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Q&A

The following is drawn from a Q&A with publisher Simon & Schuster

Q. Previous occupations
A. Signwriter, songwriter, screenwriter.

Q. Favourite job
A. Other than scribbling stories, cooking for family and friends.

Q. High school and/or college
A. I was expelled from my first senior school for failing to attend. The local woods and wildlife were a lot more friendly and interesting! The choice was then a Borstal detention centre, or Moulsecoomb School on the (then) notorious council estate where I lived. I turned up for the latter, but the teachers often didn’t. Who could blame them. Wood chisels were thrown, a class was set on fire, there were bare-knuckle fights pretty much every day, and that was just the girls! In my mid-twenties I earned a scholarship to study film at the Royal College of Art. Still proud of my MA Distinction and grateful to Prof. Dick Ross for taking a leap of faith.

Q. Name of your favourite composer or music artist?
A. Depends on the moment. I like to have music playing when I’m writing, but it has to be instrumental, voices would clash with all those in my head. I have an iPod with 2000+ songs, but also play vintage vinyl. I still have Tangerine Dream’s ‘Rubycon’ LP, which I brought in Brighton in 1976. Surprised I haven’t worn it out, it gets played so much.

Q. Favourite movie
A. I’ve a collection of over 250 DVDs, from obscure art-house to Hollywood mainstream, and I cherish them all for different reasons. Movies I’ve seen more than ten times: ‘A Tree Grows in Brooklyn’, ‘My Life as a Dog’, “On the Waterfront’, ‘Moonstruck’, ‘Groundhog Day’, ‘American Splendor’, ‘The Court Jester’. The latter, made in 1955, I watch with my daughter at least once a year and we cry with laughter every time.

Q. Favourite television show
A. “The Blue Planet’; ‘Breaking Bad’ (apart from a blip and misjudged shift in tone at the start of Series 3) was mesmerizing. My wife and I binged. ‘Twin Peaks’ still resonates 25 years on. Recently, the box set of Danish drama ‘Borgen’. Sublime. And to quit at the top of their game, showed great style.

Q. How would you describe your life in only 8 words?
A. Thanks to my beautiful wife and daughter, charmed!

Q. What is your motto or maxim?
A. Give more than you take. It’s the root of true happiness

Q. How would you describe perfect happiness?
A. My wife Helena and I bundled up in overcoats, hats and scarves on a wild beach in mid-winter, drinking steaming hot home-made soup straight from an old coffee jar. It was the perfect birthday present.

Q. What’s your greatest fear?
A. In the real world, the bad guys will win.

Q. If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you choose to be?
A. I believe in living in the moment, so exactly where I am right now.

Q. With whom in history do you most identify?
A. Vincent Van Gogh. Luckily Helena saved me from the ear thing!

Q. Which living person do you most admire?
A. My dad, Mahatma Ghandi and Mandela. For their quiet courage and infinite wisdom. They’re no longer around to hug or seek advice from, but they ‘live’ on through their influence and inspiration. (Helena definitely makes the list too, but I thought I should give someone else a look in!)

Q. What are your most overused words or phrases?
A. ‘Cool’, and ¿dígame? – the latter I picked up while living in Mallorca. It’s what the locals say when they answer the phone. Literally: Tell me, speak to me. I use it everywhere but on the phone.

Q. If you could acquire any talent, what would it be?
A. I bash out chords on my Washburn 12-String, but I’d love to play guitar like Django Reinhardt.

Q. What is your greatest achievement?
A. A co-production with my wife: our smart, funny, feisty, beautiful daughter Millie.

Q. What’s your greatest flaw?
A. I believe that anything is possible.

Q. What’s your best quality?
A. I believe that anything is possible.

Q. If you could be any person or thing, who or what would it be?
A. I can barely swim, so a Blue Whale – amazing creatures, with access to a world we’ve never seen.

Q. What trait is most noticeable about you?
A. Hopeless romantic always covered in cat hairs.

Q. Who is your favourite fictional hero?
A. Spiderman; Santiago in Coelho’s ‘The Alchemist’; Terry Malloy in Budd Shulberg’s ‘On the Waterfront’; Oskar in Jonathan Safran Foer’s ‘Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close’. All flawed, all trying to find themselves while struggling with weighty moral dilemmas.

Q. Who is your favourite fictional villain?
A. Keyser Söze; Charles Dickens’ Fagin; And my great pal Treat Williams as Critical Bill in ‘Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead’, funny and terrifying!

Q. If you could meet any historical character, who would it be and what would you say to him or her?
A. Who: Deganawidah, the legendary Native American spiritual leader also known as The Great Peacemaker. I’d say: “Teach me”.

Q. What is your biggest pet peeve?
A. The inconsiderate.

Q. What is your favourite occupation, when you’re not writing?
A. Teaching and gardening. They’re the same in many ways. Plant a seed. Tend it carefully. Watch it bloom.

Q. What’s your fantasy profession?
A. Spiderman!

Q. What 3 personal qualities are most important to you?
A. Kindness, loyalty, integrity.

Q. If you could eat only one thing for the rest of your days, what would it be?
A. One thing? Or one meal? If I’m cooking, then Brown Basmati Rice cooked with sautéed onions, garlic, turmeric and cayenne pepper, served with grilled, line-caught Sea Bass, marinated in lemon and root ginger, with steamed Cavolo Nero and roast fennel. A glass or two of José L. Ferrer’s Reserva Especial would be nice too (hey it’s my call, I can have red with fish if I want).
Q. What are your 5 favourite songs?

A. ‘Kentucky Avenue’ by Tom Waits - his way with character and narrative is equal to any novelist alive; ‘What a Wonderful World’ the Stacey Kent rendition (apologies Satchmo, I love you, but this version breaks your heart and mends it too); ‘Jerusalem’, words by William Blake, music by Sir Hubert Parry; ‘Life’ by Tony O’Malley (okay, sure, busted, I wrote the lyrics), and ‘Still in My Heart’ by my great friend, the brilliant and beautiful Herbie Armstrong.

On Books and Writing

Q. Who are your favourite authors?
A. H Mortimer Batten, Paulo Coelho, Lewis Carroll, Jonathan Carroll, Hans Christian Andersen, Stan Lee, Raymond Carver, Betty Smith, the poet Rumi, I could go on…

Q. What are your 5 favourite children’s books of all time?
A. There are some wonderful titles out there today, but I’ll go with the classics I was raised on: ‘Red Ruff’, H Mortimer Batten; ‘The Call of the Wild’, Jack London; ‘The Jungle Book’, Rudyard Kipling; ‘Jonathan Livingston Seagull’, Richard Bach; ‘Alice in Wonderland’, Lewis Carroll.

Q. 5 books given to friends for the must read pile?
A., ‘Who Moved My Cheese’, Dr Spenser Johnson; ‘Gaia – A New Look at Life on Earth’, James Lovelock; Tuesdays with Morrie’, Mitch Albom; ‘The Alchemist’, Paulo Coelho; ‘Eating Animals’ Jonathan Safran Foer.

Q. Do you have one sentence of advice for new writers?
A. Write from the heart-mind. (see The Savage Kingdom for more detail!)