Growing up in the East End of London just after the Second World War meant that my first memories were of bomb sites. Indeed, our street had houses at the beginning, houses at the end, and nothing but rubble in between. Our own house was typical of those that were still left standing in that area, in that there was no bathroom, and the outside toilet was at the end of the yard. We lived opposite a pickle factory, which probably made being scrubbed in an old tin bath tub more enjoyable than would be normal for a young scallywag.
However, this was before the Clean Air Act, and a combination of dirt, grime and the toxic fumes from millions of coal fires meant that, at the tender age of five, an asthmatic yours truly was packed off to a seaside children’s home for a few years. Broadstairs in Kent to be precise. It left me with a love of both countryside and sea. One abiding memory was of us sick little kids bounding down the steps of Stone Gap, which cut through the cliffs and led to a beach littered with Mermaid’s Purses and the odd dead Porpoise. Our nurses were kind, and the home was as far removed from the type of Victorian image that many people have of such places. Generally exhausted by bedtime, we used to fall asleep in our dormitory to the sound of the foghorn and the flashing of the lamp of the Goodwin Sands lightship (every twenty seconds!). But despite the idyll, there’s no place like home, and almost four years later I was back in the grime of the East End.
Before long, we had moved out to Ilford in the eastern suburbs of London. More leafy than the East End, but infinitely more boring. Nevertheless, this was where I developed the two great loves of my life (not counting my wife and children, of course): the English language and Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. The passion for both is undiminished today, although while the first never lets me down, the second often does. I suppose that I owe my love of English to my secondary school English teacher, who encouraged me to pursue a career in journalism. His name was Mr Ball, and, tragically, he died from cancer at the age of thirty-two.
I left school at the age of seventeen and was indentured into a local newspaper. By the age of twenty-six, I was working as a foreign correspondent in the Middle East. I covered two wars from Tel Aviv, but it was the Yom Kippur war of 1973 that remains the most vivid. I was on the first plane out of London one week into the war. I was accompanied by my wife, Yael, and our baby son, Max. Yael had six brothers fighting in the war. Once we neared the Eastern Mediterranean, we were escorted by Israeli jet fighters. It was clear that there was a worry that the Egyptian air force might seek to shoot us down. We landed safely, and it took me a while to get accreditation with the Israel Defense Force (IDF). I later accompanied Israeli forces up the Golan Heights, and I was one of the first journalists to reach the ceasefire line at Km-101 in the Egyptian desert. I was only once in danger of losing my life, and that was from a ‘friendly’ Caterpillar tractor that was attempting to clear burnt out Syrian armour from narrow paths on Mount Hermon. You would not be reading this but for the presence of mind of a colleague, AP photographer Paul Roque, who jumped out of our car and raced towards the Leviathan, which had just negotiated the brow of the ridge and was heading our way at full speed. It was obvious that the driver had not seen us. Paul managed to alert him just inches from pushing our Plymouth saloon car (itself almost as big as a tank!) down the mountainside. The closest of calls.
The Yom Kippur war forms the background to part of the main protagonist’s story in The Winds of Kedem.
Prior to covering the 1973 war, I had worked as a court reporter, which helped me write the court scenes in Schreiber’s Secret, although Nigel Lithman, QC, provided vital assistance in this respect.
There are some things in life that are highly predictable. One of them is that it will be hot and sunny in Tel Aviv, Israel, in early August. On one such day, 8 August 1979, I happened to be visiting the city that I love above all others when I felt my back give out. I was bent double and in terrible pain.
I somehow climbed into a taxi and made my way to Tel Hashomer, the largest hospital in Israel. Within a couple of hours I had undergone a procedure that changed my life irrevocably. It’s called a myelogram, and it is the injection of a dye into the spine in order that any prolapse might be seen on x-ray. In those days, the dye was oil-based and was called Pantopaque. It was also too toxic for use in humans.
Almost immediately, I began to feel symptoms such as pins and needles in both legs; symptoms that I had not suffered previously. The attack lasted for such a long time – more than three months – that my employers, the Reuters international news agency, decided that I was too ill to remain in work, so they put me on their Prolonged Disability Scheme.
For the next nineteen years I suffered recurring bouts of this terrible illness, adhesive arachnoiditis, which would perhaps, in my case, be better described as chemically induced spinal meningitis. Its myriad symptoms are described in Cry of the Needle, so there is no need to repeat them here.
In July 1998, I suffered a major attack that left me virtually bedridden for three years. It was also in that year that I was diagnosed correctly. Scores of experts had failed to do so during the previous nineteen years. Thanks to a self help group, I learned about the disease and its causes. Although still very ill, I felt the urge to continue writing, and to make my third book one that revolved around my illness. After a year of agony, and one in which sitting was purgatory, the result was the polemical thriller about medical malpractice that is Cry of the Needle. There is no cure for my illness, and I am forced to do most of my writing while standing up and using speech recognition software. I also lost an eight-year battle for justice against the American drug company and the Israeli hospital I deemed negligent in causing my condition. How and why I lost is explained more fully in the Author’s Note in Cry of the Needle.
A few years after I completed Cry of the Needle, I met a fellow sufferer, Bobbie Cecchini, via the Internet. The result was helping her to write her moving life story, High Heels & 18 Wheels.
I love to hear from readers about my books, my blog, etc., so feel free to drop me a line. You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And one more thing: I’d appreciate your reviewing my Kindle books on both Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk.
Unfortunately, for some unfathomable reason Amazon does not allow an ebook purchaser to automatically double-up his or her review on www.amazon.com ,
Nevertheless, anyone can post a review simply by signing in as usual to any foreign Amazon website, even if they don’t normally use it. I would be grateful if you would do so. Of course, an Amazon authorised purchase review will carry more weight. Meanwhile, here are some tips for those new to reviewing:
Make the critiques read like a true book review. Judge on merit, be helpful, shed light. A well thought out review contains the following:
1. Brief synopsis.
2. The basic themes of the book.
3. A judgement on writing style.
4. A recommendation on who should read the book.
5. Articulate how it made you feel and what it made you think.
6. A summary of what happened and what it meant (without any spoilers).
7. What you loved or disliked and why.
8. How well did the book achieve its goal.
9. Whether you would recommend it to others and why.
Happy reading and happy reviewing!