I was born just outside the airfield at Farnborough, where my father was working developing new materials for the coming generation of aircraft.
I grew up in a world in which the Mercury and then Apollo programmes were in full swing, Gerry Anderson’s shows were on TV and Dr Who had just fired up the TARDIS. It was a strange and wonderful time, full of promise. We all thought there would be hotels on the moon and robots to clean up after us within a few years.
I won’t say much about my school days, not a pleasant subject. For a would be writer a spell at boarding school is a useful education. You don’t actually learn very much, but you do come away with an understanding of dishonesty, violence and how to hide contraband which is the stuff of thrillers. You also can write torture and interrogation scenes from memory. It is enough to say that I escaped, found a place at a technical college, and went on from it to win a place at St John’s, Cambridge. There I studied Engineering and Computer Science, emerging with a pretty good degree. I unfortunately missed Douglas Adams by one term, he graduated just before I went up for the first time.
It was during my time at the tech that I visited a house church meeting. Sitting opposite me was the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen, a vision of deep blue-grey eyes and burning Titian hair. I was set up by a friend to be a little too forward with her, and she felled me with a left hook. All the way to the ground I was thinking “That’s my kind of woman!” Forty years on we’re still together.
Then came the hot summer night when I had been reading a textbook on astronomy that described how Arcturus showed a lovely orange-red colour under magnification. I borrowed my father’s binoculars, and was instantly entranced by the auburn light. Arcturus is only 36.7 light years away, in cosmic terms that’s next door. Then the ghastly truth hit me. There was no chance of anyone building a spaceship that could get there in my lifetime. I wasn’t going to see it close to. I couldn’t hope to visit a planet where that golden glory dominated the sky.
Or could I?
Perhaps there was one way I could travel the galaxy.
I gave back the binoculars and borrowed my father’s typewriter. And that’s when I became a Science Fiction writer.