I grew up in Essex and then spent most of my formative years living in South London before finally settling backdown in mid-Essex with my family. As a literary writer, I often use the thriller genre to tell stories which combine realism with a blend of the surreal. I published my debut novel, Zombie Park in 2017, an intense and darkly comic drama, set in a dysfunctional psychiatric hospital during the social and economic turmoil of the 1980s. Since then, I have published short stories and flash fiction whilst completing my second novel, The dead hand of Dominique. This is a Post Brexit crime thriller, a dark and disturbing tale about a career villainâs journey through the underbelly of London and Essex, searching for answers to his bossâs AWOL mistress, and a way out of a heartless world to fulfil his own dreams. I have recently signed with the publisher Cranthopre Millner and now working on releasing this novel within the next 12 months.
Are you the central character Roland Cauldron?
"I was when I started writing the book but not at the end. Roland had morphed in to something else and had become a person in his own right. I got to a point, probably after the first draft, where I could see Roland in opposition to myself; he had become objectified. Instead of thinking what would I do if I was in such and such a situation, I started thinking, what would Roland do?"
Is it a true story?
"Well, fact is always stranger than fiction! There are some truths, in the sense that I have drawn on experience. However, it is not autobiographical or semi-autobiographical; I stuck to the craft of fiction, conformed (to the best of my ability) to the rules of narrative, plotline and character. Hopefully, this moves you away from the personal to the universal."
Why did you set it in the 1980s?
"I had to, there was no other choice, if the novel was to sound authentic, it needed to reflect the experience I was drawing on. Beyond that, there were more general ideas, mainly around the notion it was a neglected period and a time when the political and economic landscape changed. The institution, the mental hospital where the novel is set in, provided a perfect analogy for the shift from the one consensus to the new consensus, one which we live with today."
There is a strong political theme in your novel, with the young characters and your central character strongly opposed to 'system'. But what have you got against authority and capitalism?
"That's a long story. Zombie Park is the first book in a Quartet, so I have three more books to explore the themes of authority and capitalism. My preference is to tread carefully in fictional terms, because there is a real and present danger of drifting in to the didactic, rather than letting your characters speak and allowing the reader to make their own conclusions. But the short answer is, I have always struggled with authority, but I have tried my best to adapt. In Zombie Park, the character Terry says of Roland Cauldron, 'you can only be angry for so long'; which means I have calmed down a little, at least to avoid the obvious pitfalls! As for capitalism, all I will say for now is it is a contradictory system: on the one hand it revolutionises people's lives, it is a restless beast, turning everything upside down when you least expect it; but that creates the dynamics for its own demise. Therefore, it is always a good idea to think about what might replace it when all else fails!"
What do you think about today's mental health services?
"My direct experience of the mental health system goes back to the days of institutional care. Since then, I have not been directly involved in mental health. However, I support the need for greater investment, more resources and a better understanding of the difficulties people have with coping and hopefully overcoming mental illness. The book is dedicated to the patients, whoever they maybe because few people are exempt from the problem of mental health, as many of us go about surviving through different means. My own view on mental health services is best summed up by the character Morten Slaney, the Interim Chief Executive, when describing the future: 'We will end up with fragmented institutions of barbarity and a substantial increase in acronyms. So, we will then be able to say we have created lots of FIBs'."
How easy has it been to publish your book?
"These things are never easy but I had a well thought out plan. I knew, once I had been through the ritual of rejection by literary agent gatekeepers, how I was going to get from A to B. The book market has changed, so writers like me now have a voice; we can now publish, rather than be left to despair at our labours from ever seeing the light of day. Fortunately, the internet, social media and other approaches to retailing, have had a democratising effect. But there are still significant problems and I support the principles of the Alliance of Independent Authors for a democratisation of writing and publishing. For authors like me, the issues are not so much around quality of product (as supporters of the traditional market would have you believe), but access to the market, getting people to know a book exists and is worth a reader's time and money. This is where all independent creative productions have their difficulties and where our voices continue to be stifled. This is also something I explore in the second novel: The Road to Praxis."
There are so many messages and themes in Zombie Park, but what was your primary message you wanted to get across to the reader?
"Perhaps there are too many themes and messages because I wanted to pack so much in! I suppose I always had in the back of my mind this image of me, the author, providing advice and guidance to the younger generation: that it's alright to think things are wrong, that it's a good thing to try and change things for the better; don't worry if you don't get things right because you and the agencies of change are far from perfect. And once you have been through the mill, feel thoroughly disillusioned with everything, you have no choice, but to get back up again and have another go!"