You got to know with several places during your childhood. Before your homecoming to the UK you studied in Australia. Is there something you feel grateful to that culture for? Have you brought any attitude of mind with you which shaped your talent and art?
Good question, but my answer might be a little controversial. I think the main thing Australia gave me was perspective. I emigrated as a child with my family from England to Australia in 1967, and the experience was a traumatic one. We went from an idyllic village on the edge of the rainy Yorkshire moors into a desert environment in the driest part of the world, full of poisonous insects and snakes — we met scorpions on our street corner, had nameless giant caterpillars in the house (and a baby snake) and had to evacuate classrooms at school due to the presence under the building of a deadly brown snake. But had I not had the years in Australia, would I have appreciated my return to England, and eventually to Yorkshire, quite so much? It’s hard to say. I’m not sure about an attitude of mind: I know both my skills as a pencil artist and as a writer had their seeds in Australia, but they were very much ‘indoor’ pursuits. The fact that I clung to everything English while I was there (for a quarter of a century!) was probably a more formative factor.
In our days we celebrate the art of comics, alternate dimensions and especially iconic superheroes. You built your own whole literature in this way. Would you tell us more about the characters, their power and world you invented? I probably wish for the impossible but please, introduce at least your favourites to us!
Wow, hard to know where to begin. I was inspired as a child by Marvel Comics in particular, which was undergoing its legendary creative explosion back in the ‘60s with Stan Lee, Jack Kirby and others. I began to draw my own superheroes and pretended I had my own comics company, so started drawing comic covers, complete with prices and so on. I had over 600 of these by the end of the ‘70s, hand-drawn using pencils and coloured pens. At first the superhero world I created was very much a ‘clone’ of the Marvel world, but over the years it developed its own uniqueness. As I grew up, the storylines became more sophisticated and intertwined. Now the whole thing is a vast web of unwritten tales, featuring godlike characters like Flashman Faraday, and larger-than-life heroes like The Champion or Starsword. I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to putting these stories together!
Which one of your or others’ characters mostly embodies an example and motivation for the people of these days? Why?
Motivation for people of today should be the same as motivation for people in any age: honour, integrity, self-sacrifice, wisdom, compassion. These are exemplified in characters from literature like Gandalf, Atticus Finch, Captain America and so on. In my own story worlds, there are similar people, even though few stories of mine are finished.
Which values of your oeuvre do you consider should be followed by younger generations?
See above, really. I see little outward evidence these days of anyone embracing the traditional values that need to be embraced, but nevertheless those values are what holds societies and communities together, so there must be a great deal of work going on behind the scenes, out of sight, otherwise things would have fallen apart even more by now. As an example, the nurses of the NHS in England — I observed first hand an extraordinary dedication to duty and to the sanctity of human life earlier this year in them. They sought no special reward or recognition but behaved like angels. Their work, and work like it, is the glue which prevents society from collapsing. And most of them were young, some fresh from school.
Talking about young people: your commitment to literature is also represented by teaching — ‘Education and laughter go well together’ – as you mention it on your website. Sounds like your motto or even ars poetic. Would you explain it a little bit further?
Yes. I became a teacher back in 1997, with very little idea of what I was doing. But I noted quite quickly that humour was a higher form of communication, potentially at least. If you can get someone to laugh with you (or even at you) you have opened up a channel into their minds and hearts. If you can then combine laughter with some learning — say, in my case, about literature — you have much more chance of simple data being not only retained but prized and valued. For example, I taught the book Great Expectations to teenagers for several years. By doing the voices and mannerisms and explaining each tricky word as I went along, soon some students were re-enacting scenes in the school yard during their breaks. That’s when you know as a teacher that your job is achieving something.
Do you consider yourself an educator/teacher or an artist? Or are these just roles expressing your creativity?
Teacher/educator, rather than artist, I think. I tried to be a ‘pure artist’ at one point and couldn’t get beyond the pretentiousness of it. But ask me to convey an idea to someone, and I can usually do it.
If you had a superpower, what would it be? Which superhero would you like to be?
One small superpower which would make a huge difference to me would be the ability to read 100 times faster while retaining full understanding. I could cover whole libraries of material in a few days. But a serious superpower? My favourite Marvel superhero for many years was Thor, just because of the sheer power volumes he demonstrated, along with a nobility of spirit — but more recently I’m leaning towards Captain America because of his sense of integrity and dedication. Then there’s Doctor Strange… this is a difficult question.
Does your writing imagination have something to do that you are a fan of reading? Do they read your works in Greenfields School where you have worked?
Yes, reading is the highway to the imagination. I don’t think you can really separate reading from the ability to create or value creation. It’s been many years since I was involved in the school — I think my works will probably have been forgotten by now! But I know that many students were impacted at the time by some of the ideas I presented to them.
How did quarantine and lockdown affect you? How did you spend your time?
The truth is that quarantine and lockdown in themselves made virtually no difference to my normal routines. I work from home anyway and have no need for face-to-face contact with anyone outside my immediate family. So I just carried on as normal, editing, proofreading, writing and publishing. My daughter being home from school was the only major difference.
There are diverse opinions about Covid’s impact on everyday life. It tied some people up in knots but other people find that life has become slower, humanised. What is your experience? Can you find anything positive about this period of time?
The first stages of Britain’s lockdown were eye-opening, I think. There was a genuine community spirit and coming together of all kinds of people. It showed that the kinds of values I mentioned earlier are still strong, even though they tend to fade into the background after a while. The noisy, abrasive and divisive minority are inclined to hog the headlines, as a matter of nature — but the truth about humanity was plain to see in those first few weeks.
Would you send a message to our readers and the world?
I wouldn’t presume to send a message to your readers or the world. They probably have far more interesting things to say than I do. But I would try to listen to them. Listening is almost a lost art — the ability to really listen with understanding, rather than just receive communication while planning a reply, I mean. Listening, done properly, could probably save the world.
What are your present and future plans you wish to announce?
I work every day to build my publishing organisation Clarendon House Publications into a stable and productive platform from which others may launch their careers as writers. I’m constantly putting out books: fiction, non-fiction, educational material, aesthetic pieces and so on. I would also like to develop my art (pencil drawings). But I take each day as God gives it and try to do my best with what I have. It’s a mistake, I think, to have too many grandiose ambitions, not just because of fear of disappointment, but because they can distract one from the here and now and from the simpler kindnesses and duties which are required from us more locally.
Thank you in advance to share your views with our magazine!
Thank you for the opportunity and all the best with your venture!
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