vanston.co.uk
vanston.co.uk

My Life Thus Far

I was born and brought up near London (in Dartford, Kent), but now live in Swansea, South Wales, (my grandfather's city), where I am slave to two rescue cats, Honey and Bumble.

 

I am, by turns, a novelist, poet, children's writer, songwriter, arranger/producer, screenwriter, features journalist, publisher, editor, film producer, activist, campaigner, cat fan and entrepreneur - and somehow I manage to scrape a living. The BBC once said that I was 'good at comedy', and an 'accomplished writer', so it must be true...

 

I am at present developing a range of writing projects, but have just finished my psychological Nazi crime thriller (intended to be a best-seller first of a series via a major publisher!) so editing the first draft gets all my focus now. I also have several Middle Grade children's books in development (I have two such books in-hand, completed, revised, tweaked, ready to be published). Plenty of screenplay, TV pilot, radio drama treatments too - from comedy to crime (police corruption female psychopath story), a short multi-lingual multi-ethnic short Christmas film set in Cardiff too. 

 

My mum was Welsh (born in Carmarthen); my father was Flemish from Belgium (with a probably German Jewish biological father he never met) and came to the UK in the early 1950s (after living under the Nazis for 4 years, 1 in hiding on a farm to avoid Speer's call-up for workers) - though I have a bit of English, and possibly German, ancestry. I have lived in four different countries - including Czechia, (Prague), and Greece, (Crete) - so I tend to be internationalist in my thinking. I speak - or, rather, understand - several European languages. And a tad of Arabic and Japanese.

 

My overactive imagination and creativity developed early as my only escape from a challenging childhood in a very stressful single parent family with money worries and more, living with a stutter/speech impediment as a kid (as depicted in my as-yet unpublished middle grade novel DINOSAUR JOE). 

 

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 to me tell them to myself...), and wrote my first full song aged 14 (composed music from age 12). I have used bits of my childhood poems in my books. One such poem is in RASMUS -  A TELEVISION TALE, my reality TV novel which got interest from the biggest film agency in the USA (LA) in 2017, and which SQUID GAME resembles very closely which I am sure is TOTAL coincidence...THOUGH the writer of the original screenplay just got a lump sum from Netflix for signing his rights away - he gets NO fees or percentage after that. Gosh, what a bum deal! Btw That poem in RASMUS was written when I was about 8. Now in print. For evermore...

 

I always have a multitude of creative ideas bubbling under my usual serene and calm swan-like elegant exterior (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 - I just do not get it at all. They may as well be talking Klingon. It comes naturally to me. Writing them up is what takes time.

 

So, I always have loads of ideas for novels, short stories, kids' books, screenplays, poems, songs etc. I always have had. Not a problem for me, instinctive. Natural born author.

 

But my versatility as an author may well count against me. If I just chose genre fiction (romance, crime fiction) and stuck to that, building an ebook list, no doubt sales would be higher. But I am who I am and I write what I write, on my 'journey' (or struggle...). But hey, I focus 100% on that journey and have faith in my creativity. I have NO ambition to write trash, the sort of short eBook genre novels on Goodreads etc a lot. I'd rather not write at all tbh.

 

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. Like many journalists, I know a little about a lot of things and am a generalist - though I do have areas of expertise too (e.g. education, media, cats, dinosaurs, history, The Second World War/Nazis..)

I am a (former) college teacher/lecturer/private tutor 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 online editing and proof reading agency. 

 

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, especially improved male healthcare, a very underfunded and ignored area. I was a participant in, and contributor to,  the late 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 across all TV and news media. I was featured on ITV News at Ten, ITV Wales News (2013 and 2014) and BBC Radio 4's World at One talking about that campaign from my very own 'lived experience'. Fame at last! AND watch this space for a new national news story coming this year... All about anti-Semitism.

 

I'm a fearless supporter of freedom of speech and expression, something under real threat in society these overly-authoritarian days of our New Puritan Age complete with our woke pc gestapo. I used to say the UK was sleepwalking into a police state. I take that back - we are here already. 1984 is here and now.

 

I am a proud member of The Free Speech Union (thanks for their advice always) and AFAF (Academics for Academic Freedom), and, with them, am constantly fighting for the right to freedom of speech and expression. FREE SPEECH MATTERS. I would defend the free speech of anyone I disagree with too, except when it incites hatred and violence against people - as with so many of anti-Israel protests in our cities recently whose anti-Semitism is thinly masked. Shameful the way our new woke police turn a blind eye to such blatant racism and law-breaking, and then arrest people for defending Jews against racists online. Just disgusting. A can of worms my free press newshound mates can open in the coming months...Thanks guys!

 

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). 

 

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 more, the buzz of it. And I am good at it too which helps. As far back as I remember, I was inventing stories and characters and creating - it's  instinctive for me. Then honed by years of hard work and dedication - that bit is THE CRAFT to add to the ART which is there in me already.

 

I now own and run my own micro-publishing business, TWO FAT CATS PUBLISHING, via which I publish my new books (and retain full control and copyright as a result; and can see ALL sales information in detail always). My well-received collection of poetry, 'The Loved Ones', was published via TWO FAT CATS. Poetry is a minority sport, so sales are small, and most sales are direct from my in paperback form, but the poems are out there in the world now for evermore! I know they have been read at memorial services and used at schools, colleges and universities in the UK and all over the world (my books always do well in USA, and Scandinavia and Germany. No idea why, but thanks anyway!). Some of my pandemic poems are also in the National Library of Wales Covid archive collection and the Museum of London too, and libraries in the USA.

 

In March 2023, I published my 10th book since 2010: "The Nine Lives of Summer", a real emotional rollercoaster of a crossover adult fiction novel/middle grade children's book in which a main cat character lives through 9 lives & travels to a dozen countries with diverse characters and tales. This cat story will appeal to cat lovers too, not just kids, but they love it too - and CAN cope with deaths of cats in a story because it is A STORY. Watch BAMBI, or DUMBO or 101 DAMLATIONS - they are stories too. Anyone who claims this book or any kids' book with death in it is a threat and danger to children and can cause them and adults trauma is a certifiable babybrained loon, a truly deranged and demented moron, and someone who knows NOTHING about child development (not NORMAL or good child development anyway). As I always say, anyone who demands trigger warnings needs one, preferably tattooed onto their snowflake forewheads - so we can avoid them whenever possible! LOL. Fortunately, most readers are NOT like that. The odd one - and ODD is the word... Most are not.

 

THE NINE LIVES OF SUMMER is short and sweet, and so diverse - but that diversity is NOT tacked on solely to tick boxes, as so often these days, but integral to the world of the story and it springs from it and the characters, both feline and human.  All races, faiths are in there, in over a dozen countries. And to think, some loonytoon blagger online reviewer called it racist. WHA? Some people need help - meds or therapy, or a rubber room for the rest of their life maybe. LOL.

 

In the mean time, I'm honing and revising my Nazi crime thriller - I started to plan it in June 2021 and started to write in November 2022, finished first draft 3 July 2023. Hard work, this writing lark! DEDICATION and 100% commitment needed, and the resilience to survive rejection, bounce back and thrive. But a PROPER novel.

 

My writing always has something to say, and is always full of comedy, (yes, even in my Nazi crime thriller; yes, even in my Covid poems about death), even if very dark (just watch 'Hamlet' to see the comic scenes). Tragi-comedy maybe. My voice. Life is absurd, after all.

 

Definition of my life: making it up as I go along...and trying to enjoy the journey...while hoping for a better destination.

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. I hope he gets a statue in Cardiff soon.

 

2) I am apparently descended from the uncle and nephew team (surname: James) who wrote the Welsh national anthem in 1856. Also, I'm probably 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 in the very early 19th century, after travelling from East Anglia to west Wales as a journeyman weaver. So Anglo-Welsh with bells on then! British, I prefer. If the usual woke activists dare touch Nelson's statues, then it's war - and personal!

 

3) My father was arrested by the Nazis in occupied Belgium in the early 1940s. He spent a night in the cells as a slave - in latter stages of WWII, the Nazis under Armaments Minister Speer, started calling up male civlians in the Low Countries for slave labour in mines, factories etc. My father's sister's fiance/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 then acted as PoW interpreter for the British army. 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 War is my family's 'lived experience'. And my father was a slave - for a day - then an outlaw. A real, live slave. One of many slaves in Nazi Europe until 1945. Forgotten slaves. But liberated by tne British just like slaves in 1807.

 

4) I visited the USSR in early 1979 when I was 11, with a school group - my mum taught Russian for a while at Dartford Girls Grammar School (she taught French there 1963-1980); she even translated Russian schoolbooks for a book called The Russian Version of the second World War (1976). While queueing in Moscow at Lenin's tomb, two Soviet soldiers approached and one pointed a gun at me. Ever so slightly worried (!), I called to my mum who was ahead of me in the queue and asked what they wanted; she told me to empty my duffel coat pockets. I did so, and the soldiers walked away stone-faced when they saw my woolly 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 Mazda lighting company 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 fibreglass snazzy on-trend 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). Ken was godfather to Dennis Spicer's son but told me he had lost touch, which is a shame.

 

6) I am a published songwriter, (and arranger/producer), 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 have stopped again now (2022) as it is too expensive. For now. I was a member of Sheffield Indie band Poisonous Little Creatures (1988-1990) until we imploded one night at The Leadmill. 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, whose PE teacher dad taught at DGS. 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 (back in the days TV comedy was funny) 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... I spent a lot of my childhood on a caravan site in Sheerness, now a Tesco carpark, and fished for sticklebacks in the Napoleonic era moat. 

 

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 for award-winning author Jem PJ Vanston:

 

I am proud to announce that The Nine Lives of Summer, my new cat story - for kids and cat-loving adults too - was published on 1st March 2023 via Two Fat Cats Publishing - on the tenth anniversay of class cat novel A Cat Called Dog being published. "A heart-warming tale with a life-affirming message." "Often funny, sometimes, sad, always hopeful." This diverse tale starts in Syria, where the war forces a family to flee, then travels to a dozen countries (Australia, India, Japan/China, Greenland, USA/Canada, Italy, Spain, Wales) through the nine lives of Summer, via a vast array of diverse cultures and people.

 

For review copies or interview requests, just email acatcalleddog@hotmail.co.uk or contact via Twitter @9LivesofSummer or via this author website.

 

 

My debut collection of poetry THE LOVED ONES - A COLLECTION OF PANDEMIC POEMS ABOUT LOVE AND LOSS was published 9 April 2022. It comprises 54 poems; including 10 lyrics with 9 online links to the demo song recordings provided via links in the book. Two poems are in National Museum Covis Archives: 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 on Amazon or in shops worldwide 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 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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