I never really thought that I’d have my own website, but on the cusp of
releasing a novel, I’ve been reliably informed it’s a “must-have” tool if I want
to promote it, and so thanks for taking a look. And now, rather reluctantly, to
the thorny issue of me!
Born in Reading, I sought different climes in my late teens/early twenties and
went west to that frustratingly beautiful project that is America, landing and
settling in Atlanta, a city which will always have a special place in my heart.
It was here I attended Georgia State University, studying English Literature
and Applied Linguistics whilst playing football (soccer) for the university, and
spending far too much time in notorious, edgy drinking establishments (Stein
Club/688/Weekends) which, unfortunately, are no longer there. It was in
these places that I met some of my closest friends, one of whom I have used
to create a central character in the novel. And Atlanta is where I established
myself as a teacher, a profession I absolutely adore. Those were super days in
a super place.
In my university years, I “woke up” to what was happening in the world,
Atlanta proving the perfect place to educate myself on such issues with its
strong history of civil rights and the birthplace of Martin Luther King, a man
whose historical presence in the city constantly inspired me. During this
“awakening” I was observing America, and like most Europeans who spend
extended periods there, absorbing the irresistible “can do” spirit of its people,
a swagger they carry off with such confidence, such charm, such generosity, an
aspect of the culture I’ve tried to describe through many of the characters.
I arrived in Atlanta during the mid-eighties to study, and while at university I
volunteered to work for a charity organisation (I think may have been) set up
by Elton John, a part-time resident of the city. In the sweltering Georgia heat
I remember delivering meals to people with AIDS, soon learning from talking
with other volunteers that our deliveries were targeted at people who had little
if any access to healthcare. As a European, I found this quite alarming. On
the bright side, meeting volunteers who worked tirelessly to make the lives of
those less fortunate more dignified was indeed a humbling experience, their
selfless work moving something in me. Though the novel is set in a place,
London, and a time, the 1970s, a decade earlier than my American sojourn, I
had no idea that what I was observing then would generate a story many years
later set in London. And, despite its title, I didn’t consciously set out to write a
“London” novel, but because of my love for the city, a truly magnificent beast,
it became clear during the editing process that it is a novel with London at its
heart, and as with my observations in the US, I have tried to include my take
on English life as I remember it in the late 1970s, when I was a lad.
With regards to the origins of the novel, I didn’t initially set out to write for
publication, but as an English teacher immersed daily in fine (and not so fine)
literature, during one summer holiday, on one of many trips to beautiful Lake
Como, I sat down and thought I’d give it a go, and started writing, continuing
during school breaks until a few years later, again by the lake in Como, when I
finished what I didn’t realise at the time was a very crude draft of what would
eventually become Tumbling in Bethnal Green.
During the eternity it has taken to edit, friends and students have asked if the
novel is confessional. It’s not, though anyone who attended my secondary
school in Reading might recognise people and places in it! Of course there are
parts that I draw on from my life, but any revelations can only be disclosed
over beers in any central London pub!