My writing life.

I started my writing career in 1981. I was seven. In a style which I have later adopted in my poetry, my first novel didn’t have a title, it just had a giant R on the cover, which stood for Robert. I can’t remember much about if except that the villain was an entity known only as the Blue Moo. The Blue Moo was what I used to call my sister, because she wore a blue coat. Which is kind of cruel, seeing as though she was only five at the time.

I would write at school during playtime, whenever it was raining. It rained a lot, I remember, when I was a kid. I’d always get excited about rainy days because it meant that I could write. I still get excited shout rainy days, even now.
By 1984 I was at middle school and I used to fill notebooks with stories. I was encouraged to do this by my teacher, Mr Shaw, who would then let me read my stories out in class. The first of these was called Bully Bulldog’s Ship, and for reasons which I’m still not sure, all of the characters were dogs. And secret agents. The cover for Billy Bulldog’s Ship shows explosions and a radar screen and has he tag line, ‘Featuring car chases, underwater bases, kings and prime ministers and that sort of thing’. It was rubbish.
By 1986 I was still at middle school, but now I’d progressed to writing about humans. I wrote a whole series of short novels about a skier, called William Board, and his friend Ed Butf, and how they would get into all kinds of adventures during and after skiing tournaments. I have no idea why I picked skiing tournaments, but I did watch an awful lot of Ski Sunday back in the day.
In 1988 my grandparents gave me a typewriter, which I still use now whenever I’m Poet In Residence anywhere. By now William had left the skiing circuit and was a policeman in a small Surrey village called Englemede. I’d type up these stories and inject as much humour as possible, because this would make my English teacher, Mr Smith, laugh as he read them. This was probably a big moment in my adoption of comedy. The stories were still rubbish, but my grammar and spelling had improved.
By the time I got to sixth form I was still plugging away, and remarkably, William Board was still the focus of the stories, his ineptitude as a policeman and his promotion to detective providing much mirth. My magnum opus of this time was Impending Headache, set at a sixth form college in Surrey much like the one I attended. And in between chapters I’d write over the top comedic poetry.
By 1992 I had my first job and, amazingly, William Board was still my main focus. By now his detective work would take him to a supermarket in Surrey, round about the time that I worked at a supermarket in Surrey, in a novel called Bar Code Blues.
In 1994 I got a job in a village shop in the suburb of Englefield Green, and I wrote a new novel with a new main character, the trainee guardian angel Genre Philips. The novel was called Englefield Green Blues, and like Impending Headache, it would be influential on my writing career in that I’d re-use chapters and stories to form the novel I’ve been working on this year.
At this stage, I’d started sending novels off to publishers and agents, and one or two were very supportive but would ultimately say no.
By now I’d dabbled in comedy poetry, filling up notebooks with poems written with a pen I’d been using since sixth form. I’d stay at my grandmothers house in the hot summer, she lived on a hill overlooking the whole of London from the airport to Canary Wharf, and I’d listen to the jazz stations and just write whatever I felt like. This would form the basis of my one man show, Static, in 2016.
In 1995 my Grandfather passed away. I went to see the pathologist and watched as he signed the death certificate with a cartridge pen, and that afternoon I went out and bought one for myself. Amazingly, this is the same pen I use today for anything creative, and it has written every poem, short story, novel and play since 1995.
In 1996 I moved to Devon. By now I’d discovered Kafka, Camus, Beckett, and my writing became dense, impenetrable. I used my own system of punctuation which made even the reading of it impossible, and to further add to the misery, my novels had numbers instead of names. RD05, RD06, RD07, and so on. I’d send these off to publishers and I could never understand why they’d come right back.
I joined a band of local amateur actors and I would write short sketches and funny monologues for them, we’d rehearse and make cassettes, but never got anywhere near the stage. One of my monologues was about a rocket scientist who’d fallen in love with his rocket. Not phallic at all.
I came out in 2000. I didn’t write much at all for a while. I was busy with other things.
By now I had a job, and I’d studied a-levels, undergraduate and postgraduate at night school, so I didn’t have much time for writing. For a laugh, I got a part in a professional play, and while it meant I would never act again, (oh, it was so traumatic!), it led me to write a play called Fuselage. Amazingly, it won a playwriting competition at the Northcott Theatre. I remember getting off the train in Exeter thinking, wow, it’s my writing that has got me here. This all happened in 2008.
In 2009 I discovered performance poetry, accidentally, and kind of got in to that. Around the same time I wrote a short novel called Reception, based on an ill fated trip I took to Tokyo, but by now my main focus was performance poetry and spoken word, shows and comedy one liners. In 2010 I had my first paid gig, at an Apples and Snakes event in London, and amazingly, this was the first time I made any money from my writing since I was 8!
So that brings me up to date, more or less. I now write every day, still with the same pen, and I still use the same typewriter every now and then, though mostly for performance. And I’ve kept a diary, every day writing something about the previous day, which I’ve kept up since 1985 uninterrupted. It’s only taken 37 years to find the one thing I’m halfway decent at!

Perfection (A Short Story)

Another one from the archives. 2008, to be exact.


The fact that the whole of humanity had lived for this did not trouble him in the slightest. All of thought and philosophy, all of art, everything, including warfare and religion, had gone in to the construction of this one place, this hallowed, magnificent building where he would remain, living a life of idyllic bounty in an environment of absolute perfection. It wasn’t luck, nor was it heaven : it was the result of every virtuous thought there had ever been, and he, as the most perfect human who had ever existed, had been allowed to reside within its walls.

          The whole place was spotlessly white, and painted so as to appear almost clinical in the equatorial sun. Yet there was a rosy hue which permeated everything, and a smell of jasmine which lifted into the air much like the smell of a summer garden after the rain. The corridors were decorated with classical statues, finely sculpted evocations of masculine beauty and workmanship which, bathed either in the sun or in the shadows which, thrown down by the angles of the building, hide within them the joy which comes from beholding without malice the achievements of a master. The floor is tiled, pleasantly. In the centre of the building there is a courtyard garden where soft fountains sprinkle water which, in the sun, cast rainbows and prisms of light, while the foliage is home to such wondrous birds of paradise as to mesmerise the casual viewer. Cushions and seats are provided, that the scene may be contemplated from whichever angle suits him best. Through two doors at the southern end of the courtyard is the library, an old, oak affair with a running balcony and a sliding ladder on wheels, where the greatest works of literature may be read or studied. In the centre of the library are desks with brass lamps and a leather armchair angled at such a degree as to facilitate unforced comprehension. There is an art gallery further on, and a small museum. The whole place is perfect.

          He, too, is perfect. He has led a life of virtuous study and concern for his fellow man. In all of his relationships and dealings with other people he has been the most trustworthy and honest character, and yet he has been careful not to appear as too pious or pompous. He has never felt the need to bury himself within a certain political or religious organisation – (he sees, quite rightly, that to do so is to cede control of his character to a pre-conceived set of ideals or beliefs) – nor has he ever been overtly charitable – (for he is not one of those who prefers, rather than doing good, to be seen as doing good). He has always dressed smartly, and yet not too smart. He has never associated himself with one particular economic group, or racial group, or artistic group, or political convention. He has never felt malice towards anyone, and he tries all the time to see both sides of an argument before speaking his mind on any subject. He has never wanted to hurt anyone. In such a way he, too, is the ideal of perfection, the culmination of humanity.

          He feels no guilt at living in the house, nor does he feel any guilt at having felt no guilt. At the same time he is conscious that guilt might have been a factor in his residing there. He wanders from room to room and fills himself with the ideals of perfection with which he has been identified. The food is perfect and it is textured just so, that he might relish each mouth-full without indulging. The temperature is well-maintained and there is hardly any noise at all save for the fountain, the birds in the courtyard, perhaps some soft jazz which emanates, at night, from somewhere ethereal. He has never felt happier.

          It is especially gratifying to realise that the human race has existed just for this. So many philosophies and movements in both art and design have culminated in the perfect existence. Psychologists have toiled for centuries in the hope of discovering the most perfect, well-balanced way of spending one’s time. Artists have toiled, writers have written, in order only that the libraries and galleries of the house remain stocked with the finest of their achievements. And when he becomes bored of the house, there are sandy beaches and coves in which to wander, tropical islands, luscious, dense forests in which to wander. Nor is he alone. There are people nearby, friendly individuals, learned types, amiable fellows, beautiful men and women with whom he might converse or even fall in love with, people who care for him and want the best for him. Some nights he throws parties and entertains them, and they all drink and eat and they are very merry indeed, and they dance in the moonlight, under the stars, to the soft jazz or to whatever music might suit the occasion. Everything – it bears repeating – everything is perfect.

          One day he went for a walk along one of the wings of the house. He stopped for a while to admire a classical statue, and he could hardly see the marks left by the sculptor on the marble from which it was cast. Likewise, the paintings in the gallery seemed hardly touched by human hands, even though they were signed and catalogued. How wonderful the human race could be, he thought to himself. And the house itself – each angle was carefully considered that the play of light and shadow be worked in unison with something else, some mental approximation of fine living. He walked slowly. He walked, taking in the atmosphere. He could feel time itself stretching, becoming null and void. That afternoon he would sit and write haiku, he decided, and then he might call some friends and they would come round, and they would eat spaghetti Bolognese. At the end of the corridor he sat for a while on a stone bench and he closed his eyes, allowing the sun to stream in through his eyelids. It was warm, it was beautiful, it reminded him of something distant. Perfect, he said to himself. Absolutely perfect.

          Very faintly, he heard a soft, stifled belch.

‘Nice’ is one year old!

Would you believe it’s been a year since my first collection, Nice, came out? It hardly seems it. I’m immensely proud of it and every time I see the cover I really have to remind myself that it contains all my own work. 
I was a weird kid. While all my friends wanted to win the FA Cup or Becky fighter pilots, the only thing I wanted was to be a published writer. I just loved the idea of holding a book knowing that it was representative of me and my imagination. And all through my teenage years I would write, bashing out short stories and novels on an old typewriter, which I still have, and all to no avail. But the dream persisted.
I was in Bristol when I got the email saying that Nice was going to be published. I was getting ready to support Vanessa Kisuule at Hammer and Tongue. I did a camp little dance around the hotel room, and Vanessa was the first person I told.
So Nice was launched last year, the official launch being on January 8th. I’d chosen the date specifically because it was David Bowie’s birthday and that his new album was coming out the same day, so that I could always remember the date. Naturally, people remember the date now for different reasons, but it was a great night, performing poems from Nice supported by all my friends. I’d had a book signing a couple of weeks before in my home town of Paignton, but the official launch was the big event that I’d always dreamed about.
The book still seems fresh. There are stories behind some of the poems, of course. Personal stories. I purposefully only chose upbeat, vibrant, funny poems because I imagined the book as being similar to a dance record. Clive Birnie told me that he saw Burning Eye as a record company and the books as albums, so I thought, well, let’s have a dance record, with computerised disco beats and flashing lasers. Let’s give it a throwaway title. Let’s not get too bogged down. And I think Nice has achieved this.
The last twelve months have been amazing, I’ve been all over the Uk with a back pack full of Nices and it’s been so well received. I’m still incredibly happy with it.
So pick up your copy of Nice today! It will help you get through those winter blues, I assure you!

In case you didn’t know, I’ve got a new book out! : Thoughts on ‘Nice’.

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but I’ve got a book out. Indeed, it is my first published book, my first proper collection from a real publisher, Burning Eye Books, rather than a self published effort. I can’t begin to describe how great it feels!          Ever since I was a kid I wanted to be a published writer. While other kids would daydream and talk about winning some football match or scoring a winning goal, I would dream about there being a book out there with my name on the cover. I would repeat, over and over to myself on those long suburban sultry nights, the image of opening a box from the publishers and seeing all the books there inside, ready to go out into the world.

          It’s taken a while!

          Burning Eye are the most dynamic and wonderful company I can imagine. They’ve published all my favourite names in the spoken word community, such as Megan Beech, Vanessa Kisuule, Rob Auton, Salena Godden. I have devoured every volume over the years, and when the chance came up to send them some material, I didn’t hesitate. I heard nothing for a while and I thought, well, on to the next thing, then.

          Then last year, while staying in Bristol and supporting Vanessa Kisuule at the Hammer and Tongue event, I received an email from Clive Birnie inviting me to send in a manuscript, because he’d chosen me to be published! I was so happy, but I didn’t want to jinx it by telling anyone. The only person I told was Vanessa, and then I carried the secret around for months! 

          I cannot stress how incredibly professional Burning Eye have been. I’ve worked with editors and proofreaders, going through the poems and clarifying every last mark of punctuation or dodgy example of bad grammar. (Like this sentence). Hours spent enchanting emails about the rules on brackets and semicolons, hyphens, and the fact that one poem had to change its content in order not to be sued by a large film company which has a mouse shaped logo! Burning Eye were brilliant, it felt so good to be a part of their system.

          So, what is Nice?

          First of all, the title. I’ve always hated the word ‘nice’, because it’s so floppy and undescriptive, and it can be used sarcastically. But I wanted the book to be positive, to contain only funny or life affirming poems, and I needed a one word title that was positive in itself. The original title was ‘Nice One’, then I went with ‘Responsible’, and then back to ‘Nice’. I was also going to call it ‘Poems’.

          So, Nice is a collection of fantastic upbeat silly funny poems which don’t tax the brain and make no claims to literary excellence, but they are the ones that I enjoy performing the most and the ones that the audiences like. There are also one or two brand new pieces in there which I’ve not yet performed, such as a rap about fuchsias originally written for my music group Croydon Tourist Office, and another about, ahem, weird sexual fetishes. Indeed, a first read of the manuscript shocked me at the amount of sex mentioned in the book, although there was nothing exactly graphic. I did wonder what a psychologist might think!

          The cover is deliberately bright and clean. It’s based on the sort of design that you might see on a 1980s album cover, I wanted to create something simple and iconic, easy to replicate, and easy to put on posters. I think it looks clean and fresh, and the motif is repeated on the back. The colouring also could represent the rainbow flag, though this is not explicit and I only thought of it after I’d designed the cover!

          On the whole, Nice represents the last two or three years of my performances, and now it’s out there in the open for the whole world to enjoy, and I can go on to the next thing.

          I’m hugely proud of the book and the reception so far has been great. I’ve been working on it for a year and it still hasn’t lost its magic with me, so I hoping that this remains the case for the reader, too. The next step is a couple of events to help launch it, such as a book signing in Paignton in December, and a mini book tour taking in Torquay, Exeter, Bovey Tracey and Woking.

          You can buy the book here