David Gilman has had an enormously impressive variety of jobs - from firefighter to professional photographer, from soldier in the Parachute Regiment's Reconnaissance Platoon to a Marketing Manager for an international publishing company in South Africa. He is also a successful television screenwriter. From 2000 until 2009 he was principal writer on A Touch Of Frost. He has lived and travelled the world gathering inspiration for his exotic children's adventure series along the way. Now, David is based in Devonshire, where he lives with his wife, Suzy Chiazzari, three cats and a cantankerous old Land Rover.
I wrote my first story titled: The Runaway Sixpence, when I was six years old. Narrated in the first person it followed the adventures of a sixpence as it rolled through the town and countryside, eventually it was swallowed by a cow and died. My teacher was adamant that the story could not be told in that manner if the protagonist was dead. I think she lacked imagination. And it took me twenty-five years before I wrote another story... but, in the meantime I was a tad busy
I grew up in England and Wales, a life of varied fortunes – from living in a tiny flat above the local fish and chip shop to a country house with horses. My family moved house about every six months because of my father’s business, which also meant a new school after every move, so I have a lot of sympathy for young people who are shunted around. Hang in there! If an uneducated child like me can get this far …
I left school when I was 14 to help support my mother and two siblings - and soon after circumstances took us to Africa. I left home when I was sixteen and drove a battered 1940s Ford saloon, ferrying Zulu and Pondo construction labourers to and from their work in the countryside. They would cling on the running boards for dear life as I roared across the empty veld tracks and despite a few of them falling off on a final downhill bend, they thought it great fun. Earning a living wasn’t easy being a white boy without qualifications in apartheid South Africa – I was definitely close to the bottom of the social ladder. I applied for various interesting jobs – trainee game ranger, junior crime reporter – and passed their entrance exams, but was eventually rejected because I did not hold any educational qualifications.
It’s an old cliché, but desperate times demanded desperate measures. Lying about my age seemed a good idea, so I told the authorities I was 21, and I had a succession of jobs including a year as a traffic cop. When an editor who was starting a new weekly magazine offered me a position as a trainee journalist I jumped at the opportunity. This was to be a brief working relationship. The day I arrived for work Special Branch detectives raided his office. He had been on their ‘wanted list’ for subversive activities for a long time. My career in journalism lasted all of five minutes after a rather stomach-churning interview with apes in suites.
I joined the Fire and Rescue Service, probably the most important learning curve of my young life. It was a time of guns and knives, hard men and brutal police. I witnessed human behaviour at its best and worse, experienced shocking and lethal violence, saw grotesque injuries and had frightening encounters. Finally though, events caught up with me. I passed my next set of fire service exams and was earmarked as a Station Officer trainee. Continuing would have uncovered the fact that I was still under age. Fate, as always, arranged an escape plan. My friend, a photographer for a magazine company, gave me a tip-off that they needed another photographer. I didn’t know one end of a camera from another, but he taught me as much as he could as quickly as he could and then stood as guarantor so I could go into debt and buy the equipment I needed. From there on it was the high life. Parties, models, and money that seemed to disappear quickly. I never realised I had so many friends in need of a loan. But that high-end lifestyle had a strange, uneasy effect on me. I felt out of touch with the ‘real’ world and after a potentially fatal incident involving a firearm, I turned my back on it. Returning to England with very little money, but still in one piece, I was soon on newspaper and broadcasters’ shortlists as a photographer and cameraman – but - finally - I was impatient and the wait proved too long. After a year or so of driving lorries and then bulldozers in the construction industry, I passed an entrance exam (thank heavens for libraries) to become a farm worker in Canada, but when the Canadian government changed its policy I left for Australia. I definitely need far horizons.
I was now - finally - 21 years old.
Let’s zip through the rest fairly quickly and save bandwidth. Australia was (and still is) a welcoming and generous country, like the USA, for those immigrants willing to work hard. I did a stint as a logger in the karri forests and from there – just by way of a change – as a window dresser for a department store; then, once again, as a photographer in an advertising agency.
Four years later, and with the IRA terrorists murdering people in Britain I returned home and signed up for the British army. I was twenty-six – the extreme age limit. For once in my life I was too old. For some crazy reason I thought I was fit enough to tackle the selection course for the Paras. I somehow managed to stagger through the training and after some time in the battalion I joined Patrol Company and the Reconnaissance Platoon.
After a few years I left with the idea of becoming a writer. I’m not sure which is the more difficult – getting through the Paras selection or breaking in as a writer, especially for someone who hates sitting at a desk. A marriage took me back to South Africa where I worked as a book salesman and, after attending night school for some long overdue qualifications, as a regional marketing manager for an international publishing company.
During those years I wrote every night and every weekend after work. There were no “how to” books or writing courses – you couldn’t even get your hands on a script to see how it was formatted. But, after having many radio plays and serials broadcast I created and wrote multi-stranded television series. Finally, back to the UK in the mid 90s, I wrote movie and television scripts - notably for A Touch of Frost.
Fast forwarding a few more years brings me to sitting at this desk, writing these words. Three novels published and another change in pace ready to propel me into adult Historical Fiction with a three-book contract.
Looking over this it feels as though a few lifetimes have been compressed into a short space of time.
Or is that called speed reading?