So how did I become a writer? That’s a simple enough question and, as I suspect it is with most writers, with a not-so-simple answer attached.
I can still recall the precise moment, when I was only 16 years old, that I decided that this is what I wanted to be.
It was a dark, stormy night. No, really, it was. It was your typical English winter and I was trudging moodily along the rainy wind-swept seafront promenade of Bexhill-on-sea during the small hours, ruminating on my life such as it had been thus far and on what, precisely, I intended to do with the remainder of it.
Chelsea were on a losing streak, there was a squelchy hole in my Doc Martens and Maggie Thatcher was living at Number 10 being her usual lovable self. I was still at school and not enjoying it very much. And the only future I really had to look forward to was joining the ranks of the six million unemployed. None of which was inspiring me in the slightest.
It was at this point that the realization came; that if I truly wanted any chance of a happy future, then I should probably find something that I truly loved doing.
I loved to write. The only subject I actually enjoyed at school was English Composition. I also loved tall ships, especially historical square-riggers, as was evident by the fleet of plastic Airfix and Revell models that I had, throughout my youth, painstakingly constructed and which presently filled my small bedroom at home to overflowing.
But how to combine the two? This was the real challenge. If only I could find some way to get a job aboard a tall ship, just for a few months, perhaps even a year or two, and then come home and write about it… This now became the sole focus of those long nightly walks. My dream.
This also happened to be the first instance in my life where I experienced that odd correlation which so often exists between desire and outcome. Because scarcely a month later, as we all sat there yawning and fidgeting through morning school assembly, we were paid an unexpected visit by a recruiter from B.P. Shipping Company, who was inviting applicants for their 4-year Navigation Apprenticeship program. And, as an added enticement, he assured us that our first three-month trip would be spent aboard a sail-training brigantine in the South Pacific.
My immediate response was; where do I sign? So what if I had to work a full 4 years aboard oil tankers? I would get the chance to sail around the world and gain a Deck Officer’s license at the end of it and, most importantly, get to sail aboard a square-rigger!
But here was another one of those valuable lessons in life. Be careful what you wish for. Because at the time nobody thought to warn me of the true danger of going to sea: the addictive part. The sea has a way of drawing you in and keeping you there, despite your best-laid plans and your own better judgment. And it also has a way of throwing stuff at you. Unexpected stuff. Constantly. It’s not as if I actually asked to be bombed by the Iraqi Air Force, or shot at by angry Libyans, any more than I sought out any such ‘adventures’ as being shipwrecked in the Bermuda Triangle, of all places, or having to stand 12-hour watches for days on end wrestling with the helm of a tall ship to survive an Atlantic hurricane. Anyone who spends enough time at sea is going to end up with an interesting biography, whether they like it or not. Not that I’m complaining. It’s been a blast. The only downside is that the original plan to spend 4 years at sea and return home to become a full-time writer became somewhat extended. By nearly tenfold.
But, as the smart people always say, better late than never…