1. Tell us about yourself.
I'm a novelist, born in Leeds, now living in Seattle, Washington with my wife, novelist and screenwriter Kelley Eskridge. I'm a dual citizen of the US and UK and my immigration case made new law: I was the first out queer immigrant to be granted a National Interest Waiver in which the Secretary of State declared it to be in the National Interest for me to live and work in the US. I'm a multiple award-winning novelist, disability consultant, and wheelchair boxer. As a first-generation student—very young, queer, and not supported by my family—I did not do well at university the first time. Many years later, in my fifties, without a degree of any kind, but with many literary awards to my name, I decided it was time to get a PhD in Creative Writing. And Anglia Ruskin was the place that welcomed me.
2. What is your fondest memory at Anglia Ruskin University?
That every single member of staff and faculty was helpful and welcoming, and every single person helped me with disability accommodations. Every. Single. One.
3. What has been your favourite job?
The job I have now: writing. I've always been one of those irritating people who was good at a lot of things: music, sports, science, art. I'm smart and I learn fast. I also get bored easily. When I found writing, all that changed. There is no such thing as a perfect novel, so no matter how good one gets, or how fast you get there, there are always ways to do better. I love that, love the fractal nature of the work: the deeper you go, the more there is to do. It's impossible to get bored. The other jobs I've loved all involve using my body hard. Three jobs stand out. The first was working as a day labourer on an archaeological dig (a Roman villa outside Helmsley). The second was as a tree technician and (again) labourer—digging trenches, planting trees—for Hull City Council. And last but most definitely not least, the five years I spent teaching women's self-defence to organisations as diverse as Humberside County Council's Equal Opportunities Unit, the Union of Catholic Mothers, and the Girl Scouts of America.
4. In one word, how would you describe ARU?
5. How did your time at Anglia Ruskin help you?
Getting my PhD by Published Work soothed a need I'd had since I was 17 and dropped out of a Microbiology degree at Leeds University. In the UK I never found lack of a degree a disadvantage but in the US I finally got tired of the shock on people's faces when they found out I had no degree; tired of their polite attempts to hide that shock; and very tired of watching them privately reassess their judgement of my worth. Now if people ask, I can say I have a doctorate and they simply nod: it fits their notion of who I am. Also, to be frank, I just wanted to see what getting a doctorate felt like :)
6. What did you love about your chosen course?
I had to learn everything an undergraduate and graduate and postgraduate student needs to get a doctorate—and learn it in a single year. It was a zesty, terrifying challenge! At first I felt bewildered, then stretched to my limit, then suddenly, marvellously, fully in the swing of things and having a wonderful time, swimming in theory, fitting the pieces together. Also I loved—and now really miss—the academic access to all the libraries and journals. I would love to have that again: free access to all knowledge; what a gift.
7. What advice would you give to current students as they're preparing to graduate?
Take a breath, congratulate yourself, and be proud. But don't expect life to be magically different after graduation. A degree is not a funny handshake, a silver bullet, or a secret decoder ring. You'll still be you, and most of your life will be the same. The difference is you have now accomplished something good and useful and necessary. The next stage will be as exciting and interesting as you make it, but you will have to work for it.
8. What do you know now that you wish you had known whilst studying?
If I'd already understood how to organise academic research, rather than learning as I went along, I would have saved some time. Otherwise? I think I learnt what I needed at exactly the right time.
9. Who was the biggest influence on your career?
Every good book I've ever read influences me as a writer: I steal what works, improve what might work, and vow not to repeat others' mistakes. Publishing colleagues have helped me understand how to comport myself professionally. Many academics have helped me navigate the world of higher education, though to me it still feels a bit like a foreign country. My wife helps me be brave when my courage wavers. And one of my first English teachers, Mrs Stern, told me when I was 10 years old to use all five senses to describe things in fiction—advice that has made all the difference to my work.
10. What advice would you give to your younger self?
Seize the joy. Do what you do; it'll all turn out in the end.
11. Tell us something about yourself that most people don't know.
I much prefer films in which heroes swagger about, make jokes, and blow stuff up to serious films about anguished people. Also—and this is particularly for Americans—although I have a nice English accent, I don't know the Queen personally and cannot advise you about your rose garden.
12. What’s next?
More books! I'm writing a sequel to Hild, set in seventh-century Britain, which is almost finished. I have a short fantasy novel that's just finished, Spear Enduring but don't yet have a publication date. And to coincide with the republication of my three novels about Aud Torvingen—I'll be narrating the audiobook of the first, The Blue Place—I'll be writing three original short stories about her further misadventures. After that, more essays, and probably a short story collection, and—always!—finding the joy.