prose, part screenplay which to my mind had its merits but I concede could jar with the reader. It is the story of contemporary rural poverty in a thinly disguised county in the south-west of England and one man’s misguided attempts to do something he feels is exceptionally good, something genuinely noble to make a difference. In 2016 I revisited the story and reworked it into a more fluid, more accessible format. I added characters, developed existing ones, fleshed out the detail of the storyline and revised the dialogue, before self-publishing it as my second novel. See the Bailing Out page for more.
Following the original Bailing Out (2012) I wrote the following shorter pieces:
At the Bench with a View of Kettle Point: a short story (completed in August 2012)
It is set mainly on the south-west coastal path and features an anxious pastry-cook.
Just the Way it was / Memorial: a short story (October 2012)
It is set in the north-west of England (in many ways a homage to Hyde) and is largely an edgy dialogue about death between two women, each with a bag.
Runaways: a short story (December 2012)
It is set in central France and is a twist on the Jeremy Forrest – Megan Stammers abduction case.
Where did he touch you? : a short story (April 2013)
It is set in southern England and is a woman’s revenge on a 1970s paedophile.
During the winter of 2013 and the following spring I wrote Snakeskin.
Snakeskin is a novella of 43,000 words and follows the story of a self-absorbed, divorced, long time employee of the Inland Revenue, Philip Croft-Berri, who is tired of London and has his eye fixed on a change of scene. Summoned to an unscheduled interview on the third floor, his life is thereafter changed utterly, and not in any way he might have imagined. Selected by unknown representatives of Interior to be stripped of his identity, he is to assume a new name, a new life and a new home at the opposite end of the country. He is told that this is his patriotic duty. So begins a conspiracy thriller whose pace modulates between psychological reflection and moments of fast-thinking action as a path is chartered through a maze of ambiguity and deceit.
After the claustrophobia of the London scenes of Part One, the backdrop to Part Two is small-town Cumbria and the open wilds of the Lake District where Philip attempts to defeat elements of a surveillance culture in order to plot his retaliation. There are flavours of an individual versus the state in a scenario of identity theft, of a doomed, fragile romance and of a nuanced angle on life in contemporary Britain. I wrote it in the refracted light of the Snowden revelations but in spite of the serious themes there are moments of warmth and humour.
As most writers I imagine do, I very easily envisaged not only a slim soft-back in the hands of thousands of commuters looking for a quick yet absorbing read, but also a television serial capturing the attention of millions of viewers. The feedback from literary agents was polite, encouraging but ultimately disappointing. I had to understand that publishers are unwilling to take a punt on a book of something short of 150 pages written by an unknown author no matter how interesting the concept is, no matter how taut the narrative, how engaging the picture.
But I didn’t want to rewrite Snakeskin, to extend it, to dilute it. I thought, and still think, that it stands up well as it is. And in any case, to write a longer, more intricate story, one with greater character development, with a wider scope of time and place, I had already begun to tie down some new ideas that would fairly quickly become the early draft of Shillingstone Station.