An Informal CV
5th February 1948 on a farm in Suffolk.
My brother Philip and I were taught by a governess Miss Curtis until, at
the age of seven, I was sent to Hawtreys, a grim preparatory school which
is now mercifully defunct. I then attended Wellington College and, to
everyone's surprise, got into Cambridge where I read English,
emerging with a mediocre degree.
As a boy, I was obsessed with horses - riding them and following
their progress in the racing pages. For a while I rode as an amateur jockey
with plans of earning a living as a racing correspondent. But I discovered,
rather later than I should have, that the racing world was not for me. I then went
to Paris and worked in two bookshops. The first was a little shop called Shakespeare
& Co, which was - and is - a famous gathering-place for people who dreamed of being writers, or wanted to meet, talk to or sleep with writers. When I needed to earn some
money, I went to work in a much smarter bookshop called Galignani. I sold books
to carious famous people who were living in Paris at the time - Orson Welles,
Marlene Dietrich, Graham Greene and the Duke of Windsor. In 1972, I returned
to London and got a job in book publishing. I worked, first as a salesman, then
an editor, ending up as editorial director of a paperback imprint. I left to
become a writer full-time on 11th March 1983.
First Experience of Writing:
While in publishing, I began to write a satirical column under deep cover for
the book trade magazine Publishing News. The persona I inhabited was a
nightmarishly yobbish, snobby, randy ambitious paperback editor called
Jonty Lejeune who was fictional presence in real events (an idea stolen
from Auberon Waugh's diary in Private Eye).
In my early years as a writer, I would write almost anything to remain solvent.
I did some ghosting, wrote a number of comedy books, sometimes under
pseudonym. I edited a very successful book written by Ben Elton, Rik Mayall
and Lisa Mayer based on the brilliant sitcom The Young Ones.
In the late 1980s, I began to discover what I enjoyed writing. My first
novel Fixx was published in 1989. My Ms Wiz children's series was launched
at about the same time. Soon afterwards, I began to write a cheerfully acerbic
review of book reviewers for the Sunday Times under the pseudonym of Harvey
Porlock (a bad career move, I now see).
Since 1998, I have written a twice-weekly opinion column for the Independent.
In 2006, I found myself writing a biography after the death of my friend Willie
Donaldson. It was called You Cannot Live As I Have Lived and Not End Up
Like This: The Thoroughly Disgraceful Life and Times of Willie Donaldson.
Jonty Lejeune, Harvey Porlock, Talbot Church, 'The Man the Royals Trust'
(with Willie Donaldson), Paul Kinnell, Norah Lentil, James Riddell.
I write a twice-weekly opinion column for the Independent and a regular
column for The Author. When asked, I review books and contribute to
various Radio 4 programmes. I have devised a play called Nudes and
Peacocks, based on the life and writings of Willie Donaldson, which I am
hoping to have produced. I am also writing a novel for teenagers the theme
and content of which represents a big departure for me.
My partner in life is Angela Sykes. I have two adult children Xan and Alice
from my marriage (1975 - 2001) to Caroline Soper, now one of my best
Where I Live:
Home is an ex-goose hatchery on the Norfolk/Suffolk border, which Angela
and I converted in 2002 while we lived in a tiny caravan in a nearby field.
Overseeing the building of a house was an extraordinarily exciting and satisfying experience and I wrote a fortnightly regular column about the progress of our little
adventure in the Sunday Times.
Playing the guitar, particularly with my friend Derek Hewitson, with
whom I have formed the acoustic duo Something Happened;
reading; planting trees; hunting rats and rabbits with our dog Ruby.
The details change, but the essential remains:
to produce better work than I've ever done before.