I’ve never been much of an academic. Crap at maths, woeful at science, run-of-the-mill at geography and history. Biology? Couldn’t care less. French? Forget it! The only thing I was any good at was English, so I ran with it in the hope that it would compensate for my shortcomings in everything else.
It all stemmed from my love of reading, which began at a very young age. The first material I worked through independently was the Mr. Men books by Roger Hargreaves… Mr. Bump and all that malarkey.
Later there was Captain Pugwash and comic books like The Dandy and The Beano. The Bash Street Kids were a firm favourite and I used to regularly seek out their standalone editions at car boot sales. At one time I had a mountain of them stacked up in my bedroom. I never could recall what became of them all.
My literary debut came at primary school when my teacher asked me to produce a short text on what I wanted to do over the coming weekend. The local fun fair was in town, so I began scribbling away with the kind of enthusiasm only a six year old can possess. The resulting poem ‘‘I want to go the fair, all my friends are there’’ may have missed out on The Pulitzer Prize, but my teacher seemed delighted with it! I got a gold star and everything.
The first time I was completely blown away by a book was with the outstanding Deptford Mice Trilogy by the scandalously underrated Robin Jarvis. The series follows a group of young mice and their struggles against the sewer rats and the evil lord Jupiter, I was utterly captivated and the release of each new book went down as a major childhood event. Jarvis’ stories are dark, atmospheric, often heartbreaking affairs and how he didn’t become a household name like J.K. Rowling remains a mystery. Nevertheless, he ended up putting out many other excellent trilogies such as The Whitby Witches, Tales from the Wyrd Museum and The Deptford Histories.
Like most kids of my generation, I was also a huge Roald Dahl fan. From The BFG and Matilda to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Danny, the Champion of the World, I still rate him as one of the best. I bumped into the old dog once in a bookshop in Buckinghamshire. I was with my dad at the time, who was savvy enough to quickly buy a copy of The Witches, then get Dahl to sign it for me. It was 1989 and within a year the great writer would be dead. I still have the book; selling it on eBay is not an option.
At military boarding school (not as bad as it sounds) my love for reading blossomed further thanks to a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young English teacher called Miss Ozanne. Fuelled by her unfailing enthusiasm (and something of a schoolboy crush) I also developed my writing, winning the school’s annual Liverpool House Essay Award for my short novel The Secret Journey. Leafing through it today and the whole thing is admittedly a bit laughable; but I guess it wasn’t bad for a thirteen year old.
Around this time I also became mesmerized by John Wyndham’s harrowing sci-fi novel The Day of the Triffids. In fact so gripped was I that I’d disappear off to the toilets after lights out to read it in a locked cubicle by the light of a small pocket torch. ‘‘Piss off!’’ I hissed when one night someone knocked on the door. ‘‘Leighton? What the **** are you doing in there?’’
I found myself equally absorbed by the books of Stephen King and would spend hour upon hour in my room scaring myself senseless with titles like Misery, Pet Sematary and It. Having eventually read most of his output, I would probably rate The Stand as his crowning achievement. The uncut edition naturally.
My college years led me through a number of the so-called classics. But I was largely unmoved by the likes of Shakespeare (yawn) and Chaucer (kill me now). Instead, I found myself much more keyed into modernist literature, lapping up Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest, George Orwell’s 1984, Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and John Steinbeck’s Of Mice And Men.
Later on, along with a thriving passion for music and film, my reading focus switched almost exclusively to non-fiction. I became a committed subscriber to Q magazine and consumed countless books about The Beatles. I devoured autobiographies by Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan, Tony McCarroll, Alex James, Keith Richards, John Peel and Jerry Schilling (a key member of Elvis Presley’s Memphis Mafia). By Rob Lowe, Eli Wallach, Arnold Scharwzenegger and a terminally ill Patrick Swayze. Equally brilliant biographies on David Bowie, John Lennon, Brian Epstein, Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain, Phil Spector, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe. And too many more to mention.
I haven’t turned my back on fiction altogether though and occasionally come out of retirement for my favourite authors. A new Donna Tartt release always sets the pulse racing. I read her debut The Secret History on a beach in India; her follow-up The Little Friend on a hill in The Scottish Borders. The Goldfinch, her most recent novel, was despatched during a tour of the Northeast of China. I have a similar dedication to the hilarious David Sedaris and the poignant Khaled Housseini.
I don’t recall writing my first album or movie review, as I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. Initially it was just for fun, when my only audience was a friend of mine who was also into Radiohead. Finally, I got a few pieces published online, then one or two in magazines.
It grew from there and in 2010, quite unexpectedly, I landed a job writing and voice presenting movie-related TV shows for a Dutch company in Amsterdam. The position also involved penning celebrity news, which taught me a lot about the economy of writing. I found this an amusing but often frustrating process, as for every ‘‘Scorsese attached to direct 3D family adventure’’ I’d have to produce two to three ‘‘Justin Bieber urinates in a bucket’’. But who was I to argue with public demand?
During this period I also began work on my own screenplay, a comedy drama called Red Light co-written with Michael Scott, an old friend from my Bratislava days. Flying over to Amsterdam for a series of writing weekends, we had great fun developing our characters and ironing out bumps in the plot. Two years later we’d finished our third draft, which we submitted to the experts at Industrial Scripts. They came back to us with an encouraging twenty page report best summarised as ‘‘Good, you’re on the right track. But…’’. I like to think that one day we’ll give Red Light one last roll of the dice and finally nail it.
In early 2014 I began revising a number of my old short stories; tales based on my experiences living, working and travelling abroad. I got so into it I ended up writing an additional thirty from scratch as I worked through the key periods of my life. And so the foundations were laid for Leighton Literature, the mother of delayed reactions to all the people who’d asked ‘‘How come you don’t have a website?’’ It’s now two and a half years since I launched my blog and so far, despite many ups and downs, it’s been an amazing experience. If you enjoy reading them half as much as I have writing them then it’ll all have been worth it.
Leighton – April 2017