As I said, I have written around twenty books, and ghosted others. I keep them in a three-shelf cupboard, which I hope to fill before I retire.
Nobody in my family was very artistic - though I believe my grandfather played the banjo. But as a child, I found myself filling notebooks with stories about owls or 'factual' books about the world where these owls lived. As an adult - well, I've just carried on, replacing the owl world with the human one.
As a young man, I was more into music than words. I wrote songs and played in bands. The best was The Oxcentrics, an outfit consisting largely of students based in Oxford, which played Dixieland jazz. Valentine's Lark, a prog rock band in London, were excellent, too (the guitarist and his wife, Tony and Gaynor Sadler, went on to become Sleeping Lions and successful producers, writers and session players).
However music was a precarious living. I got a job in the City - the City 1970s-style, which was a quieter place than its modern version (we had no computers in our office and we almost exclusively dealt in UK stock). Keen to progress my career - I still find financial markets fascinating - I went to study economics at the LSE, but found the subject totally baffling. I kept being told to assume things I knew not to be true! Switching to philosophy, I got a First, which I'm very proud of, though an attempt to become an academic failed a year into my PhD. I still think that my thesis, on Evolutionary Ethics, was ahead of its time. But maybe it just wasn't that good...
To recover from the collapse of my academic dream, I treated myself to a backpacking trip to China. I found this an utterly inspirational experience. On my return wanted to read loads of books by people who had done and felt the same. I couldn't find any, so I decided to write my own. Journey to the Middle Kingdom was published in 1991. I have worked with words ever since.
During the 1990s, I wrote crime fiction, a genre I have always enjoyed. I wrote four novels set in (then) contemporary China. Nobody else was doing that at the time, and it was fun to blaze a trail. The books were published in the UK, USA, Germany and Japan - not China, as the books are too political.
I also worked in marketing for an agency in Norwich that did, well, everything, from strategic consultancy for one of the city's top manufacturers to designing CD covers for a local farmer who wrote his own songs. In 1999, Mike Southon, an old friend who had co-founded a 150-person UNIX training business, approached me with the idea of writing up its story. The result was The Beermat Entrepreneur, which is my most successful book to date. A new edition is out now.
I have a great admiration for entrepreneurs. They are like writers: they create new things that change the way the world is. They take risks: many entrepreneurs have mortgaged their houses to back a business idea. If they fail, they bounce back. They have a bad side, too, of course - but that's all in Beermat.
Beermat took me to all sorts of places, giving talks to audiences of actual or potential entrepreneurs, or running workshops with them. I dipped a toe into the full-on corporate world, helping teachers at Ashridge Business School turn their expertise into books (Myths about doing Business in China was one product of this, co-authored with consultant Harold Chee).
I have gone on to co-write and ghost other books, especially with entrepreneur and NLP trainer Robbie Steinhouse. There's a huge pleasure in helping people 'find their voice' and get their truth out onto the written page. Their stories and knowledge are eye-opening - I've learnt a lot from my best 'gigs'. I belong to United Ghostwriters, a ghosting collective featuring some of the best ghosts in the business. It's quite an honour. We promote each other and more generally bat for high standards in the profession.
When my father died, I had to clear out the attic in the old family home, and found an old stamp album - like many people of my generation, I had collected as a kid. I started collecting again, and the stamps took on a new life, now as as 'little rectangular time machines' whisking me back in time. First Class, A History of Britain in 36 Postage Stamps was born. I have since done the same for the USA. After that, I wrote about European history though the lens of that wonderful annual extravaganza, the Eurovision Song Contest (I remember seeing Sandie Shaw pad to victory back in 1967).
I now write fiction for personal pleasure.
Life as a professional writer can be 'up and down'. There are moments of great excitement - there's often a moment when a book suddenly 'works' as a whole rather than as a bundle of interesting ideas. There are moments of concern, when the gigs suddenly run out (they come back, but it's never nice when they dry up for some reason). There is the day to day pleasure of doing a job I'm good at, that I like doing, and that brings me into contact with interesting people.