I was born in Bradford and grew up in West Yorkshire, variously in Cleckheaton, Scholes, Moorend, and Ilkley. Grim and dour and wild. But also magnificent and open and kind. Landscape, literature and a hint of mayhem rolled together from the start. For example, when I was at school my inspirational A level English teacher, Gina Wild, took us on a field trip to Haworth. We were studying Wuthering Heights, and it was only just up the road, so why not? I remember two things about that trip. The first was getting a lift there with Gina and two other students and being late for the start of the talk she’d arranged. The second was turning back from the walk to Top Withens (the moor-top bothy that inspired the farm of Wuthering Heights) not because we were cold, tired, and put off by the wind and the rain, but because the pubs had opened and we were missing good drinking time. Ale in Yorkshire is very important.
Long before Haworth, I had fallen into the habit of reading everything. I relatively recently heard Pam Allyn’s observation “Reading and writing cannot be separated. Writing is breathing out; reading is breathing in.” So very true, and you start by taking one huge breath. My first clear memory of a book is being given Danny the Champion of the World when I was six. But the memory is of it being a real treat – I knew what it was, and was excited when I saw it. After that my mother would take me to the library up the road every week, and, if I was well-behaved, to the little bookshop on Northgate in Cleckheaton. Needless to say, we didn’t got to the bookshop very often. But I went through everything in the children’s section in the library, and then started on my mother’s books. Which were almost all by Agatha Christie.
The writing started a little later, I think. I was eleven or twelve when I first wrote things down I’d made up. I remember them for the new levels they set in awfulness. Simply dreadful. I may have read a lot, but I suspect I hadn’t understood anything. At all. Ever. I remembered things, but didn’t understand. So, when I wrote I had no idea and flailed about like a punctured balloon. Mercifully, nothing of my writing from that period survives.
The next period was when I was living in York. I was studying history and devouring vast numbers of academic texts on all manner of places and times, and this fired my imagination again. I drew a map of a fantasy world and wrote fifty thousand words of a story called ‘A Fleeting Glimpse’, a title that may give away part of my musical tastes at the time. I even sent it off to a little publisher who were specialising in 50,000 word things. They sent it back. They were kind enough to explain why they thought it was awful. Too many characters, too many unpronounceable names were two of their principle concerns. However, from memory (the actual typescript I binned years ago) the main problem with it was the characters were caricatures, and the story entirely devoid of dramatic tension.
A little later I moved to Stevenage. A town with no small literary association. Edward Bulwer-Lytton (“The pen is mightier than the sword”) entertained Dickens at Knebworth House over yonder. E.M. Forster wrote Howards End in Rooks Nest, a house in the town. Here I started to write again. Short stories to start with, then novels. This time I didn’t make the mistake of letting anyone read them… for a bit. Then I sent off a short story or two to the odd competition, or for consideration for publication in the occasional journal. I won a competition on the CheerReader website (now deceased) with a spoof Private Investigator story. I had a story called ‘A Homecoming’ published in the gorgeous Australian online journal Meniscus, which allowed me to claim to be an internationally published writer whilst keeping a straight face. And I had a few runner-ups and honourable mention, and third place, and long lists and short lists, and other little thrills of excitement (for the writer).
And then Hobeck books told me they’d like to publish Hunted. I had to sit down. Am still a bit dizzy.