There’s nothing that remarkable to my story. I grew up in a small market town in southern England, the youngest of six children living in a big old house. There were fields beyond our garden and a canal not far away.
I always loved exploring – woods, streams, buildings with unlocked doors… still do, although now I’ve reached the age of being (allegedly) responsible for my actions, I tend to go a bit easy on the trespassing part.
As a boy, life had its ups and downs. I wouldn’t exactly say my school days were the best time of my life. My family was vegetarian and we had no television – both of which helped make me a bit of an outsider. I also had strict parents who put academic achievement way above personal comfort.
There were times when I felt I’d got a rough deal compared to my friends. But – thanks to a fertile imagination and the countryside on my doorstep – it was easy enough to escape into worlds of my own making.
Now, a few decades of distance help give things a different perspective. In particular I wonder if I would have developed the writing habit quite so early if I’d spent my younger days sitting in front of the television.
All those days spent roaming my town and the area around it also put me in touch with my world. I knew my town, the villages around it – and much of the countryside between them – like the back of my hand.
That connection with where I grew up has also helped fuel my writing. My third novel, The Vault, is set in an imaginary town called Compton Fosse. But while the town itself doesn’t exist, its world does. Small English towns are what I know best.
Much of the story also takes place in a fragment of ancient woodland called Hobthrush Wood. It’s where my main protagonist – young Adam Strong – fights most of his battles with the yobs from the council estate. It’s also where he and his friends discover something a lot more dangerous.
As well as the inevitable gnarled oaks, hollies and towering beech trees, Hobthrush Wood is also full of meandering streams, bogs, patches of rhododendron, and areas of regimented conifers, exactly the kind of place where I spent many happy hours as a boy.
Looking back now, although I felt a sense of injustice about certain things in my life I know I didn’t suffer any real hardships – certainly not compared with those born in other parts of the world.
When I published The Vault, I decided that half of all royalties would go to the disaster relief charity ShelterBox. It’s an organisation that I know well – I used to be in charge of their PR.
In 2010, my wife and I also undertook a one-year tandem cycle ride in aid of the charity. For that challenge we were chiefly inspired by a short video about a young girl from Java – called Siti Ayeesha – who was helped by ShelterBox after an earthquake in 2006.
In the video, Siti explains: “A few days ago, we were woken up by the sound of the ground shaking. My house fell down and a lot of my things were lost but I’m very lucky because I still have my family.
“Not everyone was so lucky. Our village is not the same since the earthquake. All of the houses are gone and lots of my friends are no longer here.”
Now, when I go back to my hometown, a few places have changed but most are no different and many of the people I went to school with are still there.
Maybe I’d have written different books if I’d grown up in a country where earthquakes can wipe out your home and kill large numbers of the people around you. On the other hand, I’d settle for growing up without a TV and only getting to eat bacon sandwiches at my friends’ houses.
ShelterBox was able to help Siti and her family. I’m hoping that, through The Vault, I can help their work by writing about my world. With a little bit of help from my imagination. After all, I never actually came across a gang of armed robbers when I was playing in the woods.
The Vault is a mystery thriller set in a small town in southern England. The book revolves around young schoolboy Adam Strong and his battles with a gang of local yobs. Woven around Adam’s story are three other strands – an armed raid on the home of a reclusive billionaire, the discovery of three dead bodies in a local pond and a sex offender who goes on the run after breaking his parole.
The different stories – and timelines – all gradually come together as the significance of the vault and its contents finally become clear.
Aimed at adults, The Vault explores questions of trust and loyalty from a range of perspectives.
ShelterBox provides emergency shelter and other aid that a family needs to survive in the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
I originally trained as a journalist before going into PR. From 2006 to 2007, I was in charge of communications and fundraising for ShelterBox at the charity’s base in Cornwall.
Although I left the UK to retrain as a TEFL teacher (English as a Foreign Language), I continued to support ShelterBox and – in 2010 – my wife and I undertook a year-long tandem cycle ride in aid of the charity that involved riding nearly 11,000 miles across 10 countries and raised nearly £50,000.
My wife, Carolyn, and I have just bought a house in Bournemouth after several years teaching in Portugal. As well as writing, I currently juggle several part-time jobs – gardening, teaching at a language school and working as a sub-editor for a local newspaper.
I had my first writing success in 2005 when The Tale of Findo Gask won a UK contest for new authors. I was over the moon to get a publishing contract but sadly – although I did get to see my book in print and got one royalty cheque – the company involved went bust not long after.
Subsequently, along with Findo and The Vault, I’ve published one other novel – Thin Ice – and one collection of short stories – Fractured Lives – under my own name. I’ve also written an adventure novel called Pagan’s Sphinx under the pen name William Webster. At the moment – slightly annoyingly – this is selling a lot more copies than my other books.
I’ve also just completed the first draft of my next novel – Church of the White Rabbits – which is a bit more quirky than anything I’ve written before. This is currently in the hands of my beta readers but I hope it will be out by the end of the year or early in 2014.