Typically my first memory is television based. I remember watching Doctor Who in the early seventies and seeing one of the characters creep past a sleeping dinosaur. Thanks to this modern, information-rich age I now know that the story was Invasion of the Dinosaurs, screened in 1974 and thanks to the wonders of DVD I can now re-live my first memory again and again. I also remember something about a sliding bathroom door and possibly a monster behind it. I don’t really need to relive that one again.
As a youngster I used to find reading hard going but when I was twelve I read James Herbert’s The Rats. According to the school I had a reading age of 9. After finishing this my reading age went up to twelve. Previously to this I found To the Devil a Daughter by Dennis Wheatley and The 7th Pan Book of Horror Stories in a spare room at my grandfather’s house. My grandfather had been quite a moral man. He’d been in the navy for a number of years and could be quite authoritarian when he needed to be. I also remember having arguments with him about religion as I’d become an atheist when I was five. He was pro-God. Remembering his character it didn’t seem to square that he’d be reading occult horror in his spare time. I read most of To the Devil a Daughter over several afternoons when I was eleven. At the same time I read a really scary story about a giant spider in the Pan book. In fact, I read this one twice, going back to it on my next visit I was so fascinated by the concept of a giant spider appearing and giving an arachnophobe a heart attack.
I grew up I rural Oxfordshire and there were no libraries in the vicinity. However, a library van would stop in the hamlet where we lived and after a while the librarians got to know my taste in books. I was about 15 back then. They’d furnish me with Dean Koontz and Stephen King books. The library van had a big back window which in let lots of light and I remember the rocking motion the van made when you climbed aboard. I don’t know if they have library vans anymore.
Apart from writing I have a couple of extracurricular occupations. I volunteer with a church-run charity in Northampton called Reachout. Once every six weeks myself and three others go out and about in Northampton’s town centre and give food, clothing and a hot drinks to homeless people on the streets. There is a rota so every Friday a team will go out. There are enough people on the rota to take turns going out each week without the responsibility falling to just one team. Walking around town at night isn’t as onerous as it sounds and the majority of the people we see know us. Reachout is linked with other homeless projects which offer everything from a hot sit down meal to a residential drugs/alcohol detox programme.
My other curricular activity is Morris Dancing. Not only does Morris dancing keep you fit, you get to wear bells, a tri-corn hat and wave hankies and hit sticks in public places. I’ve made lots of good friends through this and had more fun than I’ve ever had. I’m in my forties, I shouldn’t be having fun. Morris dancing also inspired me to write a story called The Snap End Morris Men which appeared in an anthology called Haunted from Boo Books, which I’m very proud of.
I didn’t like school. I’ve been categorised before as an ‘odd learner’ by university lecturers and colleges in my current field of work (Occupational therapy). At school I was shockingly bad at maths but okay at English. Because of this I was streamlined into remedial classes and left school with a city and guilds in how to work in a factory and very little else. Subsequently In my adult life I’ve completed two degrees, one in English, Drama and Sociology and a second degree in Occupational Therapy. I’m sure, subconsciously, I only did these two degrees to make up for my lack of progress at school.
At one point in my life I started training to be a teacher and, yes, just to absolutely confirm it, I still hated school. Obviously I was then on the other side of the fence then but the same routines and disciplines, (registration, the end of period bell) still freaked me out. Some people hate hospitals because of the smell and general atmosphere. I hate schools in the same way. I work in a hospital now, though.
Despite all this there was a teacher at school who inspired me. This man was head of the remedial block where I was learning to tell the time using a cardboard clock. He recognised that I enjoyed reading so lent me 1984 and The Lord of The Rings. He also encouraged my writing and fought to get me into the mainstream sets with little success. He was sorely disappointed when I left school disillusioned, angry and without an O level to my name. I may have left school without any qualifications but, thanks to this teacher, I didn’t leave school without learning anything.
I am a firm believer that reality exists merely to provide me with interesting settings and plotlines for works of fiction. At present I work in a hospital, a microcosm of society and an excellent setting to explore mortality. I’ve previously worked in psychiatric units, placements for people with learning disabilities and once I worked in a factory painting cones red. All of these experiences offer interesting scenarios to twist into fantastic fiction. My latest novel, Bad Acid I wrote fifteen years ago whilst on night shifts in the psychiatric unit. I’ve another novel, Highcross, set in a village recently refurbished after being left empty for seventy years Highcross was written when working as an Occupational Therapist in a rehab unit for people who were overcoming physical ailments such as brain injury, stroke or fractured bones. I’ve been privileged see the many facets of the human psyche working so close to so many people which informed the characters of that novel.
I like doing nothing more than writing. There is no better feeling than making a coffee, switching on the computer and banging out a couple of chapters of a story that’s really enjoyable to write. I usually find that I’m so engrossed in the writing that my coffee’s sometimes gone cold before I’ve finished it. That never happens when, for instance, I’m at work writing reports which are not as engrossing as writing fiction.
For the next blog hop I hand over to Alex Davis.