BACKGROUND TO THE BOOKS
What would life be like for a Welsh schoolboy with the borrowed memories of a Roman Centurion?
This was my very first book and will probably always be my favourite for that very reason. It had very humble beginnings (the humility has continued) with some conversations I had with my daughter while walking our wonderfully attentive dog, Soba. It was about 2006, and we used to tell stories to each other as we walked, just making them up and telling a sentence each. The stories, of course, went in all crazy directions and we only had one rule which was that we were never to talk about clowns so inevitably the story became about clowns which while we were walking in the dark was a little bit scary for my younger daughter It was only seven or eight years old at the time. I remember this is one of the happiest times in my life.
At some stage, we started talking about writing some of these crazy stories down and I can recall saying that I would at least write a chapter. Just one. Around this time I was invited to Cardiff for a meeting and I had a couple of days afterwards where I got a bus up the coast to a little town called Oystermouth. I wanted to see a surfing break called Crab Island and secretly harboured hopes that I would be able to borrow a board myself, and hopefully a very thick wetsuit.
Well, I never got in the water but I ended up sitting on a loan bench on the top of these beautiful cliffs overlooking crab Island. Just off the little sandy beach were magnificent groupings of colourful sheds which I guessed were rented by holiday-makers in the summer. It was a spectacularly beautiful place. I had also visited a range of Roman ruins which were scattered around the area and had been reading about Hadrian's Wall and range of other remnants of the Roman Empire. What I noticed was that the Welsh were very proud that they had never been completely conquered by the Romans.
I guess it was through some wonderings about what the place must have looked like when the Romans were conquering the other land that got me thinking about the connection between the time periods. Coincidentally, at school, I had been teaching a course called Theory of Knowledge which among other things, considered the nature of memory and how it came to define a person. Sitting on that bench, high above Crab Island, watching the surfers in the cold November waves, I wondered what would happen if a child in present-day Wales started having memories of those times. The idea of Welsh independence from the Romans also made it seem like in a world dominated by the might of Rome, Wales would make an excellent hiding place for something that needed to disappear. The first chapter was written in my black notebook on that hillside. A second would follow and be shared with two girls and a dog on our evening walk.
LIFE ON THE PHARM
If people are to be used as spare parts, we don't need elaborate deception. Just some drugs, a healthy market and a high wall.
My second foray into fiction, just coming out of a lengthy PhD I had wanted to start another story but of course, needed an idea. I have just read The Unbearable Lightness of Being and in the introduction Kundera talked about different ways to begin writing a novel, different starting points. Although you could start with a specific piece of action or start with a particular character he mentioned that an interesting place to start was with a situation, he said that he had started that novel with the idea of a lady looking down at a street through the slightly parted curtains of a window. The story grew from there. It was a revelation - Starting a story without a story. I thought that a situation, a scene, was as good a place as any.
Both my daughters are vegetarian and my elder daughter had given me a book What Animals Think and Feel and under the influence of Kundera's woman staring through the window at the street below, I was wondering what I would be thinking in the cow's place. An image came to mind of a man standing in a yard staring through a chainlink fence at some cattle moving towards the slaughterhouse knowing that this was his own fate, as well. It grew from there.
SHADOW OF THE PHARM
When saving yourself isn't enough.
The whole point of The Pharm was the escape. It was inevitable that they would need to take the next step as you can't just walk away from the Pharm. I guess this is like everything in life, we need to confront the difficult things or they will keep haunting us. Fortunately, none of the difficulties in my life has involved the violence of the Pharm, so it is an interesting question to ask ourselves. Would I have chosen to go back inside like Lord Henry and Chloe the Great?
THE SILENCE OF AZUL
We are all from a time and a place and none of it is our fault.
Two families, lives intertwined. The original idea for this novel came from my experiences in the 1990s when I was doing my teaching practice. This is where you go into a school and get traumatised for the first time as a student-teacher. At the school, there were many refugee families from the Balkan conflict and I came to see how completely impossible it was for the school community who had grown up with peace, law and order to comprehend the trauma of these families. I noticed our unfortunate tendency to brush their past aside because it was too hard. Over the years, the growing anti-immigration rhetoric in Australian politics grew more and more disturbing. The characters in the novel are based on students I met during this period and the main idea I was trying to convey was that we all have our stories and all stories have value. We are all born into a time and a place and none of it is our fault.
CONVERSATIONS FOR A GLOBAL CHILD
Who do I want my child to become?
This was my first non-fiction project and started with some blog posts I was writing about conversations I've had with parents about their child's education in an out of school. After 20 years of these conversations, I found that there were some common themes coming through so I thought I would put them together. I had the parents of my school in mind as the audience and tried to keep the conversation relatively informal, or at least as informal as I could make it. It was nice to be relieved of the burden of academic writing after a PhD and a series of academic articles. The conversational style was much more enjoyable I found, but also quite challenging trying to find that balance between the logic of coherent advice and the conversational anecdote. This was also the first book I had translated into Japanese and that was a whole adventure in itself.
RISK OF MY DESIGN
To protect or to prepare my child?
This is the 2nd in the Global Child series. One of the ongoing issues that I seem to bump into is the school principal is the growing tendency for parents to be overprotective of their children and the related problem of students being more and more risk-averse. The idea behind the book is to provide some sort of structure where parents can embrace risk by using some fairly simple thinking routines to analyse potential risk and plan for it, not to eliminate risk - just to moderate it.
Last waves of the set
This one is still a work in progress. I have put together a few thoughts on surfing in your 50s. The Covid crisis of 2020/2021 did put a slight damper on some of the surfing trips I was hoping to start off my 50s with. In this project, I have been using a range of quotes and adjusted them to the surfing experience which was surprisingly easy to do. The great thing about this book is that its completion depends on some more surfing so it looks like I will need to get out there. The video below is from Leftovers on the Nth Shore of Oahu a few years ago and is the type of wave I hopefully will find myself chasing for another couple of decades.
A future feathered project
I've kept chickens a few times in my life and am planning a short project exploring some of the surprising experiences you stumble into when caring for our little egg-laying friends - the undisputed recycling kings. Living in an apartment in Hiroshima, I do miss their antics, and of course, their fresh eggs provided in exchange for food scraps and the odd centipede, their favourite snack.
Cycling in Japan
Being landlocked (at least in terms of access to waves) while living in Hiroshima, I have had the opportunity to explore this Chugoku (central) region of Japan on a series of cycling trips. These seem like a great area to explore with some travel writing considering how easy it is to get off the beaten track in this part of Japan. As with my surfing trips, I just need to get on the bike for some further research!