I was born in Hackney and, for the first sixteen years of my life, lived at one end of Green Lanes in Harringay, the place from which the London Borough of Haringey took its name and not far from the stadium where my father saw Henry Cooper fight. I trained and worked as a Residential Social Worker during the 1980’s, was married and had two children – Tom and Harry (both now in their twenties). Until 2002, I lived in Barnet, not far from Underhill, then the home of Barnet Football Club. Tom, Harry and I became avid Barnet FC supporters and, for much of their childhood, spent Saturdays during the football season travelling the country, watching our beloved ‘Bees’ (all too often losing – unfortunately).
Professionally, I joined the short-lived National Care Standards Commission in 2002 and then the Commission for Social Care Inspection which replaced it. In 2009 I became the Care Quality Commission’s Registration Advisor (CQC is England’s health and social care regulator). I also help my wife Patricia run Making The Best, a gorgeous little shop in Leighton Buzzard, which for the last four years has taken up so much of our time.
I have several passions outside work, apart from writing. In 1976 I happened upon a relatively unknown band called “The Jam” and instantly joined the ranks of the mods. It was the music, the sharp clothes (when all the other kids around me were wearing safety pins and torn tee shirts), and especially the scooters, that got me hooked. There was something about them. I thought then and I think now that the Lambretta TV175 is a work of art. To this day, if I see a classic Lambretta or Vespa in the street, I can’t help but stand and stare. More than one and the hairs are standing on the back of my neck. Riding among three thousand or so of them, during an Autumn bank holiday on the Isle of Wight, is one of the biggest buzzes you can imagine. Believe me.
I still count myself a mod (even if I do sometimes wear a cowboy hat). I think I always will. Paul Weller famously once said (allegedly) “I was born a mod. They’ll bury me a mod” and I think that goes for me too.
But it was amateur radio, one of my other great passions, that inspired me, in a round about way, to start writing. I grew up with an interest in electronics and radio but, when I was eighteen, I made the mistake of buying myself a ‘teach yourself amateur radio at home’ course. By the time that I was half way through it, I’d managed to convince myself that I’d never be able to learn enough to pass the exams necessary to obtain a licence. It was many years later, after I’d moved to Leighton Buzzard, that sat on top of Dunstable Downs one afternoon, I came across David Hodges (who became a good friend but has sadly now passed away) who told me about the training provided by the Milton Keynes Amateur Radio Society, which was then based in an old wooden hut at one end of Bletchley Park’s B-block.
I arrived there, one Monday evening in 2007 and was immediately both intrigued and appalled, in equal measure, by the rotting huts and semi-derelict buildings (thanks to Dave and the trainers at MKARS, I have since taken two of the three possible amateur radio exams at Bletchley Park and presently operate under the amateur radio call sign 2E0VPX).
Bletchley Park. If you have never been there, I recommend it, although now that they have spent millions on renovating the place it has, perhaps, lost some of the atmosphere that I found so captivating. It was exploring the place and the people of ‘BP’ that fired my imagination to the extent that I began to think about the plot for ‘The Shelter’ (and the other books in the Harry Stammers series). There is (or was) something about the place, perhaps due to the secrecy that surrounded the wartime codebreaking centre that had remained hidden from public consciousness for so long.
Walking around the crumbling, empty buildings and overgrown pathways and bicycle sheds, it was as though the thousands of men and women who had once worked there were whispering to me. I was smitten from the start.
I have always had a bit of a thing for history. But it was Bletchley Park that fired in me an interest in Britain’s lost history, places and events. Places like the deep level air raid shelter at Belsize Park which I would very like to visit one day, although I have no intention of abseiling down the main lift shaft (you’ll have to read ‘The Shelter’ to appreciate the reference).
But ultimately, it was my wonderful wife Patricia who convinced me to start writing. I don’t think I’d have ever thought that I could actually write a novel, if it hadn’t been for her (I’ll leave you to decide whether she was right!). Thankfully, since then I have been entirely unable to stop.