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.

 

My mum was Welsh (born in Carmarthen); 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 want to improve my French and Italian in future).

 

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).

I am a (former) college teacher and occasional freelance journalist, (for 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 (which has 200+ freelance employees and operates internationally). Not much money in the writing of fiction!

 

I'm also a song writer. 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...BUT the Welsh Assembly Government must have taken notice as there is, right now, a review of the Welsh NHS taking place, which is what I was campaigning for! No thanks from them though... But thanks to me (and others) at least the Welsh Assembly Government is now conducting a review of the Welsh NHS (now 4th of 4 nations in the UK according to most criteria).

 

I am also appalled by the behaviour of the UK police in recent times, and am happy to always campaign for deep reform there. Thanks to my efforts, South Wales Police have been reminded of their responsibilies to inform anyone arrested that they have a right to a solicitor AND THAT IT'S FREE (they often left that last bit off, one suspects to try and get unwell/addicted/vulnerable suspects in an interview room with no solicitor present - something NO-ONE should let the police do (well they've set enough people up over the years!). At present, I am assisting 3 wrongly-accused men bring complaints against South Wales Police - all 3 will have the complaints upheld; then I shall help them take legal action and get compensated for the abuse the suffered from the police.

 

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 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 (a link to my environmental short story The Last Shark is on their website).

 

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 SANTA GOES ON STRIKE is out now! Great reviews for that, so will be promoting it for Christmas 2019 again,

 

I have just finished editing a middle grade children's book full of dinosaurs (great fun!) and submitted to agents/publishers in February 2019, two years after I started writing it. I'm also planning to publish a special book of quotations this year (August/September 2019) maybe just as an ebook. Also in 2019, I shall write a 10-years-on sequel to my first novel CRUMP which I am planning at the moment. It'll be set in a fictional university, and will be just as controversial, timely and fearless as my first campus novel. I shall self-publish that in 2020 or, more probably, March 2021. It will be my final novel, probably.

 

Definition of my life: making it up as I go along...

 

 

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).

 

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; 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

 

SANTA GOES ON STRIKE to be published and promoted again for Christmas 2019 (this time with the great reviews, from the likes of Jeremy Corbyn who sent me a personal letter - which I keep with my letter from Boris from 2010!) There may well be some signings at bookshops in South Wales. Watch this space.

Contact

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

acatcalleddog@hotmail.co.uk

 

Twitter: @acatcalleddog

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© PJ Vanston