These days, CVs start in the present and work back. I like the old-fashioned chronological approach.
I was born in a maternity hospital in Fishponds, Bristol, in 1957. I went to the local school, then won a scholarship to Bristol Grammar. My family had a television and electrical shop business in Staple Hill. I worked there in the holidays.
Then I went to Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, where I studied English and campaigned to admit female students. There really weren’t many in Cambridge in those days.
I’ve been writing professionally since 1978, when I was still a student. I sold my first article to a magazine about music recording and instruments. In 1980, I began training as a magazine journalist, working on newspapers for architects, doctors and commercial property people. I won an award for a series about the destruction of the old Soho village in London by developers who had made their money in porn. They own football clubs now.
After that I became first an entertainment and arts writer and then a general reporter on a bi-weekly newspaper called the South London Press. While I was there, I investigated the takeover of the local Labour Party by the Militant Tendency and the abuse of old age pensioners in a council care home. For my pains I was pushed down the stairs of the Town Hall, but I did get to appear in a television investigation into the subject. I had to walk towards the camera. Harder than it looks.
I also met Prince Charles and committed a grievous offence against protocol by bounding up to him with my notebook and asking him questions. I had no idea I wasn’t supposed to. He didn’t seem to mind.
At that point, around 1985, I was told I had no aptitude for journalism and should perhaps become as social worker. So I left and immediately secured a job as sole sub-editor on Private Eye, where I was responsible for overseeing the accuracy and literacy of its journalistic output and liaising with the magazine’s lawyers to try and stop it getting sued into oblivion. None of the hacks thanked me for this, because they rather liked getting sued: it wasn’t their money. I also did my own stories, including looking into government complicity in supplying haemophiliacs and others with HIV-infected blood from the US. It was a wild time, but I did get to meet people like Germaine Greer, Peter Cook, Richard Ingrams, Victor Lewis-Smith and that bloke who still edits the magazine. His name escapes me.
In 1987, I did a series as researcher on the late-night Channel Four discussion programme After Dark, which was famous because it allowed its guests to get drunk and ramble on until the last viewer died of exhaustion. Here’s one I worked on: it was a discussion about homelessness that made history by including an actual homeless person, called Spider. After that I went to Time Out, the London arts and listings magazine, as a casual sub-editor, rising to become features editor, responsible for writing and editing interviews, profiles, the diary column and the magazine’s consumer coverage.
In 1990, I became editor of the magazine, encouraging an investigative edge while continuing to foster the British film and arts industries. We introduced full television listings, after breaking the BBC/ITV duopoly, and achieved sales of 120,000 copies every week. I had a staff of more than 20 journalists and a freelance budget of more than £250,000 a year. I also managed to fall foul of the proprietor, despite doing my best to keep the magazine afloat when he was unable to pay his own staff. Time Out became a global brand, after he sold it.
At the same time, I was a researcher on a projected television series called All You Need is Ears, produced and presented by George Martin. I wrote the questions he used when interviewing people like Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Phil Collins and others and attended the shoots. I also had a commission writing satirical sketches for the Radio Four comedy series Week Ending, getting to know quite a lot of the comedians of the day. I continued working as an architectural journalist.
After that I worked for a bit at the Telegraph Magazine, commissioning writers, photographers and designers and writing my own features. I went to Sweden to explore why most of the principal dancers in the Royal Ballet were pregnant at the same time (“You English! You probably think they all have the same father! Hur, hur, hur!”), to America to discover how Keanu Reeves learnt to play Hamlet (with difficulty), and to a TV studio so I could appear on Ready Steady Cook! I won.
Later I was features editor of The People for a bit, but it was a hell-hole: I really struggled when required to put together a feature called ‘How The Stars Lost Their Virginities’. I was also editor of Premiere, the film magazine, for a week or so. They didn’t agree that it was a good idea to get Ruby Wax to review Schindler’s List.
From about 1993 onwards, I became a full-time freelance writer and editor. For 10 years I trained journalists and post-graduate students for PMA, Europe’s biggest publishing training firm. I taught reporting, writing, editing and internet research. I subsequently wrote a textbook called Magazine Editing for Routledge, which ran to three editions, the last of them (2012) co-written with Paul Bradshaw, who updated it to include a lot of stuff about data journalism. Amazingly, it’s still in print. The book was translated into Russian by Moscow University and can be found on the shelves of the library in Gaza. If you are curious, pirate copies are available on the internet.
I had a column about words in the Daily Telegraph for several years and produced two books based on that for Macmillan: Frantic Semantics and More Frantic Semantics. I wrote a little paperback called The Really Simple Guide to the Internet. I had to explain what email was and how to install a browser. It included a section on “interesting websites”: there really weren’t very many in those days. I wrote and designed a site containing a list of useful resources for journalists, called The Journolist, using what was then called “weblogging” software. Then the platform was upgraded and my site broke. I couldn’t spare the £100 some Hungarian guys wanted to put it right. Meanwhile, I was writing features, profiles and news stories for the Fleet Street newspapers and specialist magazines.
In 1992 I moved to Cheltenham and continued to work as a freelance writer and editor. I had a contract with Outline Press in London, producing music-related books mainly for the American market. I commissioned, edited and co-wrote two large multi-author books: The Classical Guitar: A Complete History and The Folk Handbook, which I created for the English Folk Dance & Song Society. For that one, I also built a companion website, which you can see here. I edited many instructional and biographical books, including titles on music-reading, songwriting, blues guitar, the fiddle, piano, Elvis, Todd Rundgren, Johnny Cash, David Bowie and many more. I also put together a book with, and about, Andy Partridge of the Swindon popsters XTC: Complicated Game.
At the same time, I was television critic and a columnist for The Tablet, the international Catholic journal (despite not belonging to that team) and a columnist and feature writer for Management Today (despite not belonging to that team either).
In recent years, I have turned to fiction writing, producing short stories, a couple of plays and a novel, and leading writing groups in Cheltenham. My group Cheltenham Stories is open to anyone who wishes to write, irrespective of background, ability or life-circumstances. I believe writing is a human right. Being published, however, Is not. That you have to work at.
My novel, Consequences, a satire about life in north Gloucestershire between the Brexit vote and the arrival of the pandemic, will probably be published later this year. I’m doing it myself, for practice mainly, but I’m not putting it out until I am convinced people will be interested. Every book a wanted book: that’s my motto. If you’d like to see the PDF of the ‘block’ (that’s the typeset text with no cover) just let me know.
I am also involved with film, having been for many years a committee member of Cheltenham Film Society and a member of the Cheltenham International Film Festival team. I am a Cheltenham Town season ticket holder. I run a book club. I can kind of play the ukulele, but you probably wouldn’t want to listen to me.
I volunteer with The Butterfly Garden, in Bamfurlong, near Gloucestershire Airport. It’s a wonderful place where people living with disabling conditions can learn to fulfil their potential. We recycle, garden, draw, paint, cook and chat.
Do get in touch if I can help you with any of your reporting, writing, publishing, film or music projects. I’ve tried being retired but I don’t like it. I like work.