life has turned out to be something of an improvised surprise THE PROSE FELT FREER AND MORE LIVELY THAN ANYTHING I’D EVER DONE IN MY MOTHER TONGUE
Now that I can look back on 64 years of it, life has turned out to be something of an improvised surprise. For instance, I never expected to have to deal with an attack of OCD at age fourteen that remained undiagnosed for six years and which has left me dependent on (mild) anxiolytics. I never thought I would learn Dutch (my partner’s native language) or half-live in the lakeside town of Banyoles. I never imagined that I and well over a million other British residents in Europe would be disenfranchised by a British referendum we weren’t allowed to vote in. I never thought I would become a father until I did. And so forth. But maybe the most unpredictable thing of all has been the writing. In my teens I churned out several turgid (and happily unpublishable) short stories, not to mention an equally unpublishable novel. In my early twenties I published a few articles and a couple of stories in anarchist magazines in the UK at the same time as I built up a vast collection of rejection slips from various non-anarchist publishers and magazines, mainly because my written voice in English, and I knew it only too well, was stunted and weak for reasons that would take too long to explain here. It stayed that way after I moved to Barcelona in 1984. Then, one day in 1989, I met a poet and desktop publisher who was launching a series of chapbooks. He suggested I try to write something for him in Catalan. When I did so, the prose felt freer and more lively than anything I’d ever done in my mother tongue. He published the result and, a few years later, an entire novel. I went on to write a collection of short stories which won a fairly prestigious award, and that led to me being taken on by a major Barcelona-based publisher, for whom I wrote a road book in the course of a 30-day journey to those parts of Catalonia that I’d never visited (and which unexpectedly made it onto the best-seller lists for a month or so). After that came another novel, an autobiography and seven books of non-fiction (all in Catalan). In 2006, I got an idea for a novel set in England and with mainly English characters, so I wrote it in English; thanks to the discipline of writing in a second language for ten years, my written voice now sounded much stronger, at least to me and my agent, who got so frustrated with what she called the ’snooty’ rejections from English publishers, that she published the book herself. It got positive reviews, mainly from American magazines. I went on to write five more novels in English, all of which were rejected in the UK, so, with my agent’s approval, I finally decided to self-publish. Friends in London and Barcelona put me in touch with a professional proofreader and a graphic designer ditto. The first of these novels got positive reviews, also mainly in the US. I recently brought out the second one, which got the best reviews I’ve ever had, yet again mainly in the States (by the time you read this, I will still be celebrating). Everything - not just the writing - has not only been completely different from anything I could have remotely foreseen half a century ago, but feels as if it has happened to me by the purest of chances. Everything, perhaps, except for the name I chose as an imprint for my self-published books: England-Is-A-Bitch Productions.