“If you say something in a convincing way, turns out people will often believe you.”


Silver River Shadow

The internet pulsates with lies, damned lies and statistics – and people who will happily borrow an idea and pass it off as their own, as I would be if I didn’t mention Mark Twain said that first. Or Disraeli. Nobody’s quite sure.

And authors, by their very nature, are storytellers. Since I spend my time flitting across to increasingly obscure corners of the world I could easily play the part of a chameleon, changing everything about myself on a whim. I think sometimes we adapt unintentionally – my accent, for example, becomes embarrassingly British when I’m angry or alarmed, with unmistakable undertones of, ‘Don’t you know who I am?’ inadvertently slipped into conversation.

Without a dialogue, without seeing you and recognising what you’re reacting to, it’s difficult to know what to include here. There are the basics: I was born in Plymouth, and now I live between my cottage in France, my cherry-red van who answers to Flo, and wherever happens to have taken my fancy. And the add-ons to the basics: I studied English Literature at Lancaster University and trotted off with a First, following this up by heading to Oxford for a Master’s. I’d planned on switching from Literature to International Development but ended up getting lured into the lives of some eighteenth century female poets and instead, red-faced and flustered, squeaked my way through rolls of microfilm in the glaring silence of the Bodleian.

I taught in eSwatini back when it was still Swaziland, where a sacrificial goat was a school raffle prize and ceremonial spears were checked in at the supermarket. I lived on Nevis in the Caribbean for a while, an island where the bright tumbling bougainvillea competes for attention with the expats who self-medicate with lithium. I bribed a policeman in Indonesia with Coca Cola, one in South Africa with foreign currency, and another in Romania with a pile of Bibles: it’s more a question of them seeing a foreigner and conjuring up a reason for a fine than that I did anything particularly noteworthy.

During lockdown, at a time when we all sought a little more meaning in our lives, I created Books & Bicycles Press. The intention is to be as ethical as possible, with some of the books only available via indie bookshops and a single website: these books are as green as they come, using recycled paper and the Royal Mail and UK-based printing companies.

But perhaps it is best, in this situation, to introduce myself through some lines I’ve written. It’s the best way of getting to know a person since everything that I write is, planned or otherwise, a part of me. On good days – when the sun shines and sleep hasn’t been elusive and there’s chocolate within easy reach – I’ll create the ridiculous. I’ll start stories with lines such as:


“The penguin sighed, picked up the herring and slapped it repeatedly against the rostrum.” (The Monochrome Animals Club)


Or someone such as Penelope Patterson-Pound will suddenly come to life and I’ll head off on an adventure with her, not having a clue what she has in mind until it appears on the page. It turns out she wanted to sail the world armed, of course, with endless bottles of Champagne.


My lady, it’s terribly heavy,

Do you need all that booze on the boat?

The pink stuff of course keep for Sundays –

with the rest we will not stay afloat.”

Not to be put off by logic

Penelope said, “it will be fine!

And at least,” she added quite smartly,

it’s bubbly, so lighter than wine.”


I like writing. I like vast open spaces – the sea reaching for a horizon that is forever away – as much as I like to close the last zip on my tiny tent’s door and fold myself away into a green-glazed cocoon. I like watching people. I like reading: the Modernists are an easy favourite, but I’ll make an exception for the likes of JG Ballard and his perfect dystopias. I like dogs and bicycles and ice-cream and sentences created in such a way they reach back to the ‘whisperings and the champagne and the stars’ of Scott Fitzgerald.

To many people I seem stubborn and difficult, grouchy and critical – and yet I see writing as an opportunity to bring a bit of levity into people’s lives, and a chance to share some of the worlds I have witnessed.

After decades of travelling and peering into the lives of others I have reached a few conclusions. First, that there is always common ground if only we dig deep enough. And second, that everywhere – even in the greyest corners of a broken world – there will always be an Avon lady.

“Then he’d float to the ground and tell Ellie Mae

about all of the things that he saw,

and she’d learn of the world from the octopus

who once lived on the deep ocean floor.”


Jolly Ollie Octopus

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