I think for most of us, we see only the smallest tip of the iceberg. As with Stonechild, I am trying to use my writing as a way to question what we do and how we might do things better.Kevin Albin
When and why did you begin writing?
If I think back, I’ve written from a young age, perhaps from nine or ten years old. I used to produce the occasional drawings and some text on dinosaurs, and hold readings at school with friends. I was once caught passing a note in class that we would meet in the library, and punished as I had spelt the word library incorrectly.
I wrote while in the police; accounts of things we had done, and was encouraged by colleagues who found these stories amusing, and I started to read books and go on courses to learn how to write and construct stories and articles. My first real publications came when working as a guide, and that was with some outdoor and travel magazines. My writing has always been on and off, as I’ve been busy with so many other things, but now with my debut novel, Stonechild, receiving some pleasing reviews, I am enthused to do more.
What are some day jobs you have held?
I joined the UK police at the age of eighteen, and was lucky to feel completely in my element. I have always had a passion for the stories of Sherlock Holmes, who also features in my novel, and I joined the police to be a detective. I went on to work on a tactical firearms team and as a hostage negotiator, and then by chance, I was seconded to the Youth Service to work with disengaged teenagers on a scheme called the Prince’s Trust Volunteers. That was a turning point for me and I retrained as a Mountain Leader and started working on overseas expeditions for conservation and youth development. My work led me to travel all over the world, and in 2011, I won the Bronze in the World Guide Awards.
I am still involved in conservation, but recent events with Covid-19 has meant finding work elsewhere. So, I have been doing some gardening work for expats with second homes here in France, and teaching English on line.
Can you share with readers a little bit about your latest book?
The opening scene is the House of Commons, in London, and the bronze statue of Sir Winston Churchill, which has one different coloured shoe caused by MPs repeatedly touching it for good luck as they walk into Chamber. The MP for Oldham is about to do that when the shoe moves. Chaos follows.
Apparently, human consciousness can be embodied in the molecules of stone and metal when we create statues, and the statues of London come to life with a desperate message on conservation, one that we must listen to. As the statue of Sir Winston later explains, “If your actions were just leading to some major catastrophe — we wouldn’t get involved, it wouldn’t be our place to.”
Molly Hargreaves is the main character who doesn’t trust the statues’ ambitions, and sets out to prove all is not as it seems. She is chased, captured and confined by the statues, although aided by the statue of Sherlock Holmes, himself an anomaly as he never lived. She seeks help from a retired London Tour Guide and then discovers he is working with a secret organisation, the Agalmata, who have foretold the coming of the statues and are implicit in their plans. The statue of Sir Walter Raleigh stabs a football supporter, the police are deployed but how to shoot stone and metal? Many military statues amass in Trafalgar Square as the battle for London begins.
What made you decide to sit down and actually start writing this book?
I was working on a corporate training day in London and my clients were trying to find a clue connected with the Royal Tank Regiment Memorial statue. The clients were taking ages, and I imagined the statue coming to life to help with the clue. At the time I was also doing a lot of conservation work in Borneo, particularly on reforestation, and in questioning why would London’s statues come to life, I saw an opportunity to share my thoughts on looking after our planet. This was back in 2009, and the book took me two years to research and write. Although the manuscript gained the attention of two literary agents, it wasn’t published, and it was left as something to work on at a later date.
Then, this year, 2020, we saw a global virus, the movement behind ‘I can’t breath,’ and strong feelings behind certain statues, all events that uncannily appear in Stonechild.
I then broke my leg in a motorcycle accident, and saw all of that as a sign to get the book and it message out there. The book isn’t meant to have a political statement on current global events, that’s just a coincidence, but it is meant to encourage the readers to think about some of the issues. I wrote it originally as a young-adult fiction, although since its publication, it has received more interest from adults than teenagers.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
I don’t suspect that this is unusual for a writer, but most of my writing was done at four in the morning. Primarily, it was to avoid disturbing the family, but also I was at my most creative. Sometimes, I would wake in the night with an idea, and just had to get up even earlier to write it down. Some scenes I couldn’t type quick enough, and even now they bring a smile to my face when I read them. To be pleased with your own creation is extremely rewarding.
What is your next project?
Without spoiling the ending, Stonechild finishes with an urgent call at four in the morning from the President of the United States to the Prime Minister of the UK. “Prime Minister, you’ve got to help me. The Statue of Liberty is missing. It’s as though she’s just walked off.”
So, I am working on the sequel, which will take place in America. Molly Hargreaves will be asked for her help; she solved the problem in London so they will be looking to her to do the same again. I am currently learning all I can about American history, and at the same time allowing ideas to come into my head for the plot.
I have also been delving into a better understanding of the wildlife trade, particularly in connection to indigenous peoples. I think for most of us, we see only the smallest tip of the iceberg. As with Stonechild, I am trying to use my writing as a way to question what we do and how we might do things better. I understand this writing is called Eco-fiction and that it is proving to be a powerful medium when the right balance can be found. I have an idea for a character, drawing on my own experiences as ex-police and guide, and how he might become entangled in some adventure.
If there was one thing you could do to change the world, what would it be?
Such a difficult question. We are truly an amazing species and capable of wonderful things, but at the same time, we are plagued with greed, corruption, selfishness and exploitation. The list is long with regards to our destruction of the planet’s resources, especially trees and wildlife, and solving these issues is enormously complex. If I could change anything, it would be for everything to stop, for us to listen, analyse, to come up with solutions that responds to every living creatures’ needs, not just our own.
Tell us something unique about you.
Back in the 1980s, I was a young police officer working at Chequers, the home of the UK Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher. It was just after the Brighton bomb where the IRA had tried to assassinate the PM. Sometimes, Mrs. Thatcher took to leaving the house and going for a walk in the neighbouring field, and on this occasion, I accompanied her as her armed protection. On entering the field, we came across a newly born calf, still trying to find its feet, and Mrs. Thatcher was moved to approach; perhaps her maternal instincts. The mother cow was somewhat upset by this action, tossing its head and making a lot of noise, and in that moment I could see disaster looming. Perhaps not easy to advise the Prime Minster of Great Britain, but I suggested we should return to the house, which, fortunately, Mrs. Thatcher agreed to. Many years later, I wrote of this account for a competition in a UK magazine, highlighting that the cow could have succeeded where the IRA had failed. The article won me a holiday in Slovenia.