At the age of twelve Graham regularly danced around the lounge to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. Now forty six, he still hasn’t decided what he’ll do when he grows up.
So far, he’s worked in an ice cream shop, trained as a hairdresser, studied sociology and psychology, written for and performed with a touring theatre company, and backpacked across far-flung countries with loose change in his pocket.
Graham now combines travelling with writing and he completed his first novel Purple during the sleepless, jet-lagged hours spent in hotel rooms around the world.
The full story:
The J stands for John, but often, just to be exotic, I tell people my middle name is Juniper.
I was born on the west coast of Scotland in 1966. When I was two years old we moved to England. After that, we moved house every four years. I used to imagine my dad worked for the Secret Service. I’m quite good at impersonating regional accents.
At the age of twelve, when no one was watching, I danced around the lounge to Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights. If you play the song you’ll get a pretty good idea what this might have looked like and what it means!
When I was fourteen, we moved to the City of Chester.
I hated school. I was rubbish at football, rugby and woodwork, but I did win second prize in the Christmas cake decorating competition. I regularly bunked off school and went to a friend’s house. We drank hot chocolate, dyed our hair and listened to her mum’s Glen Miller records.
I was at home, fast asleep, when my final English exam started. I remember waking up thinking the house was on fire. Apparently, the headmaster had been on the phone…I’d got the day wrong. My mum dragged me out of bed, threw me into her Mini Mayfair and drove it at the speed of light. She hurled me into the exam hall with my hair standing on end (she says I was “lovingly propelled”, but I’m not sure those two words fit together in the same sentence). Short of time, I scrawled essays on Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lord of the Flies. Amazingly, it turned out to be my best exam result!
I believe this was a fitting end to my turbulent school life and, also, a giant indication of my writing ability. Unfortunately, I missed this sign.
At the age of sixteen, I got a job at a local hairdressing salon. I had a regular wage, shrivelled, shampoo hands and a different hairdo every week. A few months later, after a blazing row with my parents, I left home. To quote Charles Dickens, ‘it was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. See footnote.
When my parents discovered I was gay, they sounded genuinely surprised. I wanted to scream, “Didn’t you spot the clues!” I realized, in that moment, my dad couldn’t possibly work for the Secret Service. The first thing he said to me was, “Who the hell do you think you are…David Bowie?”
One day, three years later, I caught myself in the mirror: I was picking cheese and onion crisps out of a rear molar when I should have been listening to a client’s request for an inverted bob. I felt disillusioned. A friend convinced me to return to education, so I enrolled at the local college. I chose courses in Sociology and Psychology, because they sounded impressive, and Theatre Studies, because the idea of performing on a stage excited me.
Next, there followed a two-year stint with the co-operative theatre company After Image. I wrote, produced, directed and performed in many of their productions. It was an exhilarating time in my life, and I still treasure old scripts, notes, flyers and photos. We got some brilliant reviews and some not so brilliant ones. An unnamed theatre critic, working for a national broadsheet, happened to see us at our worst. Today, his line, “if I’d paid for my ticket I would have booed,” makes me laugh out loud.
In an over-dramatic attempt to escape the misery of a failing relationship (and a certain, unnamed theatre critic), I backpacked across parts of the Far East, Australia and Mexico. I worked as a cleaner in Melbourne, a sandwich maker in Perth and a barman in Sydney.
Back in England, I found myself holding two application forms: one to study English and Drama at Manchester University, the other for long haul cabin crew with a well-known airline.
Three years of studying and eating instant noodles for dinner…or…getting paid to travel the world and stay in nice hotels. What would you do? I chose instant gratification, but, then, that was always my trouble.
Thanks to my job, I’ve seen pyramids, temples, monuments, skyscrapers, beaches, deserts and oceans. I’ve sung karaoke in Japan, fed orphaned baby elephants in Africa (I even had a close encounter with a cheetah). With my photo album full and my legs aching, I eventually sat down to write. Because of the constantly changing time zones, I’m often sleepless in Seattle (or deranged in Delhi). Writing is a brilliant way to fill the hours, and the book slowly evolved.
A few years ago, my partner Arnie and I swapped the exhaust fumes of South London for the lush, green loveliness of the Ashdown Forest in East Sussex. I know we’ll be together forever, because we still make each other laugh.
Travel has taught me one of life’s greatest lessons: it’s not where you go it’s the people you’re with.
Footnote: My mum would like you all to know that she eventually tempted me home for another year of her cooking.