I blame Gene Roddenberry. All of this is his fault. Well, him and Isaac Asimov. And Heinlein. There are a lot of people I can blame all of this on, I suppose. I spent rather a lot of my childhood ill, out of school more often than not, but the one constant was always the books. Yes, I was one of those kids who always had his head in a book, no matter what; trips out were a success if I came home with an armful of books, and likely as not I would have read them all over the course of the next couple of days. The constant was science-fiction; fantasy as well to a lesser extent, but I grew up reading Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein, or all of those thousands of collections of short stories that came out in the sixties and seventies – and which were available in second-hand stores for 50p at the perfect time to match a ten-year-old's budget.
I'll admit this now; I'm a Star Trek fan. The old James Blish and Alan Dean Foster novelizations were a companion for many years, and I graduated from there to reading an awful lot of the published Trek fiction. Then came BBC2 and its 6pm slot...and I was completely lost. Universes spread out before me, and I think it was around then that I was completely lost. College beckoned, and I got better, but still – most of my lunchtimes were spent looking for more books. Well, that and playing Magic: The Gathering. Or running role-playing campaigns that at that point went nowhere. Happy days.
University; where I managed to do far too poorly at a degree in War Studies, at King's. Today I would do a hell of a lot better, but somehow I'd managed to get the idea that I was going to save the world. I found out quite quickly that they had me outnumbered. Still had a lot of fun, though, ran a reasonably popular D&D fanzine called OD&DITIES which taught me a hell of a lot, notably that I could write very quickly when necessary but that I couldn't do anything other than basic layout worth a damn. Really should have studied harder; but it really did teach me an awful lot, even if most of it didn't sink in for years.
I suppose I could define my twenties as the 'Hair Years'; for I just let it grow. Reaction from school, when my old headmaster preferred crew cuts, I suppose. After an abortive attempt – twice – to set up my own publishing company (where I learned that I could write really quickly, that I still couldn't lay out, and that 2003 was far too early to set up a PDF magazine) I managed to accidentally get a job at a media monitoring company. Yes, accidentally. Clicked the wrong button on the job website. Hell, it worked.
There, of course, chaos followed me. Somewhat to my own surprise, I slowly rose through the ranks until I settled in a lower-middle-lower-management position where I was pretty comfortable, though I had picked a hell of a time to get into news aggregation. Remember that big oil surge of the middle of the last decade? I'd just started running the petrochemicals section. About a week before. Then, hoping for relief, I transferred to the financial section. A week before the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Had I moved to government we would all be living in a complete anarchy right now. If you want to blame me, feel free!
Years of that taught me to write really really quickly, how to proofread really really really quickly – because instant perfection was all that would do – and that ultimately working nights for eight years was killing me. Oh, yes, the hours were ten till seven. PM to AM, of course. I swear, some winters I never even saw the sun. I still wanted something different; as my sense of dissatisfaction with my lot grew, I finally decided that I had managed to get stuck in a rut. A comfortable rut, to be fair, but I reached thirty, looked around, and figured that if I didn't do something I would still be there for another thirty years.
You see, at the background, there had always been the writing. I submitted my first short story at around fifteen, I think it was to Interzone, and it was absolutely dreadful. I mean, really really bad. Lost to history, thank goodness. During college I wrote a novel, and it wasn't as bad. Still bad, yes, and I am glad that it is missing, presumed lost. University that ebbed a bit, but with the fanzines and the publishing I was still writing, still working. In the interim between university and work, I ended up writing a couple of books, one of them a comic autobiography of my student political years that I really should use one of these days; I was actually rather proud of it at the time. Work hurt my writing, but I still plodded through. A few more bits and pieces came forth, and vanished into the ether; I was stretching my creative muscles by running a series of RPG campaigns over this period, but ultimately, it wasn't really as satisfying.
Finally, to return to the rut; I decided ultimately that I wanted to be a writer. I'd always known that, really, but I'd had to push it to the back a bit. Looking back, I probably didn't have to – but I'm glad I did, as I'm a much better writer now than I was at 22. Damn well should be, I suppose! Surprising my boss, I sent in my notice, and decided to throw the dice and see if I could make a living at it; I knew that I could only properly concentrate on this if I had that sword at my throat, the need to make it work. I handed in my notice in November; I ended up doing a four-and-a-half-month notice period (the employee handbook was a bit vague on how much I needed to give; I opted to give loads.) As March, 2013 dawned, I was a free man.
Much to my surprise, I must confess, the plan actually seems to have worked! As I write this, at the end of 2015, I'm just about to publish the sixteenth book in the Battlecruiser Alamo series, and will shortly be launching a second military science-fiction series...