06 May 2018

What is your earliest reading memory?

Winnie the Pooh, for whom I felt a special affection since he was called Winnie and his owner was called Christopher. Also C. S. Lewis, the Narnia books. The first book I can remember reading through on my own was The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It is still one of my favourite books.

When did you know you wanted to write?

I have always enjoyed writing - when I was seven I won a school poetry prize with a poem called Apple Tree Leaves - not only did I win a Parker pen, which shows how long ago it was, but I also won my first kiss, from a girl called Elizabeth, so I guess I learned early on that writing can be rewarding.        

What kind of books do you write?

Non fiction books about Britain and Ireland (and New York) that are a mixture of travel and history. Quirky stories that are designed to make the reader exclaim 'I never knew that!', which is exactly what I say when I come across a great new fact or anecdote during my research.

What inspires you?

Music. And those who have the courage to follow their dreams, to break the mould. I have huge admiration for those who have the guts to just go for it, to try something for the first time - go down into a gas filled mine with a safety lamp, fly, break the sound barrier, dive below the waves in a submarine, go into space, test a new medicine or cure such as chloroform or vaccination, write a song, challenge an injustice.

Books and authors I’ve loved include:

C. S Forester's Hornblower books, Alexander Kent's Bolitho books, Larry Forrester's Fly for your Life about the World War Two fighter pilot Stanford Tuck and anything by Wilbur Smith, Desmond Bagley, Ken Follett and Frederick Forsyth - I love thrillers. And, of course, the master, P. G. Wodehouse.    

Which fictional character would you like to go out drinking with and why?

James Bond - anything could happen. And we would get into all the best places.

What moment in history would you have wanted to be present at and why?

July 20 1969. Apollo 11 lunar landing. No achievement will ever beat that of being the first human to set foot outside Earth. And I hope I live long enough to take a trip into space and to see the Earth from space. 

How do you prefer to write?

At my desk, which has a nice view of the garden, with the window open so I can hear the birdsong, and with smooth jazz or film music on quietly in the background. I like to have long intensive periods of writing and then long periods when I can switch off completely - against all the rules which say you should try and write something every day.

What’s the most useful piece of advice about writing you’ve been given?

Write for yourself.

How do you celebrate finishing a book?

I do some gardening to clear the head and then put my feet up with a glass of wine and an episode of Frasier. Bliss. And then my wife and I will go for a long country walk with the dog and a pub lunch.

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