vanston.co.uk
vanston.co.uk

My Life Thus Far

I was born in September 1967 and live in Swansea, South Wales, where I am slave to two rescue cats, Honey and Bumble.

 

I am, by turns, a novelist, poet, children's writer, songwriter, screenwriter, journalist, publisher, editor, producer, activist, campaigner and entrepreneur - and somehow I manage to scrape a living.

 

My mum was Welsh (born in Carmarthen); my father was Flemish (from Belgium) - though I have some English and possibly German ancestry. I was born and brought up in England (Dartford, Kent), and have lived in four different countries - (including The Czech Republic and Greece) - so I tend to be internationalist in my thinking. I speak - or, rather, understand - several European languages (I want to improve my languages in future and would happily move abroad if the offer were right).

 

My overactive imagination and creativity developed early as my only escape from a REAL challenging childhood - not the pretend ones I see so many other people, esp boxtickers, claim to get BBC diversity scheme breaks (You know who you are!).

 

As a boy I told myself stories a lot (my late mother once told me she used to stand outside the door of my bedroom or the bathroom and listen...), and wrote my first full song aged 14 (composed bits from age 12). I have used bits of my childhood poems in my books (one is in RASMUS, written when I was 8).

 

I always have a multitude of creative ideas bumbling under my usual serene and calm swan-like elegant extrerior (LOL!). Coming up with ideas has never EVER been an issue for me. The way many creative courses teach students how to come up with ideas baffles me more than I can say - I just do not get it at all. I have no need for any such course - I have squllions of ideas for novels, films, plays, poems, songs etc. Always have had loads of ideas. Probably since birth. Not a problem for me, and no need for me to nick stories and characters from history for my novels either. I start with a blank page. Pure creativity from then on.

 

I was educated at Dartford Grammar School, various London colleges and the University of Sheffield. I have a degree in English literature, a PGCE-PCET teaching qualification, a TESOL Cambridge Certificate (grade A), a Music technology national certificate, and LCCI management, ecommerce and marketing qualifications.

I am a (former) college teacher and occasional freelance journalist, (for TNT/Southern Cross, Your Cat, The Cat, The Guardian and local press) but mainly make a living now via my own successful online editing and proof reading agency and other online businesses, with more in the pipeline.

 

I'm also a songwriter. Free listening to some of my tracks here:

https://soundcloud.com/user-217675148

 

I have been a campaigner for a better Welsh NHS + other causes. I was a participant in, and contributor to, Ann Clwyd MP's report on the NHS complaints system 2013 (commissioned by David Cameron) - the soundbite "the default setting of the NHS complaints system is one of delay, deny and defend" was coined by me and used to promote the report. I was featured on ITV News at Ten, ITV Wales News and BBC Radio 4's World at One talking about that campaign. Fame at last...

 

I'm a big supporter of freedom of speech and expression, something under threat from several political and religious camps in society today (incl a cowardly media including TV, especially - but not only - the BBC, publishers, universities, councils, charities, museums etc). I'm also a member of The Society of Authors and The British Czech and Slovak Association (who kindly awarded my short story The Prague Violin a nice cash prize). I am a board member of Academics for Academic Freedom (AFAF), and committed as such to campaigning for freedom of speech and expression in an increasingly puritanical and repressive, oppressively pc age where the woke elites pander to anyone of faith and colour, no matter how extreme their demands. Appeasement is wrong. BBC + Woke diversity worshipping TV take note.

 

For me, being creative (otherwise known as 'making stuff up'), whether with words or music, is the most wonderful thing in the world. I enjoy nothing else more. And I am good at it. Very.

 

I now own and run my own publishing business, TWO FAT CATS PUBLISHING, via which i publish my new books (and retain full control and copyright as a result). My well-received collection of poetry, 'The Loved Ones', was published via TWO FAT CATS. Poetry is a minority sport, so sales will be small, but the poems are out there in the world and ALIVE!

 

In March 2023, I shall publish my 10th book since 2010: "The Nine Lives of Summer", a middle grade children's book in which a main cat character travels to a dozen countries with diverse characters too - this cat story will also appeal to cat lovers, not just kids.

 

In the mean time, I am working on my first crime thriller (working title: SKULL), one full of Nazis and one which I hope will be a bestseller, after being snapped up by an agent and publisher. Working very hard on the planning for that right now - I plan a great deal before even starting to write. This novel is gonna be a cracker, I know. I look forward to signing the contract with a top publisher and negotiating film rights.

 

Definition of my life: making it up as I go along...and trying to enjoy the journey...

Some possibly interesting facts about me (in no particular order!)

1) I met Roald Dahl when I was around 9 in 1977 on a children's holiday (with the Puffin Club). I can't remember a thing he said, though - maybe because he looked so scary and imposing! Six foot four frame, skeletal facial features, sunken eyes with a piercing stare - that sort of thing.

 

2) I am apparently descended from the uncle and nephew team (surname: James) who wrote the Welsh national anthem in 1856. Also, I'm possibly a cousin of Horatio Nelson via my great-great-grandfather Thomas Nelson of Burnham Thorpe - my only known English ancestor who married my grandmother's grandmother in Tanerdi, Wales inthe very early 19th century. So Anglo-Welsh with bells on then! British, I prefer.

 

3) My father was arrested by the Nazis in occupied Belgium in the early 1940s. His sister's husband-to-be managed to get him out and away to the countryside, where he hid and worked on the land before the British liberated Belgium in 1944. He came to England in 1951 and worked for the NHS (why I was born and grew up in Dartford - my dad got a job in a hospital near there). The new Nazi crime thriller I am planning is a war story I have wanted to write for many years - and because of my family, I have 'skin in the game'. The Second World Was is my family's 'lived experience'.

 

4) I visited the USSR in early 1979 when I was 11 (with a school group - my mum taught Russian for a while). While queueing in Moscow at Lenin's tomb, two Soviet soldiers approached and one pointed a gun at me. Ever so slightly worried (!), I asked my mother what they wanted and she told me to empty my duffel coat pockets. I did so, and the soldiers walked away stone-faced when they saw my woollen gloves. They thought I'd been hiding a camera to take a photo of that old waxwork Lenin - strictly forbidden at the time (though cameras went in after Gorbachev was leader). Oh those Russians! - as Boney M sang. Nobody's ever pointed a gun at me since, thankfully.

 

5) My mother's first cousin (so my first cousin once removed?) was a salesman called Tom Jones. He died in a head-on collision on 16 November 1964 (maybe fell asleep at the wheel). The man in the other car (a TVR sports) died instantly. He was Dennis Spicer, a 29-year-old ventriloquist, pal of Ken Dodd (who has kindly written to me about him). Dennis Spicer was quite a big star then. He had performed at the Royal Variety Performance two weeks before his death (clip on YouTube) and was on the Ed Sullivan show five times between 1962 and 1964. Tragic. I spoke to Sir Ken Dodd about this backstage at Frome Theatre in April 2017. Memories of my meeting with Ken is on page 33 of the tribute book ABSENT FRIENDS (2018).

 

6) I am a published songwriter, and in 2014 started writing and recording again after giving up playing music completely for 10 years and songwriting for longer; I hope others can record and perform my songs (I am no performer). I was a member of Sheffield Indie band Poisonous Little Creatures (1988-1990). Happy(ish) days...

 

7) I was born at number 52 Denver Road, Dartford, Kent, England - someone called Michael Philip Jagger (later singer of The Rolling Stones) lived on that street at number 39 until he was aged 12 or so, about a decade before my family lived there. Keith Richards lived on the next street, Chastilian Road. Pop artist Peter Blake. perhaps most famous for doing the Beatles' Sgt Pepper sleeve design, also lived on Denver Road. Also, when I was at Dartford Grammar School (1979-84), I had the same English and Latin teachers as Master Michael Jagger. Rock n roll!

 

8) My TV debut was in 1978 when I was on Songs of Praise (at the time I was a choir boy at the ancient Holy Trinity church in Dartford town centre - which, frankly, was for me a solely mercenary activity and nothing to do with a love of religion or even music, at that age). I also remember watching, aged 6 or 7, Michael Crawford filming Some Mother's Do Have Em in Sheerness, Isle of Sheppey, Kent - in the one where Frank Spencer has a driving test and ends up driving off a jetty into the sea. TV is a monster...

 

9) I was mentored by the late great comic writer David Nobbs, (writer of Reggie Perrin TV series and books, and so much else too), who I met first in 2009. He read my first novel Crump and said:

 

"I think you write very well and there's some beautiful satirical stuff"; "I think you create some really good and really funny characters, and you write very good dialogue." Wow! I mean, just, WOW!

 

He also gave constructive criticism which I deeply appreciated - if you're going to have your work critiqued, then having one of the very best comic writers (of novels and TV sketches) of the last 50 years do it isn't half bad. Always get the best!

 

Of A Cat Called Dog he said: "I did appreciate the quality of the writing and there were some very funny jokes. 'Missing, presumed fed.' Brilliant." He explained he didn't like animal books - only Winnie the Pooh - and encouraged me not to "abandon people books" for cat books. So I won't.

 

As a patron of the British Humanist Association, David Nobbs didn't believe in a fluffy-clouded heaven or life after death. But he was wrong - because he lives on not only in the TV comedies and novels that so many enjoy, but also in the many writers - like me - that he was gracious and patient enough to mentor. He showed a generosity of spirit perhaps rare in those who have reached the very top of their professions - especially TV, an industry well known to turn even the meekest and most pleasant of men (and women) into monsters.

 

Thank you David. RIP.

 

 

10) Oh, and finally, I can never do anything without making a list first! Without one I feel, sort of, listless...

 

 

 

 

News

See news of upcoming publications and events

 

I am proud to announce that my debut collection of poetry THE LOVED ONES - A COLLECTION OF PANDEMIC POEMS ABOUT LOVE AND LOSS was published 9 April 2022. 54 poems; including 10 lyrics with 9 online links to the demo song recordings provided in the book. Some poems have already been shared - such as POEM OF THE PLAGUE YEAR and TWENTY-TWENTY: A YEAR IN THE LIFE which was featured on Swansea TV and was called 'poignant' by a representative of Her Majesty the Queen. Available in the shops, to order or in Harrisons, Uplands and Cover to Cover, Mumbles, and also distributed by the Wales Books Council to any Welsh bookshop which wants to order stock.

 

"THINKING TIME - 365 Inspiring, Amusing and Thought-provoking quotes to get you through the year",  my new diverse quote book, is out now. Not in shops (except 2 in Swansea) but available on Amazon as paperback and ebook - the perfect Christmas or other present for all ages. Intelligent Mindfulness with funny, insightful quotes from individuals from throughout history up to the present day. To dip into, read through or use for mindfulness daily.

 

On 28th March 2020 my new satirical campus/Brexit novel was published - my 7th book. SOMEWHERE IN EUROPE is a real epic - funny, moving and timely. A state of the nation novel which has something to say. 

Contact

If you'd like to get in touch, please just email:

acatcalleddog@hotmail.co.uk

 

Twitter: @acatcalleddog @ThinkingQuotes7

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© PJ Vanston