More About the Author
***NB: In case you're confused, Tom Macaulay is a pen-name of mine: I've written only one book under it - THE WARNING BELL (a great read, by the way, trust me!) - but nowadays I stick to T.D.Griggs.***
THE STORY SO FAR...
As a kid I longed for a world in which intrepid chaps wrestled endangered wildlife and won swordfights with scoundrels.
I was in primary school at the time, in a leafy but dull dormitory suburb on the outskirts of London. On the outskirts of everything, it seemed to me.
But I had made one crucial discovery. If I couldn't live adventure, I could write it.
My stories were a tad derivative at first. I read Ivanhoe and scribbled for months about knights and tournaments while better balanced kids were out on their bikes. I read War of the Worlds and wrote an apocalyptic tale in which aliens destroyed Sidcup, which at least proved I knew the importance of a happy ending.
And I hammered on the very gates of journalism. I used to rewrite radio reports of the Suez Crisis, when I must have been all of seven years old. (Yes, I admit, that is pretty weird.) The point is that I was well into the world of words by the time I went to grammar school. Perhaps it's no surprise that when I was thirteen my English master took me aside and suggested that I might think about a career as a thriller writer.
Looking back, this seems like a breathtakingly flattering insight. At the time, I took it almost for granted. Like a lot of youngsters with a passion I thought everyone else ought to share it. Didn't all kids want to be writers? I was fortunate that the answer was 'no'.
At sixteen I was reporting for our local paper, and getting paid for it, which impresses me a bit even now. Luckily it didn't affect my schoolwork, because in due course I found myself at Leeds University studying English. I followed that with an MA in archaeology at University College London. A mistake, as it turned out, although I gleaned some of my most valuable lessons from it - for one thing, that people are people, however separated by time and space. I paid for the MA by teaching at a local Tech. This was not a happy experience. I may have learned much; my students did not.
Archaeology was, I admit, a bizarre choice. But I nursed the idea that it might take me somewhere, preferably to a hot and romantic land with sand dunes, and with the occasional camel swaying past. I fancied myself striding around some Middle Eastern excavation in dusty boots, wearing a slouch hat and wielding a theodolite. And this was before Indiana Jones had even been invented.
In short I thought archaeology might give me a taste of the adventure I had dreamed of as a child. And I did spend some weeks on a dig in the Negev Desert - dusty boots, slouch hat and the whole bit, with a couple of scorpions thrown in.
I suffered from what John Buchan once described as a 'sense of space in the blood'. I didn't know this at the time: I only knew that I had to get out. Out to anywhere. Out of rainy, depressed 1970s England. God, but it was a miserable place then, sunk in post-imperial gloom. It was still run by redfaced old buffers who shared the indissoluble bond of the Second World War. And they were not about to hand power to my upstart generation. We were, after all, long-haired layabouts who played bad guitar and had never done a job of work in our lives.
But how to make good my escape?
My half-formed fantasy of becoming a teen-idol TV archaeologist withered as soon as I graduated. I got a reference from my professor telling me that he would be happy to recommend me for any job, so long as it was nothing whatever to do with his subject. I still have that letter, to caution me against overweening.
In the event the best adventure I could get was driving a grocery truck around South London, which proved more exciting for everyone else on the road than for me.
I began searching with desperate urgency for openings overseas. I applied to migrate in turn to Canada, Australia and New Zealand. All three were in the process of pulling up the drawbridge against British invaders, and I missed out. In one case my application went in ten days after the regulations were tightened. By this time I had a bulging file of job applications to everywhere from Sweden to Sudan, Germany to Jamaica, and an even bigger file of rejections.
Meanwhile, in order not to starve to death, I had to find a decent job in the UK. The country was in its worst recession for years (it always seems to be) but after fifty-seven applications I did manage to get accepted as a reporter on a weekly paper in Dartford. I was one of three graduates on the entire newspaper group's staff of over one hundred. The editor was deeply suspicious of us, fearing we would spend our time telling him how to run the paper in between writing ballet criticisms.
Certainly the Dartford & Swanley Chronicle was not Newsweek. But I did gain valuable experience covering everything from parish council meetings to amateur dramatics. I found I wasn't bad at this, and within a few months I got a new job as chief news reporter on a daily paper in the Midlands. There I discovered the seductive pleasure of by-lines and front page leads, and even gained a certain local notoriety.
I had not abandoned my own fiction. I had the occasional short story published in London newspapers, and toiled till late at night on the Great British Novel. But at twenty-five or so I was already feeling pretty elderly to be the next leading literary light, and was insanely jealous of the young bloods whose works seemed to rocket effortlessly to success all around me.
On the other hand I could see a path leading me to Fleet Street, and began to nurse heady new dreams of being sent to some shell-torn city or desperate refugee camp, firing off dispatches by the light of a hurricane lamp. That, I reasoned, would be adventure and writing combined - big time.
Of course the Fleet Street foreign correspondent thing didn't happen either. Instead, something off-the-wall came along. I was (unbelievably) head-hunted by Shell, the oil multinational. Why, I have no idea. As far as I could see I had absolutely no track record which could have drawn their attention. Perhaps they'd mixed me up with someone else.
Whatever the reason I landed rather a good job, writing and editing a magazine for workers involved in the North Sea oil boom. That was exciting. It provided me with travel (as far as the Dogger Bank at least) and I developed some skill as an editor. I discovered an interest in industry, and a facility for writing about it, which would stand me in good stead later. I even won a few prizes.
The money was good, too. I got a desk all to myself, tea delivered on a trolley by a nice lady in a uniform, and an oblique view over bits of Central London where the dustbins are stacked. I bought a secondhand British racing green MGB GT and blatted around the countryside in it, making like James Bond. I felt a good deal more important than I ever had before. It even seemed possible that Shell itself might send me overseas at some point, and thus hand me my adventure on a plate.
Still, I never quite took to the corporate life. When a Dutch colleague turned to me one day and said, delphically: 'You are too free for this enterprise,' I knew he was right.
And at this crucial point, one of my chickens came home to roost. An overseas job I had applied for two years earlier suddenly materialized. I'd forgotten even writing off for it. But here it was, an offer hand-written in biro on a flimsy blue aerogram with a gaudy African stamp on it.
With that aerogram came my moment of truth: if I chose to give up the good life in London, my MGB and my tea on a trolley, within a month or two I could be Publications Secretary at the Institute for Agricultural Research in Samaru, Northern Nigeria. Wherever that was.
Big Lesson in Life: be careful what you wish for.
No-one had ever heard of Samaru. I certainly I hadn't. I did establish that this institute was not supported by the British Government, and thus if I accepted I would be a Nigerian civil servant, and not a very well paid one. And naturally I knew nothing whatever about agriculture. It was obvious that they had offered me the job because no-one else was crazy enough to apply.
The hierarchy at Shell were simply gobsmacked. People did not leave Shell, not when they were doing well, and especially not to go to some fly-blown Foreign Legion post on the edge of the Sahara. I would be mad to accept. I could not possibly even entertain the idea. Why, if I stayed at Shell I would be assured of a very substantial pension, in forty years or so.
I stepped off the Nigeria Airways flight at Kano airport into a world of blistering heat, shouting beggars, grumbling camels, and mile upon mile of sun-blasted Sahel stretching away on either side of the red laterite road.
My life, as I had dreamed it, had begun.
I worked in Nigeria for two years, editing agricultural papers, founding a journal, running the printshop and bribing suppliers for parts to repair our ageing presses. I found time to ride horses over the savanna in the dawn cool, to catch dengue fever, to drive a jeep across Cameroon and then northward to Timbuctoo. Once I got stuck for two weeks on the wrong side of the flooded Niger, and got back in time to discover my funeral had been arranged.
Everyone is supposed to hate living in Nigeria. It was exactly what I wanted.
All the same, I moved on at last to run the publications office of another agricultural research centre, this time a somewhat more sophisticated establishment in Taiwan. AVRDC was part of the Green Revolution group of internationally funded agricultural research centres. It wasn't as much fun as Africa, but it had a regular power supply and you could drink the water without putting nasty little tablets into it (or large slugs of Scotch - my preferred method). And it was there that I properly learned my trade as a science writer.
By this time I had completed three never-to-be-published novels. The latest was a tale about the IRA stealing the Elgin Marbles, for some motive which now escapes me. I think it escaped me at the time, too, but I did love the shoot-out in the British Museum at the end among all those statues. Strangely, none of the agents or publishers to whom I sent the synopsis shared my enthusiasm.
After two years in Taiwan I finally managed to migrate to Australia after all. In order to get into the country I had to convince the authorities that I could establish a viable business there, and this taxed my creative powers to the limit. It also took some months to arrange, during which time I lived in New Zealand, working as a handyman and fishing guide at a remote lakeside lodge - tasks for which, as usual, I had no aptitude at all.
But finally I presented Australian Immigration with a plan to establish an entirely fictitious business: an editorial agency, which would take on writing tasks for industry and the scientific community. That looked plausible to the authorities, given my background. And when I looked at it again, I found it even looked plausible to me. In short order my business morphed from fiction to fact.
After a year or two I formed a partnership with a mad Irish accountant, and we established a prizewinning agency called The Corporate Storyteller, which brought together my science writing skills and his business experience. We won numerous awards, handled a range of blue chip and Government clients, and presented at international conferences all over the world.
All very seductive stuff. But I still couldn't get my fiction published. Latest attempts included a novel whose main character was a tough guy so cynical that by the end no-one cared if he lived or died (not even me).
By now I had written five complete novels. I made a resolution that if I couldn't get into print by completion of my sixth, I would give it away as a bad job.
At this point I met Jenny, fell in love, got married, and began to live happily ever after. It was Jenny who gently suggested I write short stories while waiting for the world to elevate me to Tolstoy's right hand. I think she deduced that with short stories she wouldn't have to live with the same set of neuroses for quite so long each time.
I discovered an unexpected pleasure in crafting short fiction, and scored some small successes, too. I started winning competitions. Several of my tales were published, and two or three were broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
I was not yet in Katherine Mansfield territory, but things were looking up.
But another big change was in store. Marrying comparatively late, Jenny and I had not had the chance to share any life journeys of our own. So we decided to give up our careers and manufacture an adventure all for ourselves.
In practice this meant moving back to England, which made me nervous, since I'd struggled so hard to get out. But when I got here I found that after so long an absence the country was almost foreign to me, which was just as I liked it.
And then, soon after we arrived, an evening at a concert gave me the idea for my sixth novel. I realized that having no job and no clients meant that I also had no excuse. The thing had to be written, and quickly.
We were living in a rented cottage at the top of the Malvern Hills at the time. It was midwinter and pretty bleak. If we left the gate open, windswept sheep would come wandering in from the hillsides and eat all our landlord's herbs, thus thoughtfully minting themselves even before slaughter.
But if these conditions were tough on sheep, they were ideal for writing. I moved a desk against the wall in the tiny spare bedroom and started writing Redemption Blues.
The book was a huge success, selling close to a million copies, most of them in translation. A friend unkindly suggested that maybe the novel had lost something in the original, but overseas success was fine by me. I developed so strong a following on the continent that my next one, The End of Winter, was a bestseller in France and No 3 on the Stern fiction lists in Germany (well, for a week!) though for complicated reasons it has not yet been published in English.
After that came The Warning Bell (written as Tom Macaulay) which is still in the shops now. And March 2012 will see the launch of Distant Thunder, under the more formal moniker T.D.Griggs. And having found my writing identity at last, T.D.Griggs I intend to remain.
It's a funny thing, but Distant Thunder is in many ways just the kind of epic adventure I used to dream up for myself as an escape from the dull, safe suburbs of my childhood. It's full of blazing sun, action, drama and romance.
Since those distant days I've learned a good deal, I hope, about how to tell a story.
I've even learned how to live one.