FESS did not start out as an autobiography. Unknowingly, it started out with a decision to try and sort out a problem that had bugged me most of my life. Maybe a little late in the day but why not? The world and his dog seemed to be in therapy so why not me? I was referred to a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist (CBT) for a short course but within a couple of weeks it became clear that CBT was not the right tool: all our discussions were leading in the same direction: childhood. My therapist was honest enough to recognise that a more depth-psychological approach was necessary; and he was brave enough to leave his own comfort zone and familiar concepts and join with me in a kind of emotional archaeology. This set off an extraordinary sequence of associations which led to memories that came stumbling into the light, blinking, because they had been buried for up to 60 years. So it was not that therapy literally started this book (which came two years later) it was that the therapy and therapist 'gave me permission' to unlock the door on my past - the lost regions of my childhood which I had thought I'd forgotten. And when, on a whim, a little further down the line, I wrote a piece for Facebook (and tumblr) on my role as the Prince Consort to the May Queen at an infant school Pageant, it went down very well. Plus it triggered more and more associations, unstoppably. This was precious stuff, to me. It just had to be written down because my parents had never done so, and although there had been a couple of oral historians in the wider family, they had died and their memories with them. As a life-sentence teacher and communicator, I looked to share it with other people and whereas some of my earlier academic writing I wouldn't wish on anyone, I felt this was different. Early feedback was really encouraging; it was clear that people had sensed my enthusiasm for the process, and supported it; which in itself was quite a persuasive force to encourage more reading in them and more writing from me.
Almost before I realised it I had about 20 of these pieces, and it was feeling its way towards being an 'autoblography', possibly. Not a definite plan, because the prospect of writing up a whole life might just be too intimidating and turn off the tap. But I started to envisage an episodic auto-blography, written out of time and out of chronology, but most importantly, restricting itself to the most interesting parts of my life, not the dross. This would not be like those scholarly biographies where the author shows off his diligent research by collating Sainsbury's bills to make some point about the subject's tastes, or dietary clues to personality. It would be a sample, a Greatest Hits album rather than a complete enumeration, as the survey people call it when they try to get a whole population, not just a sample.
I feel I should be giving a better guide to what's in the book as opposed to the process of writing it, but in fact the Contents section of this site lists it all. It's like a very long CV which starts with a childhood and adolescence in North London and proceeds via Kosovo, Cardiff, Bristol, America, Shropshire, Wales, Israel, Romania and Andalusia, and finally, the Everest of my aspirations, a house perilously near Neasden.
There were over 100 pieces of writing by the time I had realised that this was already too many for a single volume. I conducted an agonising cull to cut it down to size, consoled by being able to put the surplus in a folder marked FESS 2. Because there surely will be more, if only because I have found it so enjoyable. If I were a luvvie I would say that I had 'found my voice' in doing this writing, but fortunately I'm not. It may or may not be a good voice but it's definitely mine. The other thing I would want to say is that it is difficult for a partial autobiography to have a strong narrative thrust which drives the reader on. It's less dynamic and digestible, I think. A little goes a long way: unless you are me, in which case it's endlessly fascinating and a real page-turner! So the prescription for maximum enjoyment is '3 or 4 pieces before bedtime' (or on the plane or on the beach).