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Let me introduce myself…

I was born at the beginning of WW2 at Teddington (Tide-Ending-Town) on the River Thames in what would now be called Greater London. My memories are mostly of fooling around on the river on home-made rafts (I couldn’t swim but we never capsized) or excavating intricate labyrinths of underground tunnels with other local boys. These tunnels were periodically demolished by our parents, who considered them dangerous. There was also an equally dangerous gravel pit somewhere that occupied much of our time.

My mother had studied art design before her marriage. My father was, like Bernard Shaw, a Wagner addict. As far back as I can remember I always went to sleep with a Wagner opera playing in my bedroom. Siegfried became my first hero. Even before tzat music rocked me to sleep. My father’s closest friend was a French concert pianist. Jean-Jacques would come to the house during a bombardment and play for hours. As the piano was considered the safest place after the broom cupboard under the stairs, I was usually put to sleep under the piano.

At school I failed to shine academically, being far more interested in other activities – the school choir, the school orchestra (cello), the school drama club. The only subjects I enjoyed were English, French, Geography and Music. I would have enjoyed History but the teacher, “Beefy Budden,” was probably the most boring teacher ever allowed to practise!

Not long after leaving school, I was accepted at the Toynbee Hall Drama School, a sort of poor boy’s overflow from RADA (we had the same teachers) and was also given some minor roles at the Watford Rep Theatre, which closed later and was turned into to a Bingo Hall!

Then in 1961 I went on holiday to visit my old music teacher who was then working in a private Swiss school at Villars. I naturally met the founder and headmaster who said he could use me to teach drama and be a junior housemaster. I never returned to the UK and have been teaching, writing and travelling ever since.

My travels have taken me round the world – I have driven to India and back, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro twice – spent eighteen summers sailing among the Greek islands, hiked part of the Appalachian Trail and the Grand Canyon in the US, stood on the Cape of Good Hope and North Cape in Lapland, walked on the Great Wall of China.

I still maintain my love of the theatre as artistic director and actor with the Comédie Nestlé in Vevey. I have acted such roles as Professor Higgins in MY FAIR LADY, Fagin in OLIVER, Captain von Trapp in THE SOUND OF MUSIC and at least thirty other leading roles at the Vevey Theatre and two Franco-Swiss film productions.(as a bilingual actor).

The big failure in my life has been three marriages, all very international – American, Vietnamese, Ukrainian – but all ending in divorce. I guess at heart I’m what they call a confirmed bachelor. In reality I’m just too independent. I need my freedom in order to concentrate on my work and I’ve yet to find a partner who is able or prepared to share the long mountain hikes I still do every weekend (seven or eight hours a day) or the hazardous summer expeditions I take by camping-bus (twice across the Sahara) and the risks they involve (in prison in Iraq and Syria, but that’s another story).

It’s October 28 and has been snowing all day. The temperature outside is -6°and I’m listening to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony. Life is good!

I hope you have enjoyed reading a little about me and that you will enjoy future blog posts which will reflect my love of books, music, travelling and the outdoors.

 

What inspires a writer to imagine a novel?

What inspires a writer to imagine a novel? It might be a person or a place or in my case a quotation that caught my eye, combined with memories of places that have stayed with me over the years.

In THE HOUNDS OF SAMARIA I began with a quotation “Most people have the ability to describe and experience events and places that are blocked from ordinary perception.” To develop this idea I chose to situate the story in the south-west of Crete, a stretch of coast I got to love during several “hippie” summers back in the 60’s and early 70’s. Historically it is a mixture of WW2 events – the occupying German army had to contend with stubborn resistance in the White Mountains – and Minoan temple rituals (3000BC). The occult element stems from a true story I heard about a woman who, during the nine months of her first pregnancy, dreamt regularly of an unknown man. Finally she consulted a “clairvoyant” in London. She sat at his desk and without exchanging a word, he drew her a sketch of the man in her dreams. This developed into the final story of a English soldier of Cretan origin who had repeated dreams of a girl who seemed to be a dancing priestess in a Minoan temple. When he is sent to Crete in 1941 to organize resistance, he has visions of the same girl and is forced to conclude eventually that she had been the officiating priestess at a ceremony during which he, 3000 years before, had been the sacrificial victim. The book is written in the “stream of consciousness” style – no chronological order, numerous flashbacks – but what interests me most is the music in the words. Since as far back as I can remember I have been surrounded by music (classical). With the frequent use of alliteration and compound adjectives I try to make my sentences sing. (poetical prose).

I continue to use this poetical style in my other novels. THE TIDE OF DESTINY was inspired by three things : a quotation “In the years of trial, when life was inconceivable, from the bottom of the sea the tide of destiny washed her up to him”(Boris Pasternak: Doctor Zhivago). I chose to situate the story in another part of Europe that I love, the mountains of southern Switzerland and the Ligurian coast in Italy. I live not far from the Great Saint Bernard Pass, crossed by Napoleon’s army in 1800 on the way to Lombardy and the Battle of Marengo. The fortunes of a simple Swiss peasant boy are caught up in this turmoil.

THE WINTER SHOULD PASS is situated at the turn of the 20th century in Snowdonia, an area I have visited several times to go climbing. I am a lover of solitude and silence and the idea of living far from civilization and creating a home there has always appealed to me. As with the other two books I try with my descriptive prose to pay tribute to those wild unspoilt places fast disappearing. In THE WINTER SHOULD PASS I have taken a quotation by Euripides, “The gods visit the sins of the fathers upon the children”. The story illustrates the lengths people can go to in order to make love eternal.

Friends who know me well and have read my books all come to the conclusion that in every case the hero is ME. Well, that’s inevitable. I’m the person I know best. In fact my heroes are people I would like to have been. The poet Shelley* wrote “I am what I might have been”. As the reflection is always better than the reality, my characters are only reflections of an inferior reality.

UNDER TABLE MOUNTAIN is a biographical novel that takes place in Cape Town at the time of the Boer War. The inspiration for this book came directly from the fact that I knew the heroine, who lived the last years of her long life (she was born in 1894) in my village. Through the many stories she told me I was able to paint a historical portrait of that period and the many famous people who visited the home of her father (a Chief Justice and Speaker of the Cape Parliament).

To conclude, my priority will always be to explore style rather than concentrate on plot. My love of beautiful music will always push me into trying to make my prose sing, and that is enough to make me “excessively happy” (Shelley again).

 

 

*I have already completed the first draft of a 3-act play about the last three weeks in the life of Shelley, who died in Italy in 1821. – AN INCOMPATIBLE PASSION.