An interview with crime author Kate Griffin

(This is fourth interview in my inspirational people series. To read more interviews please click here >)

I was thrilled when Kate Griffin said I could interview her for my website. Kate is a fantastic writer and I find her story very inspirational. She got her first book deal after entering a competition, how amazing is that! She writes novels for both adults and children… I really hope I can say the same this time next year. I’m determined that this is the year I write at least one fiction book!

Hi Kate, thanks so much for letting me interview you.

I thought we’d start by talking about what you were like as a child. Did you always love reading and writing stories? 

Even when I was tiny and couldn’t read a word I remember flicking through the pages of picture books and trying to imagine what the story might be.

Famous FiveI think it was Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books that gave me the key. I know they’re not fashionable now, but I loved them so much that I raced through them all. By the time I was around seven I was a really confident reader.

At my primary school there was nothing I enjoyed more than disappearing into a fantasy world. I either wrote very long, elaborate stories – often involving dinosaurs – I or acted them out and forced my long-suffering friends to join me in the plays ‘wot I wrote’. I was the Ernie Wise of Watford’s Knutsford School!

We had a dressing up box in the corner of the classroom and I loved pretending to be historical characters like Anne Boleyn. I was quite a gory child and I was fascinated that she’d had her head chopped off!

I don’t think it’s surprising that my books are gothically historical.

A Wizard of EarthseaWhat were your favourite books as a child? 

 Anything involving history or fantasy. After I moved on from The Famous Five I discovered Susan Cooper’s magical The Dark is Rising series which involves Arthurian legends, quests and the battle between good and evil. I also loved the Narnia books, Ursula Le Guin’s Wizard of Earthsea series, anything by Roald Dahl and books by a writer no one seems to remember now called Leon Garfield. They were historical tales and often quite spooky. I always liked slightly macabre stories – I really was the child who reads with a torch beneath the bed covers.

Who were your favourite teachers at school? What were your favourite subjects? 

My favourite subjects never changed – Art, English, History and Drama. At my secondary school – Westfield Girls School in Watford – I was lucky to be taught by several fantastic English teachers. The two I’ll always remember were Jackie Fairall who was young and amazingly stylish (she had a photo of David Bowie pinned up in her cupboard!) and Beryl Smith who must have been in her 60s. She terrified the life out of everyone, but she was a brilliant English teacher and I think she had a soft spot for me because I loved books and performing.

Both of them were fascinated by the theatre and they directed many of our school productions.

I also had an incredible history teacher, Betty Saunders, who was wildly eccentric and a fabulous story teller. Looking back I know I owe her a lot.

Did you have any big parts in school productions? 

I was quite a shy, nerdy child, but I loved acting. Looking back I think I relished the chance to be someone else. Maybe it was an escape? I think even now writing gives me the chance to become someone different. It’s definitely a sort of performance.

I was never the most glamorous girl in the school so, despite the fact that I was also pretty much the smallest girl in the school, I always played men. My most memorable parts were The Mad Hatter in Alice in Wonderland and Ratty in The Wind in the Willows. In the sixth form I was Mr Beetle AND Chief Ant in something called The Insect Play. I remember it horribly clearly. We’d just started having joint lessons with pupils at our associated boys’ school. Appearing in front of them all at the age of 16 dressed as a dung beetle and then as an over-sized ant (with pipe cleaner antennae) was mortifying.

How old were you when you decided you wanted to be a journalist/author? 

To be honest, I fell into journalism. After university I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do and I ended up working for an antique dealer in London for a year. I was terrible – part of the job involved heavy duty china dusting and I’m incredibly clumsy. I kept having to sneak out to Woolworths in my lunch break to buy super-glue to repair the damages, and then I lived in fear that he’d find the evidence.

The one bright spot was that I wrote and produced a glossy catalogue for his shop and had to research and describe every item. I really enjoyed doing it, so when I saw an advert for five trainee journalists at the Watford Observer I applied and was lucky enough to be offered one of the places.

I soon discovered I didn’t really have a ‘nose’ for hard news. All my journalist friends wanted to do the juicy front page stuff (murders etc), but I loved being sent out to golden wedding interviews which mainly involved visiting friendly old couples and listening to their life stories while drinking their tea and eating their biscuits. Most of them had lived through the wars and had amazing experiences. Writing up those interviews was a pleasure.

I think my editor realised quite early on that I wasn’t cut out to be an investigative reporter, but he thought I was amusing and gave me a weekly column where I could write about anything I wanted. Luckily people seemed to like it.

I think it was then that I began to realise how much I enjoyed writing for writing’s sake, but it wasn’t until many years later that I had the confidence to do something about it.

What did you study at college & university?

I studied English at London University (at Royal Holloway College) and then I did a PGCSE (post graduate certificate of secondary education) in English and Drama at London University’s Goldsmith’s College, mainly because I am a thwarted actress and wanted to do a drama course! I never did go on to teach, which is probably a good thing.

What has been the biggest challenge that you’ve ever faced? 

I think it relates to my answer to your next question. When I found out that I’d won the Faber / Stylist magazine competition to find a new crime writer it was October 2012 and I was on holiday. I was massively excited for a day or two and we popped open a bottle to celebrate, but then I came down to earth with a bump. Reality set in when I realised that I had to write almost a whole book in three months.

I don’t remember much of the frozen winter spanning 2012 – 2013 because I spent most of it hunched over my lap top.

I work in a room in our basement with a half window to the street. When I looked up for inspiration all I could see was people’s legs scurrying about in the snow outside. When I re-read Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders I realised that the snow had made its way into the book.

Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders CoverCan you tell me about the Stylist / Faber crime writing competition? What made you enter? How did it feel to win? 

It was pure luck – in every possible way. I work part time in London and I picked up a copy of Stylist one evening on the way to the station (I live in St Albans). I saw the competition and stowed the magazine away in my bag for future reference. When I got home I pushed it under the sofa and promptly forgot about it.

It wasn’t until a couple of months later that I thought about it again. It was the weekend of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations and I was at a loose end – my husband was working and the weather was awful.

I burrowed under the sofa to retrieve the copy of Stylist and came up covered in fluff balls. (Dusting isn’t my strong point – see earlier answer J )

The rules were clear and simple – entrants were asked to create a crime novel with a strong female protagonist and the judges wanted to see the first 6,000 words. That was all, really.

I thought I knew exactly what they were looking for: something contemporary, perhaps something with a bit of a Scandi feel to it, maybe a detective with lots of personal demons etc etc…

I thought: ‘Yes, I’ll give it a go.’

I went downstairs, switched on my lap top and started to type, but what appeared on the page was nothing like the above. Instead I wrote a conversation between terrifying, raddled, opium – addicted crime baroness (Lady Ginger) and a ‘mouthy’ girl who worked in one of her music halls (Kitty Peck). The date was 1880 and the action took place in London’s Limehouse.

I’m still not sure where it all came from, although my mum’s family lived in Limehouse in the nineteenth century and I knew that, at some level, I was imagining their lives. Also I was inventing a tawdry, intensely gothic theatrical world that appealed to me immensely.

So, I sent it off, thinking it really wasn’t what they were looking for and then out of the blue a couple of months later I got a call from Stylist Magazine inviting me to a ‘finalists’ meeting at Faber and Faber.

I was amazed and completely terrified.

How long had you been working on your book? 

Ha! That was the terrifying bit. When I went to Faber and Faber and met some of the judges they asked how much of the book I’d written. When I admitted that the 6000 words they’d read was all I’d done, the room went a bit quiet. I was asked if I could write the rest of it in around three months and – like an idiot – I said I could!

I really didn’t expect to win. That’s why the call I received on holiday was such a massive surprise, and why, when I really thought about it, the ominous words ‘what have I done?’ started to ring out in my head.

What are your favourite TV shows and movies? 

David Dawson acting in The Last KingdomAnything historical – I do love a good costume drama. The element of escapism appeals to me. I quite like a satisfyingly creepy horror film too. I saw Crimson Peak before Christmas and loved the lushness of it. I’m a huge fan of Game of Thrones (the female characters are so good) and last year I adored Wolf Hall.

On a modern note I loved London Spy too – but as it was really a gothic melodrama maybe that’s not surprising?

Over Christmas I binge-watched The Last Kingdom – which your cousin David Dawson was so very good in! [Click here to read my recent interview with David]

I also like a bit of comedy. Hunderby by the brilliantly black-hearted Julia Davis is a fantastic mash up of every gothic Victorian novel I’ve ever read. And I have a very soft spot for the Carry On Films. For a while in the late 1940s, my mum was at school with (Dame) Barbara Windsor, who is one of my cockney heroes.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

Since I started writing I don’t seem to have any! I do like walking round odd parts of the City of London when I have the chance. There are some fascinating ancient corners. I’m constantly surprised to come across medieval churches hidden in the midst of a forest of glass and metal skyscrapers, or to find parts of the old Roman wall.

I walk around Limehouse a lot to get a feeling for the place. It’s changed so much since my family lived there, but it’s possible to pick up so much by exploring, visiting the old pubs by the Thames and making a note of the wonderful old street names.

I enjoy going to the theatre too and I’m planning to do more of that in 2016.

If you could have written any book in the world, which one would you pick? I’d have pick Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird – I love that book so much.

Great ExpectationsThat’s a great choice! For me it would have to be Great Expectations, it’s such a rich complex and frankly weird novel. The more I read it the stranger and more troubling it becomes.

To be honest, my character Lady Ginger owes a debt to Miss Havisham. I enjoy all those fat Victorian novels, but Charles Dickens is the master. His characters are often completely baroque, but also so deeply human. I also love Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier.

How did you get your agent? 

My agent is the wonderful Eugenie Furness, of James Grant. We were introduced by Hannah Griffiths my equally wonderful editor at Faber just after I won the competition.

How long does it usually take to write one of your books?

Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill Fortune coverWell, that first one was a scramble, but my next deadlines were much kinder. Faber has asked me to write four Kitty Peck books. Kitty Peck and the Child of Ill Fortune came out last summer (2015) and I wrote it in nine months. I’ve just handed in the draft of book three, Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow and again, it took around nine months to complete the first draft. But, as you know, that’s never the end. After you’ve handed in a first draft there’s always a period of editing and fine-tuning. I really enjoy that bit; it’s like polishing dull silver and seeing the shine come through.

What usually takes you the longest – deciding on the plot etc. Do you have a plan on your wall, mapping out the story? I’m just fascinated by how you work 

I think everyone works in different ways. Some people prefer to make detailed plans and story maps, but I’m not organised enough to do that and, anyway, I think I need the thrill of the chase. I’m a ‘seat of the pants writer’.

I switch on, set off and wait to see where the story takes me. Having said that, I generally know how exactly how every book ends. It’s getting all the characters to that point that’s exciting.

Do you like writing for adults or children the best?

The Jade BoySince the first Kitty Peck book came out I also wrote two books for children The Jade Boy and The Moon Child (both published by Templar). It won’t surprise you to read that both are historical horror stories. The Jade Boy is set against the background of the Great Fire of London.

The Victorian era and the Restoration era fascinate me. They are both, rich, decadent and vivid.

It’s difficult to say which I prefer to write. I think children’s books are probably harder because it’s a tough audience to please. Children are very clear (and very vocal) about what they like, and what they don’t like and they have a forensic eye for detail.

What are your top author special moments that you’ll never forget? I don’t think I’ll ever forget the first time I ripped open my first box of author copies and held my first Robert Pattinson book in my hands. Seeing it in bookshops and in my local Asda was also an incredible feeling. Finding out one of my books was a Sunday Times Best Seller was also incredible, my dad was telling everyone in our local newsagents and must have bought about 5 copies of the paper. I think my third special moment must have been doing my first book signing in the library where I used to work part-time. 

Seeing the cover design for the first Kitty Peck was a big moment. I think I had tears in my eyes because it was real! But then again, it’s all been such an unexpected roller coaster. I was thrilled when The Jade Boy was shortlisted as book of the year for ages 8-12 by the BookTrust and subsequently long-listed for a Carnegie Medal. And also I was absolutely amazed and delighted when Kitty Peck and the Music Hall Murders, my first ever book, was shortlisted (it was one of five) for the Crime Writer’s Association Endeavour Historical Dagger Award. The daggers are the ‘Oscars’ of crime writing.

The Moon ChildWhat tips would you give to children who want to become authors?

Read as much as you can. Read everything – even the back of cereal packets at breakfast time. Try to read every day and explore lots of different types of books. After a while you’ll know what your ‘happy zone’ is – that’s the sort of thing you want to write. If you feel confident enough to write something yourself, go for it, don’t dream about it. Writing is a bit like a muscle – the more you use it the stronger it becomes. The most important thing is to have fun and ENJOY what you’re doing. The moment it feels like a chore or like homework is definitely the time to stop and do something else. Reading and writing should be an adventure!

Who has supported you the most during your author journey?

My husband, Stephen (who misses me when I’m writing because he hardly sees me) and also my lovely friends and work colleagues.

Do you have a writing schedule/particular time of day you like to write? I love waking up early and writing when everyone else is asleep. Ever since my daughter arrived two years ago, I’ve had to be more creative with my writing schedule and fit it around her. It’s been more tricky but since I’ve been a full-time author/mum it’s been easier. No more commuting into Manchester at silly o’clock to work as a copywriter in an office and then start writing as soon as I get home. How do you fit your writing around your day job? Do you write in a home office or somewhere else? 

Kate Griffin AuthorI work part time for a heritage charity. I’m in the office in London (an attic in a Georgian house in Spitalfields) three days a week so I try to fit my writing around that. The closer it gets to a deadline, the more time I spend tapping away in the basement at home eating cheese and panicking. I am definitely not a morning person! I’m almost bat-like in terms of my most productive hours. If my working day could start at 5pm and end at 10pm that would be perfect.

Unfortunately, my husband is a morning person. I have to adjust my writing schedules if I want to see him; otherwise he gets a bit glum.

Are there any authors who inspire you? I’ve been an author for about six years and I don’t actually have any author friends. Maybe if I lived in London rather than Widnes I would… I am so grateful I have a good editor and agent though, I can always call them up for a chat if I’ve got new ideas or want to talk things through.

 As I mentioned above, I love Dickens and Daphne du Maurier. Also MR James and Susan Hill. I do like a chilling ghost story. Here’s a shocking admission, although I write crime stories I don’t read much crime, except for Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and anything by Edgar Alan Poe.

…But don’t tell anyone :-)

When you finish a chapter/particularly tricky part do you reward yourself? I usually have a tub of ice cream or cake on hand, and I don’t let myself have any till I’ve finished. 

Rewards are so important aren’t they? As Kitty’s world is the alcohol-soaked environment of the music hall, I’ll admit to the occasional gin and tonic as a treat when things have gone well. And I do love a hunk of cheese or a bit of very dark chocolate.

Who is your favourite character [from your books] and why? 

I adore Kitty because she’s witty, honest, strong, loyal and completely fearless and her great friend Lucca is faithful, brilliant, tortured and complex, but I also have to admit to a sneaking fondness for my ancient opium addict Lady Ginger because (I think) she is wonderfully twisted. I look forward to writing her scenes and I act them all out in the basement. My neighbours must think I’m loopy when they hear me reading aloud!

What is the hardest part of being an author? How does it feel to have fans? 

The hardest thing is being disciplined. Making yourself write when the sun is shining and all you want to do is go outside is very painful. Also, I didn’t realise how long you spend sitting in a chair typing. My bottom has definitely widened since I began writing. And it doesn’t help that I keep wandering over to the fridge to cut myself a hunk of ‘inspirational’ cheese.

It can be quite a lonely process. When people take the trouble to tell you they’ve enjoyed your book it’s the most fantastic (and humbling) feeling. It certainly makes all those hours in the gloomy basement worthwhile.

Have you got any big plans for 2016? I hope I’ve not asked you too many questions, I just wanted it to be as in-depth as possible. 

I’ve just finished the first draft of Kitty Peck 3 (Kitty Peck and the Daughter of Sorrow) and that will be published later this year. In the meantime I’ll be writing the fourth book in the series. My deadline is January 2017 which seems to be ages away, but probably isn’t. I’ll be at some literary festivals and events, which are always fun as it’s great to meet readers… and, most importantly, I’ll be booking a holiday!

An interview with The Last Kingdom actor David Dawson – Part 2

This is the second part of my interview with my cousin David Dawson. Click here to read Part 1 >

David Dawson The Last Kingdom

Let’s take a step back in time and talk about growing up…

Did you have an acting hero when you were younger?

“I always say that Charlie Chaplin is one of my acting heroes because he was a working class fellow who worked incredibly hard and made his own work. A very clever man. I’m inspired by him. I love wonderful character actors like Julie Walters, Steve Buscemi, Gary Oldman, people like that. People who can transform and surprise you each time.

When did you decide you wanted to be an actor? I can’t even remember a time when you didn’t want to be one?

“I think that’s it. I was like two, I liked dressing up as characters and I’d spend a whole day being that character. And also like Grandad, he’d pretend to be the Great Stromboli at Christmas time and do the circus in the living room for the family… and that’s one of the things when I was really little that struck me – this feels good when you’re clapping and stuff.

I remember playing Batman and Robin in Nan and Grandad’s back garden after school. And you always liked interesting films.

“I used to love Clue [an 1985 movie based on the board game Cluedo].”

Clue the Movie

Now I’ve just got some questions about Widnes [our home town] because some of the children I’m working with are doing a series on inspirational Widnesians…

Growing up, what was your favourite part/memory of Widnes?

“I used to love the Spike Island Fair, I’d get excited every year when I was little and performing at the Queens Hall but that’s not here anymore. I used to love going to that drama club.”

Lunt's Heath BadgeWho was your favourite teacher at school?

“I loved Mrs Marshall at Lunt’s Heath [Primary School], she was a legend because she was very creative but you also wouldn’t mess with her. You had lots of fun with her, I liked teachers like that.

“There was a man called Mr Holmes [at Fairfield High School] a history teacher who used to jump on the tables to re-enact battles and things. That was really fun.”

Were you in any plays in primary school? Did you have any big parts?

“I was Joseph in the nativity. When I was five or six.”

What advice would you give to a school child in Widnes who want to be an actor?

“I’d say, watch loads of films, read lots of plays because I think being an actor is about experiencing life in all its forms and drama in all its genres so if you can, watch history films, horror films, love films, comedies… get a knowledge about everything that a human is capable of. Also, be brave and the less your care about making mistakes the better you’ll be. Always remember that every time you fall or don’t achieve, it’s only making you stronger so that you will achieve. It’s a tough business and you’re gonna be facing auditions and there’s going to be knockbacks as well as jobs.”

What was it like moving to London when you were eighteen? We all [the rest of our family] live within a mile so what was it like making that decision?

“I just knew it was something I had to do for acting. I love London. It’s a creative hub. Full of theatres, galleries and history. I know you don’t have to, but drama school is well worth looking into if you want to be an actor. I loved my time at RADA.”

[A big thank you to everyone who submitted questions for this interview]

An interview with The Last Kingdom actor David Dawson – Part 1

This Boxing day I had the pleasure of interviewing my cousin David Dawson. David is best known for playing King Alfred in The Last Kingdom and Fred Best in Ripper Street. He’s currently playing Homer in The Dazzle.

Interviewing David was a lovely experience because I could ask him anything I wanted. My daughter Lizzy joined us, and kept shouting “Charleeeee” and asking for biscuits. “Charleeeee” (or Charlie to everyone else) is David’s mum’s dog.

I meant to take a photo of us together to accompany this blog post but I forgot. You’ll have to use your imagination and add 30 years to this pic! (I’ve been in awe of David for a long time as you can tell.)

David Dawson and Sarah Oliver

Let’s start by chatting about The Last Kingdom and see where we end up!

What was it like doing the battle scenes?

“Brilliant. Especially when I’d got the hang of the horse. I learnt to horse ride for this job so it was a great feeling once I knew that the horse was listening to me and would move were I wanted him to go.

“I’ve never worked on anything as epic as The Last Kingdom. When you arrive on set and there’s three hundred stunt men all fighting, that’s quite cool. It also makes it feel a lot more ‘real’… you understand how scary it would have been back then. I felt very nervous the day I had to do the big battle speech because literally all the principle cast were there and I wanted to make sure I got that right.”

David Dawson Last Kingdom

When you were filming and had a long break in-between scenes what did you do to relax and prepare for your next scene?

“There was a nice company feel on set and we all got really close because we were on set for seven, eight months together. We’d hang out really and we used to play tricks on each other. Once we did up Alexander’s caravan like a horror film, like Blair Witch Project. [Alexander Dreymon plays Uhtred in the show]. We put things outside to freak him out… we did that to a few people. Because we were all close we’d just hang out and have a laugh.

“To prepare, I used to like to go off and be on my own. Be a bit quiet for a bit. I’ve got a thing were I make a big map, because it’s all shot out of sequence. I make the map so I know what I’m doing and were I should be in the story for the next day.”

David Dawson acting in The Last Kingdom

You’ve acted in lots of historical TV shows and Shakespeare dramas, do you prefer acting in historical settings over modern?

“I love history and I think it’s really fun to explore periods of time that aren’t now, because then you’re entering a completely different world. The way people, societies were in those different times really fascinates me… how people dealt with education, the roles that women had as well… I’m fascinated by it. I love that element of it, it’s a completely different world.”

David Dawson acting in Romeo and Juliet

If you could be offered any part, past or present, what would you love to play?

“Clockwork Orange is one of my favourite films and I’d have loved to have done that.”

Do you think you’ll be on the BIG screen anytime in the near future? Any plans to do movies

“I don’t really have a plan. When I sit with my agent we always say ‘as long as we make sure the next things I do different to the last thing, it’s a new challenge.’ I don’t mind what I do, I love theatre and I always want to make sure that I go back to the theatre. I’m just excited to see what the future brings.”

What can we look forward to seeing you in in 2016?

“I’m in the Dazzle, in the West End till the end of Jan, then I’ve filmed a thing called Maigret with Rowan Atkinson, that should be out at some point on ITV. I’ve filmed The Secret Agent with Toby Jones which a four parter for the BBC and it’s out later in the year.”

David Dawson in The Dazzle

You’ve written a couple of plays in the past, are you still writing any plays?


Do you think you’ll ever write something that you could be in yourself?

“I’ve written a book, a novel. It’s just up to me now to pluck up the courage to try and get a publisher I suppose.”

What sort of novel is it?

“I’m a huge fan of horror and gothic fiction so it’s in that vein. I love Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe so it’s a bit like that.”

This is a tough one so you mightn’t be able to answer it… what are the top 3 things that you’ve done? If you could only pick three…

David Dawson Road to Coronation Street“I’ve got to pick The Last Kingdom because on screen I’ve never played a character that’s had such a huge story arc and change from being a frail little bookworm to a warrior king, that’s quite cool and very special to be a part of. I think Road to Coronation Street was very special to me too because it was North West and all our family have loved Corrie haven’t they, for years and years. To meet the man I was playing and to become friends with Tony Warren, I think was very special, and to work with actresses I’ve loved for years like Celia Imrie, Jane Horrocks… and to film it at Granada Studios was a real treat. I think the other one’s got to be playing Smike in Nicholas Nickleby at the theatre because that’s where I learnt so much. I was working with actors who were seventy, actors who were nineteen, 26 actors all together with a band going around the country, in the West End, Canada. That was amazing for a twenty four year old to experience.”

How does it feel to have a fan-site, a Facebook page and fans in general?

“I’ve never been able to thank Julie [who runs] before so I’d like to say it’s very humbling and I’m very chuffed that she’s created the site and Facebook page. I’m grateful to those people who are supporting projects I’m involved with. It’s a lovely feeling and it certainly gives you confidence when you’re doing things that people believe in you.”

Click here to read Part 2 of this interview >

A Marvellous book!

If you’re looking for a present to buy your Dad this Christmas then I can highly recommend the biography Marvellous – Neil Baldwin, My Story. I read the book in August and I couldn’t put it down.

I’d been keen to get my hands on a copy as I’d watched the Marvellous film on BBC 2 last year. It was one of the best things I’ve ever watched. The story was so compelling, I cried quite a few times and it left me smiling from ear to ear too. If you didn’t see it, then check out the trailer below:

Here’s a brief summary of the book (and Neil’s life):

Bishops and archbishops, top footballers, politicians and actors…they all count him as their friend. Prime Ministers and senior royals stop and listen to his opinions. He’s got an honorary degree and his very own football club. There was even a movie about him on national television. But who is Neil Baldwin? At Keele University they hold regular celebrations and chapel services for the decades he’s been the friend of students, academics and vice-chancellors. But he’s never been a student, or a teacher, or had any formal connection with the place. At Stoke City Football Club, he’s ‘more famous than the players.’ He’s even got a dialogue going with the Queen, though that one’s still a little one-sided. But who is he, and what’s he famous for? When he was a boy in a working-class part of the Potteries in the fifties and sixties, the education system wrote him off. But Neil thinks ‘you can get things by asking for them.’ He also thinks his late Mum wanted him to have a happy life, and it’s his duty to her to have one. So he does. This is the inspiring and, at times, hysterically funny story of Neil’s extraordinary life.

My view:

I loved the book, it was interesting to hear stories from Neil perspective and his famous friends too. I think Neil’s attitude to life is something we should all admire:


The world be a much better place if we all “put nasty things” behind us. Neil’s story is remarkable and this book is a must-read. At the start of this blog post I said it was ideal for dads but really anybody would enjoy reading this book. I hope I get to meet Neil one day and shake his hand… maybe I need to take a trip to Keele University!


A is for… Acting

our town story

Lots of the famous people I’ve written about were passionate about acting when they were at high school. Miley Cyrus, Taylor Swift, Zayn Malik and Louis Tomlinson all had the acting bug even though they would all become world-famous pop stars eventually.

Here is Louis Tomlinson as Danny Zuko in Grease

Zayn was in Grease at his school too, but the teacher created a special role for him because he was too young to play a main part:

I loved acting too and would perform at my local theatre as well as in school plays. I haven’t acted for a few years now but I’ll always look back fondly at the time I spent on stage.

I really enjoyed playing the role of Abigail Williams in The Crucible and my favourite project involved performing at the Millennium Dome in London. It feels amazing to know that I represented my town by performing ‘Our Town Story’ in a venue that is now the O2 Arena!

our town story

(This is a photo of the Our Town Story cast. I’m on the first person on the left of the second row and my sister is next door but one to me. We don’t look anything alike!)

My cousin David is a famous actor and I’m very proud of him. He moved to London when he was eighteen and was determined to become the best actor he could be. He studied at the prestigious RADA (The Royal Academy of Dramatic Art). He has been in lots of TV shows and theatre productions. He’s currently playing King Alfred in The Last Kingdom and Fred Best in Ripper Street. I’d love to write a book on him one day… I’d really enjoy interviewing our nan and looking through her photo albums for embarrassing photos!

Here are some photos of David:

david 2 david 3 david 5 david1 david4

He’s coming home for Christmas and I can’t wait!

If you’re a fan of David, you should check out