From The Charlotte Austin Review Ltd.
I am from north-eastern England, having been born in
Newcastle-on-Tyne, a city famous for being the place to which coals are
superfluously carried, not to mention the original stamping grounds of the
Animals. I shall not go on too much about the general geographic area, for
the descriptions in Catherine Cookson's novels cannot be bettered. And
yes, we had a clothes mangle. In fact, I once mangled my younger sister's
fingers by accident, but we don't talk too much about that.
happened, I was one of those children always being told to put my book
down and go out and play. Apparently I was reading by the time I went to
school, my mother having taught me more or less in desperation because I
kept asking what it said on the butterfly-decorated label of the Fussell's
condensed milk tin. As a teenager I always said that I wanted to be a
writer and live in a garret and now, some years later, I have achieved at
least half of those two o'er weening ambitions.
published writing appeared in sf fanzines duplicated on clunky old
Gestetners. Ah, how rich was the person who actually owned a duplicator,
as opposed to those like me, who put them out by staying behind after work
to crank out reams of quarto sized dreams. Writing this conjures up the
feel of those big squishy tubes of ink, the pear drop smell of the scarlet
corflu (correcting fluid)that bedaubed floppy, waxy stencils, the whiff of
charcoal when technological advances brought the wonders of
Being able to run a duplicator without putting
the stencil back to front on the drum was a useful skill to boast when
interviewing for the secretarial posts which were my first forays into the
working world. Later on I began to do much more interesting jobs. One of
my favourites was running the Theology Faculty office of the University of
Oxford. Another was working for Sir Clive Sinclair, whose company was
housed at that time in a converted paper mill in a village near Cambridge.
That was the job where I had the dubious honour of being filmed for a tv
science programme, riding the prototype Sinclair electric bike around the
office. This feat caused great excitement when viewed by my young nephews
and niece up north and it's strange to think that it may still exist
somewhere, recorded on an old spool of film lurking in the BBC
A couple of years after that I emigrated to America. The
two events are not, of course, connected in any way.
Thus it was
that I was living in Illinois when I sold my first story in the late
l970s. It was, ironically, to the BBC World Service Radio's short
story programme. "Aunt Ba's Story" was inspired by two things- a dream and
"Home From Sea", the Pre-Raphaelite painting. Emboldened by this success,
within a couple of years I had ventured out onto the uncharted waters of
the literary seas and was publishing nonfiction articles with quirky
topics. Subjects like canine companions to the saints, cheese rolling, Dr.
Merryweather's Tempest Prognosticator (a weather forecasting device using
leeches), English high teas, that sort of thing.
set out to write ghost stories after the style of M. R. James and E.
F. Benson, two of my favourite authors. As it turned out, I began writing
mystery stories, the first of which appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery
Magazine in l987. "Local Cuisine" is set in England and was inspired by an
old folk tale concerning the dining habits of crustaceans. Numerologists
maybe interested to note that the first story that Eric and I co-wrote
(and indeed the first story about John the Eunuch) was published six years
One For Sorrow was published six
years to the month after that first John story saw light of day. Of course there are many more tales to be
told, not only about John the Eunuch, but also concerning our modern day
Mongolian policeman, Inspector Dorj, as well as other characters as yet
unknown to the world. A modest ambition of mine is to write a story that
includes a naturally-occurring reference to Fussell's condensed milk. I
wonder if they still make it?
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