I live in the county of Surrey, a part of England known as ‘God’s own acre’ – at least by those of us who live here. In fact I’m not sure that God actually knows where Surrey is, which is pretty good since it means we have so far been spared plagues of boils and locusts, and no one in living memory has been turned into a column of salt – though a friend of mine once turned in a sort of column (for a newspaper), but I don’t believe God had much to do with that.
Anyway, enough of theology, let’s talk about me, eh?
I was born in 1951 in the east end of London - in Bow, to be precise, and within the sound of Bow bells, so can claim to be a genuine, if lapsed, cockney. My formative years, when not dressing up in pearly suits to eat jellied eels and pie and mash whilst going about saying ‘Cor blimey, guv’nor,’ were spent in those idyllic childhood pursuits of knocking on people’s doors and running away; tying lengths of fishing line to wallets which we would leave on the pavement, then pull away as someone bent to pick one up, and cultivating incredibly dirty and scabby knees.
Thankfully, childhood was soon over and the world of work beckoned – well it was less a beckon than a grab at the scruff of my neck to be honest, but good fortune, or divine intervention, frog-marched me in the direction of a civil service job where I served a long and arduous apprenticeship in the art of tea drinking and skiving – skills for which I shall ever be grateful.
Thousands of cups of Ceylon’s finest leaves later, the art world curled a finger in my direction and I became an illustrator. My first jobs were illustrating stories for magazines that regularly reached the heights – being found on newsagent’s top shelves. It was interesting work and gave me the chance to read such literary masterpieces as ‘They’re Fifty and Still Going Strong’ (not a story about vintage vehicles). ‘Those Randy Victorians’, ‘Spanking Good Fun’, and my all time favourite ‘Bathtime Frolics with Two Dirty Girls’. These days, of course, I completely deny all knowledge of such works, but back then, as with so many aspiring Hollywood stars, I was a young and impressionable and needed the money – or some similar codswallop. Actually it was great fun, but there came a time when I hankered after the kind of job I didn’t have to hide whenever the vicar came to tea.
And so we come to my ‘Brad and Brenda’ period, otherwise known as illustrating women’s romantic fiction. Episode one. Brad looks deeply into Brenda’s eyes as they stand in front of The Vatican, the Pope waving cheerily in the background whilst Brad’s estranged wife looks on in vignette. Episode two. Brenda looks deeply into Brad’s eyes as they stand before the Eiffel tower. Vignette of Brad’s doe-eyed young stepson looking longingly into the flames of the ancestral home. Episode three. Showdown with Brenda and Brad’s estranged wife, both looking into each other’s eyes as they stand before the Mannequin de Pis. Vignette of the Pope holding Brad’s stepson, who has been miraculously cured of both his stammer and his bed-wetting, whilst Brad looks on. Episode four – well, I think you get the picture.
Around 1989, growing heartily sick of Brad, Brenda, and particularly of vignettes, I made the move into fine art prints, setting up my own publishing company under the rather aristocratic title D’Arcy Collection. I am almost never asked where the name D’Arcy comes from, and fed up with waiting I shall explain the origin for your edification and delight. For almost as long as I can recall, I have played electric violin with a folk-rock barn dance band called D’Arcy Spice. Those with inside knowledge of the fruit trade will know instantly that D’Arcy Spice is a variety of English apple. Why would we call the band after an apple? Some might say it is because, like the D’Arcy Spice apple, the members of the band are rich, fruity, and of a heavy, pendulous nature. I couldn’t possibly comment.
In recent years I have turned my attention toward writing. I have always written little stories around the aviation prints I’ve produced, but around seven years ago my thoughts turned toward the idea of producing a novel. Having lived and worked very close to the area where Jack the Ripper once lurked, the thought occurred to me that the life of Mary Jane Kelly might make a fascinating story. Very little is known about Mary Kelly, and what is known is often only hearsay, but those tantalising tales of how she came from a life of poverty in Wales, to ride in carriages around Knightsbridge, only to end up in Miller’s Court, a horrid little backwater off of Dorset Street, known then as the worst street in London where she supposedly fell victim to Jack the Ripper during his Autumn of Terror, seemed to make the ideal outline for a book.
The Seduction of Mary Kelly is the culmination of over four and a half years of work, carries no Government health warning, is published by D’Arcy Collection, using only the finest, dew-picked paper, lovingly bound by craftsmen working in the decades old tradition of modern bookbinding, and with a dust jacket designed and illustrated by myself.
That pretty much brings things up to date, except – oh, yes, the usual boring stuff. I am widowed, with two children who I had better say are the guiding light to my life, since they are both bigger than me. I have no cats, dogs, goldfish or hamsters. I do not smoke, drink (excessively) or womanise – this last is not by choice, but rather nature’s way of reminding me I am now an old git.
My hobbies are my various jobs – so that’s lucky, isn’t it.
My favourite phrase: ‘Well, you don’t look fifty-seven.’
My least favourite phrase: ‘No chance, granddad.’