Let’s talk about me!
I am a writer.
It’s taken me a long time to be able to say that without embarrassment or qualification, but looking back I’ve always written. It’s how I make sense of the world. And I love stories. I love hearing other people’s stories, and asking lots of questions to go deeper on those stories. I love reading stories, and I love writing and sharing them.
More recently, as a coach, I’ve been helping creatives change the stories they tell themselves. And get rid of the barriers stopping them doing their best, most authentic work.
I started writing reviews and doing interviews for NME when I was still at school in Birmingham, and involved in a thriving music scene that included bands like The Beat, The Specials, UB40, Dexy’s Midnight Runners and the Au Pairs. I was active in Rock Against Racism in my teens, helping promote gigs featuring all of these bands, and forging links with Leeds bands such as The Mekons and Gang of Four, and London bands such as The Raincoats, Madness and The Slits.
I continued writing for NME while studying English at University College London, effectively paying my way through uni with record reviews. After graduating (and doing all kinds of jobs from painting and decorating to working in a creche), I became Music & Clubs editor at the co-operative London listings magazine City Limits.
Everything from typesetting to layout was done in the same tatty building in North London, so I learned a lot about how magazines were put together. This was before word processors were common, so every week we typed out details of every live gig and every club night in London, working late into the night with reggae or Aretha Franklin gospel albums blasting out at full volume.
I was earning a princely £15 a day and living on a sofa in the living room of a shared flat, for much this time. But the record labels biked over all of their new releases, I could go see any live music I wanted, and walk into most clubs in London (even if I had to walk or cycle home). I was in heaven. Literally in Heaven, many nights!
I started writing for The Face while still at City Limits: my first big feature was an in-depth report on the Lover’s Rock scene. Nick Logan invited me to join the tiny staff of The Face in 1987, and was editor of the magazine from 1989-95.
Set up by Logan in 1980, the magazine was still fiercely independent at the time, so we never had the money or resources we really needed. At one point, we had one tiny Mac classic in the design department, which we’d all gather round to discuss headlines or page designs. But we made a little go a long way, and we also enjoyed a freedom that few other magazines now or then offered.
We could experiment, play, decide to explore something just because we happened to be interested in it, without input from focus groups or pressure to sell more ads. The Face evolved into a monthly that could cover fashion, music and film but also politics, science and anything else we fancied.
It was a heady time. Acid house transformed British clubbing, a whole new generation of writers, photographers, stylists and models were coming through, and it felt like our little magazine was at the centre of it all.
We were the first to put people like Neneh Cherry, Sinead O’Connor, Soul II Soul or Kate Moss on our covers. Record labels sent our writers out to report on new music scenes. I was one of the first people to report on the burgeoning Chicago house scene in 1986: a music I still play and love to this day.
But at the same time, we covered conflicts in Somalia and the former Yugoslavia, famine and gang violence, the anti-apartheid movement and the student uprising in Tiananmen Square. We covered the fall of the Berlin Wall as well as the techno club scene and the Love Parade that flourished there after.
The Sunday Times and Observer magazine
After my son was born in 1996, I spent a few years combining freelance writing with caring for him. The Sunday Times Style section became a new home for me, with a brilliant team sending me bonkers ideas to play with: “Karl Lagerfeld said in Vogue that he likes listening to Status Quo. Can you do 1000 words by Wednesday?”
They also sent me to report on clubs in Ibiza, the huge parties that marked Hong Kong being handed back to China, to fashion shows and film sets. It was a fun time, working with a close-knit team who always contrived to make work seem like play.
I also wrote Adventures In Wonderland, my book telling the story of house music and the acid house/rave explosion, originally published by Hodder Headline in 1999.
By the time it came out, I’d joined The Observer as editor of its magazine, Observer Life. It’s a great newspaper and I had a good team there, but by then I was not well, and heading for burn-out.
When I left three years later, I vowed never to have a regular office job again. Something, I should add, that says a lot more about me than about the newspaper or the excellent journalists who work there.
I’m lucky to have earned a living as a writer ever since, covering everything from art and architecture to fashion, music, film, food and sport. I’ve written for everyone from Elle, Harpers, Vogue and Grazia to New Statesman and Rolling Stone.
But for over a decade, my main outlet was the Saturday Telegraph magazine, under the inspired editorship of Michele Lavery. Her team there are amongst the best editors I’ve ever worked with, and they all helped me become a better writer, and gave me some brilliant stories to work on.
I wrote about film in LA, fashion in China and Japan, music in Argentina and Brazil. I went on film and TV sets, watched a ballet choreographed at Sadlers Wells, sat in on rehearsals at the National Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company and more.
I’ve also been fortunate to travel across the developing world with a variety of charities, but mainly Oxfam. Their work is both inspiring and humbling. I went to Haiti and Ghana with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, to South Africa with Emily Eavis of the Glastonbury Festival, and to India and Sri Lanka with Scarlett Johansson. Everywhere, I met extraordinary people making a massive difference in their communities, and fighting to make the world a better, fairer place.
The Creative Life
I now live in Deal, a small but very lovely town facing out to France on the east Kent coast.
I am writing a whole series of new books and I am always open to commissions. But mainly I now work as a coach and mentor, helping experienced creatives – writers, artists, designers, musicians, and anyone working in creative fields – get the success they want, making work they truly love.
You can read more about this at The Creative Life, and follow my weekly blog here.