Shortly after my last gig as Robert Blair, WH Smiths ran a science-fiction short story competition to win a bit of computer kit. I can’t remember what the kit was and I certainly didn’t want it but I did want to win the competition.
I have been writing since the age of 14. I date it from then because that’s when I went on a writing course with my school to the Arvon Foundation at Totleigh Barton in Devon. It was a great and formative experience. My friends went and so did Some Actual Real Life Girls, who were very funny and clever and pretty.
The poets were a revelation as well. They were proper old school loons with neckties and drink problems. Even Ted Hughes popped in, the year before he became Poet Laureate and people who had never heard of her previously started blaming him about Sylvia.
I never quite got the point of school, with its endless need for conformity, but mine was all right and was blessed with an excellent fencing club and a very creative English Department. We would have writers in residence, who I would attempt to drain of all creative and literary wisdom.
One was a poet called Vicky Feaver who by a strange quirk also became my personal tutor at college. Another was a radio playwright called Michael Bartlett. We were both big fans of The Goons and other radio gems like The Dark Tower. He took me to a recording of one of his radio plays at the BBC. I sat in the glass booth for seven hours, rapt, as they recorded it. This, I thought, was what I wanted to do.
To write a word that other people have to perform you need to have performed yourself. This need was the drive for my acting. I started performing at college where I did an English & Related Arts degree, which entailed old school literary analysis and a wealth of creative opportunities. During my degree I performed in everything from musicals to performance art. I also wrote poems, plays, stories and pieces that are hard to describe as anything other than “studenty”. So the one for the Smiths competition couldn’t be too difficult could it?
My story was called ‘The Psychometric Man’, which was the start of something although what exactly I wasn’t yet sure. I will publish it here next week.