I was born in Hannover to a German mother—grand-niece of Franz Schubert—and English father, from Lancashire. I was raised in Farnham, Surrey and moved to Cardiff in 1976 to take a postgraduate course. I loved Wales and settled. I married Caroline – a Macmillan nurse who took her degree in Cardiff. She was raised in Berkshire but—like me—prefers Wales. We have two children—Robert aged 15 and Ræchel aged 8—who, like us, play musical instruments, ride horses, and enjoy reading. Caroline and I are Vajrayana Buddhist teachers – and our lives mainly involve writing books, travelling, and teaching in Britain and the USA where we have students.
What is your most recent book? Tell us a bit about it?
It’s the first of a four volume series entitled an odd boy. In some ways, it’s a radical departure from my Buddhist books. It represents my life, as an artist, poet, and Blues musician. It’s a monothematic memoire of the Arts between 1957 and 1975 – written as a novel with dialogue My keyboard almost became a Ouija board. I’d have the image of the person in my mind and hear their voice. Then I’d become an internalised actor, who became the character whose words I was conjuring into existence. The conversations are therefore fictional to some degree – but I have been surprised by intensity of specific detail my memory has provided.
What inspired you to write this book?
The Arts. My experience of the 1960s—and Art School in the early 1970s—is still a powerful catalyst. There is nostalgia—certainly—but I hope it is tempered with humour and realism. The ethos was one of enthusiastic openness across different fields of human endeavour. I describe it as ‘the lost time’ – but it can be rediscovered by anyone who is open to the Arts. I wish to inspire people to think of themselves as artists – even though they may never paint, write, or engage in any obvious way. Being an artist simply requires a compassionate state of mind that is open to a joyous appreciation of the sense fields.
Who is the book aimed at?
Anyone who enjoyed Bob Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’. Bob Dylan inspired the idea that a memoire did not have to be a blow-by-blow cradle-to-grave account of life events. It could be a monothematic stream-of-consciousness extravaganza – and mine is an eccentric adventure in the dimension of Art and romance. The book could appeal to anyone who experienced the 1960s or who wishes they had. It’s intended to entertain, intrigue, inform – and to incite a vision of life, as it could be lived. In that sense the audience would be people who like to be provoked by ideas. It could be described—tongue in cheek—as ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ meets ‘under Milkwood.’
How did you publish this book?
Through ’ö-Dzin Tridral and Nor’dzin Pamo who set up a publishing organisation called Aro Books worldwide as a branch of the Sang-ngak-chö-dzong Buddhist charity in February 2009. They use Lulu Press to publish books on demand. This enabled the production of professional publications with complete control over content and appearance – hence I was able to design the cover of the book.
What do you believe is the hardest part of writing a book?
The title. I cannot start writing without a title and a clear idea of the cover. Once I have the title and cover design, I lay out the chapter titles – and then it flows naturally. There is hard work involved—naturally—but that is mainly determined and continual editing. It’s a discipline and a pleasure. The pleasure is the joy of language. The discipline relates to self-criticality and the perfection of the craft – as far as possible given my current capacity as a writer. The ‘hardest part’ . . . really . . . is the most rewarding part: never being satisfied with my writing – but also knowing when it’s completed.
What are you reading now?
‘The Barchester Chronicles’ by Anthony Trollope. I so enjoyed the BBC serialisation of those books—and the ‘Palliser’ novels—that I determined to read Trollope’s entire literary corpus. I find his humour delightful – subtle and understated. His insights into Victorian society are highly illuminating in terms of British society as it is today. Without some knowledge of the past – it is not easy to understand the shape of the present, in terms of attitudes and social mores. Trollope is masterful in setting scenes and painting characters. He is almost uncanny in his understanding of human psychology – to the extent that the personalities he creates stand slightly outside the remit of fiction.
What types of books do you like to read? Who are your favourite authors? Why?
Historical novels. I particularly love Jane Austen – for her wit and irony. When young I read mainly Nordic sagas – and books by Henry Treece. I remember being particularly intrigued by Rider Haggard’s ‘Eric Brighteyes’. A modern author for who I have great respect is Patrick O’Brien. His nineteen volume sea faring odyssey set during the Napoleonic Wars is a remarkable tour de force. It is also vastly informative on subjects as divergent at 18th Century psychology and medicine to anthropology and sociology. ‘an odd boy’ attempts to be informative without labouring the point – and I hope readers will find relate to it as delightedly as I did with Patrick O’Brien’s books.
Are you working on your next book? What can you tell us about it?
Poetry. I have never published poetry before because I have never reached the point at which I could say they were finished. This has meant re-writing ad nauseam. I have revised most of them a score of times. Every few years I move into a poetry phase and write a handful of pieces – and when I do so, I usually take the opportunity to revise older works. There will be two books. One will be an anthology of all my past work entitled ‘Ravings of a Mild Mannered maniac’ – and the other will be a narrative written in cantos—each comprised of five 9-line verses—entitled ‘. . . and so’.
What is the best advice you could give other writers about writing?
Obsession. Obsession with writing – with communicating the ideas and images that well from the fire of perception. Read world class literature and read widely. Read poetry as well as prose. Make Shakespeare part of your diet. Gain deep love of language. Take care even with notes and shopping lists. There needs to be an understanding of grammar which enables the writer to avoid looking gauche – but without becoming hidebound by standard grammatical conventions. Language needs to become a dimension you inhabit – not merely a semantic exposition, no matter how clever or colourful. Other than that – buy the shorter Oxford English Dictionary and a good thesaurus and find pleasure in reading them.
What are you doing to promote your latest book?
Following the wise counsel of ’ö-Dzin Tridral who suggested that we began with a Facebook launch – as I have 5,000 friends and 4,500 subscribers to my ‘Artist page’. The launch involved me in two hours answering questions related to ‘an odd boy’. Now that ‘an odd boy’ has been launched, copies will be made available for review – and Aro Books worldwide will be offering a free sample chapter.
Where can readers learn more about you and your book?
My personal Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=816264333) and an ‘Artist Page’ (http://facebook.com/Doc-Togden). There are excerpts from the book on a dedicated website (http://anoddboy.com). ‘an odd boy’ is published by Aro Books worldwide and is available from Lulu. It will shortly be available on Amazon and elsewhere.