The 'Vexin français', the countryside pictured above – this is where I now live. A wide, sprawling plateau of hills and valleys to the west of Paris and a protected natural parkland. History is everywhere, from the many traces of prehistoric man, to Bronze-age hilltop forts, Gallo-Roman amphitheatres, Anglo-Norman and French castles, medieval abbeys and fortified farms, Industrial Revolution mills and tanneries to World War II battle sites. You never get bored here and you might, if ever passing by on your way south in summer, be tempted to stop off and discover. In summer it often reaches 30°C, in winter -4 and sometimes even a chilly -8. The good thing is that, only 50 km from the sprawling suburbs of Paris, it is Nature who decides how us humans live and behave, not the reverse that occurs under the city lights and artificial temperatures. Look up at night and you'll see the stars like silver pins in some great celestial pincushion. Walk outside among the fields and woodlands at dawn or dusk and you'll surely meet with wild boar, deer, foxes, badgers, hares, hawks and the odd human out for a walk or jog and who nods and bids good day.
It took me a long time to find this place I love and feel so much at home in. I spent my childhood in Essex, south east England, and my adolescence in Kent where I studied at Chatham House Grammar School, a sort of Harry Potter place where in those days Masters wore gowns and even occasionally mortar boards, Prefects took delight in terrorising the juniors, corporal punishment was the accepted norm, and swathes of lads froze their backsides off and bled from injuries on frozen rugby and hockey pitches in winter. Of course there was an after school life. In those days I was two things: an Army Cadet in the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment, firing sub-machine guns and driving Scorpian tanks at the age of fourteen, and a dedicated follower of the Mod scene, dancing to soul and Motown in the local scooter club and getting into God-knows-how-many fights on a Friday and Saturday night. They were wild times, back in the early 80s, and it's when I discovered such eclectic models as John Steinbeck, Günter Grass, The Who, André Breton, Karl Marx, Douglas Dunn, Margaret Thatcher, Paul Weller, Bob Dylan, Otis Redding, Thomas Edward Lawrence, D.H. Lawrence and Elisabeth I – not to mention my mother and father, Joan and Tom, as well as Sally, my sister.
I was good at art, though my father wanted a career in the army for me. Banned from the arts track, I failed miserably in the sciences but spent my free time reading up on Dadaism, Cubism, Surrealism, Pop Art and also a hell of a lot of poetry. I also fancied myself as a guitarist and played in several groups on the local pub circuit until our gear was smashed one night during a wild pub brawl. What better to do, then, than to drop studies and move from my small, provincial seaside town to the big smoke – London – and try to become famous there. My money ran out – quick. And a brief spell on the streets ended up in glorious serendipity upon meeting an American girl called Hope who set me back on the right path and a first, full-time job in advertising. I then fell in love, as one does at twenty, and decided to buy a backpack and trudge off to France to claim the girl who, a year later, was to become my wife and, later still, mother of our three fantastic and adventurous children.
In France, in the beginning, I became an English language teacher – what else could I do with barely 20 words in French to my name? It was great fun, full of creativity, and a way to meet tons of weird and wonderful people who couldn't pronounce the word "Thursday" – people who would become friends, and sometimes characters in the early attempts at the books I penned. Teaching led to translating. And then, aware of the doors closed before me, I went back to studies, pure luck sending me detouring the official interview and integrating a Master's degree programme in Human Resource Management and Industrial Relations at Keele University. Studying while working took its toll: 3 years of no-life, travel to-and-from the UK, and loss of good sight. It was when I started wearing glasses. And when I began engaging in heated social and political arguments with my father. University, you see, above-all teaches you to step back and observe with objectivity. And the new sight of the world before my eyes was...eye-opening!
One of the few survivors with a degree at the end of all this, thirsty for more knowledge, I took a course in coaching and psychology – probably the thing that saved my life during a very painful divorce-story at that time and the sad, early passing of my parents. I started up my second company and miraculously survived in the then very entrepreneur-unfriendly France of the times. At one point, I managed to get my name on a book cover, co-authoring Key Terms in People Management with Steven Flinders. A novel very nearly got published, though not quite – dropped at the last minute by the publishers not quite sure how to market it. A wonderful lady and friend called Daphne Chisholm-Elie changed my life when she virtually booted me up the backside to travel with her to Morocco and trek in the Atlas Mountains. I became an instructional designer in Europe's leading eLearning outfit and, when faced with a lay off, put my sights on writing that big novel. Amazir, born from the incredible experiences of trekking in Morocco among the Berber and Touareg tribes, was published in 2010, was shortlisted, and ended runner up to the UK RNA awards in 2011. I then wrote The Kingdom of Emptiness, based on my trekking adventures in Mauritania and, for a brief while, was hailed as the UK's most talented new writer – until the marketing machine moved on to find another most talented writer.
The last few years have been incredibly fast-paced, dense and, from all dimensions, a veritable adventure. Hard work, perseverance and a dose of luck and bravura saw me hired by a leading higher education institution – ESSEC Business School, one of the founding members of the Council on Business & Society. It's here that everything has seemed to come together, and not a long, hard day of work is void of creativity, meaning, ambition, purpose, fun and incredible insight from the staff, students from all over the world, and professors who work there. My work also puts me into contact with the wonderful folks on the Singapore campus, good friends and colleagues in the Council in Brazil, the UK, Ireland, Japan, China and hopefully others to come. The most recent book to be published – The Nature of Goods... – was co-authored with the extremely talented ESSEC Professor of Economics Estefania Santacreu-Vasut. In this period too, another childhood dream was fulfilled: to be an archaeologist – and this thanks to the CRAVF (Centre de Recherches Archéologiques du Vexin Français) and long nights of study into my area of passion: paleolithic and neolithic man. With a state authorisation, and with fellow amateur archaeologist Lucas Binard, two years of research and prospection (2018-2019) ended up in a French publication Du Paléolithique au Néolithique final: Les vestiges préhistoriques du plateau d'Omerville-Ambleville (Val d'Oise). Proof that, if things don't work out at the beginning, mischievous destiny somehow makes it happen later on.
The future? All I know is that it's important to have dreams. Something that, if they do not realise themselves right away, keep you going through all the ups and downs of life and provide you with a vision of a new, better world for yourself and others and a resolutely exciting journey ahead. My dreams of course include writing that beautiful all-time bestseller to share with the world. And in that sense dreams are like books. To quote the great writer and spokesman, Dr Samuel Johnson: "A book should help us either to enjoy life or to endure it." And that, I suppose, is just how life can be lived – like a book. Our book.