Tuesday, 31 December 2019

A Decade of Highlights

2010 seems like yesterday but now 2020 is upon us and it's time to look to the future. But, before I do, here are a few highlights from the past decade. It's been an extraordinary one for me.

In February 2010 I retired from a 30 year career with the Metropolitan Police. During those three decades I was quite badly injured several times, was set on fire twice during riots, and lost several wonderful colleagues. But oh, the highlights! Being at Live Aid. Meeting Freddie Mercury, several US presidents and a Pope. Being kissed by Diana. Being told to f*ck off by Prince Phillip. But most of all it was making a difference to people's lives by using problem solving, crime science and behavioural insights to prevent crime and disorder. It led to the publication of my second book of the decade One Step Ahead: Notes form the Problem Solving Unit in 2016 (although first published in hardback as Why Did the Policeman Cross the Road?)







By 2010, and anticipating retirement, I'd already been 'brought into the QI fold' by comic genius John Lloyd, creator of such shows as The News Quiz, Not the Nine O'Clock News, Have I got News for You, Spitting Image and many more (oh, and he also produced every episode of Blackadder and co-wrote two episodes of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy with Douglas Adams). My first book, Joined-Up Thinking, had been published in 2008 and had brought me to his attention. Consequently, I strated writing for the QI Annuals. Then I was given a shot at writing for QI's sister show on BBC Radio 4 - The Museum of Curiosity. That went well too (in fact, the show won a Rose D'Or in 2016). I then moved on to QI itself, first as a researcher and then as one of the eight main writers. And what a joy that was. Between Museum and QI I met some fantastic people, some f whom are sadly no longer with us such as Ken Dodd, Neil Innes, Terry Pratchett, Jonathan Miler, Clive James and David Frost. Best of all, I got to hone my comic writing and worked with some of the best comedians in the business. I even got to appear on the show two or three times - once in a prop gimp mask!




















Yes, that really was Buzz Aldrin in the red shirt three photos back and the young woman I'm with between the pics of Phill Jupitus and Alan Davies and Ross Noble is Polly Adams, Douglas's daughter who worked on the show for a year and was an absolute joy to be around.

Another highlight of the decade was working with my lovely friend Professor Sue Black OBE on her book Saving Bletchley Park. Sue led the charge on the campaign to save the codebreakers' HQ for the nation and succeeded! It meant several visits to the place, and the adjacent Museum of Computing. And it meant that we were there for the grand opening. I was very proud of that. Below are photos of an Enigma machine, Colossus - the world's first programmable computer - and the restored huts, including Alan Turing's Desk. Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, opened the event and I reckon I got a pretty good photo of her.







The 2010's (Teenies?) also saw the fulfilment of a long-held ambition for me - to get a novel into print. And I did, by the skin of my teeth, when A Murder To Die For appeared in 2018, followed by The Diabolical Club this year. I was delighted when Murder was nominated for two awards. The third book in the set, Cockerings, should be out in 2020 so, depending on whether you measure your decades by end of year or start, it may just come in under the line!


This has been the decade which saw publishing go into meltdown after the loss of major bookchains like Ottakars, Dillons and Books Etc. but has seen the rise of independent book shops. And the perceived threat of e-books came to nothing; sales are dropping while sales of physical books and, in particular, audiobooks are rising.

Podcasts are on the rise too. and after having to give up a radio show I did with the ever-clever Andy Aliffe (I just didn't have the time) I'm delighted to now be co-hosting a fortnightly literary podcast called We'd Like a Word with writer and BBC producer called Paul Waters. We chat to other writers about books and the process of writing. What could be lovelier?

Who knows what the roaring Twenties will bring? If they're half as good to me as the Teenies were then I'll be a very content man.

Happy New Year to you all.