I was born in September 1967 and live in Swansea, South Wales, where I am slave to two rescue cats, Honey and Bumble.
My mum's Welsh; my father was Flemish (from Belgium). 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'm improving my intermediate Italian via an online course at the moment).
I was educated partly at Dartford Grammar School, various London colleges and the University of Sheffield (I have a degree in English literature + a PGCE-PCET), but largely by the
big bad world.
I am a (former) college teacher and occasional freelance journalist, (for Your Cat, The Cat, The Guardian, www.thedailymews.com) but mainly make a living now via my own successful online editing and proof reading agency (which has 200+ freelance employees and operates internationally). Not much money in the writing of fiction!
I am also 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. I'm also a member of The Rationalist Society, The Society of Authors, The British Czech and Slovak Association (who kindly awarded my short story The Prague Violin a prize), The Natural History Museum, Cats Protection and The Shark Trust (two of my short stories available on the 'Books + Stories' page are about the environment and animal welfare).
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.
My new book A CAT CALLED DOG 2 - THE ONE WITH THE KITTENS is out in 2017.
At present, I'm writing a middle grade children's book full of dinosaurs (great fun!); then I'll write another middle grade book. After that sequel, I will focus on a satirical novella on race in America...
When I've finished all that, I shall possibly have a nice cup of tea (or something stronger), but not a cigarette because I quit in 2006. With some of the money I saved, I bought two complete sets of Beatles autographs from 1963. Just don't ask how much I paid! As Vincent Van Gogh once said - (pardon?) - it's only Monet...
Definition of my life: making it up as I go along...
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 John Nelson of Burnham Thorpe - my only known English ancestor. So Anglo-Welsh with bells on then!
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 the 1950s and worked for the NHS (why I was born and grew up in Dartford - my dad got a job in a hospital there).
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, 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. Oh those Russians! - as Boney M sang. Nobody's ever pointed a gun at me since, thank crikey!
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 in 2017.
6) I am a published songwriter, and have just started writing and recording again after giving up playing music completely for 10 years; 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 10 or so, about a decade before my family lived there. Keith Richards lived on the next street, Chastilian 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 - 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.
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...
See news of upcoming publications and events
31st August 2015: Children's illustrated version of A Cat Called Dog by Jem Vanston published (by Austin Macauley). Available online and at all good bookshops.
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