Alan Wilkinson Walking in Great Britain

Pointing the way, inside the Arctic Circle, Norway, 2014

A Writer's Journey

It’s one thing to say you want to be a writer, quite an other to make it happen. I think mine has been an interesting journey, and a varied one. While I often tell myself I have been fortunate, I also know that perseverance has been a huge factor in whatever success has come my way.

I’ve been writing for money since 1985 when I sold a short story for £9 ($12). I really wanted to frame the cheque, but I had three kids to feed. 

I was still in short trousers when I got the writing bug. Marooned at a boarding-school, I wrote to anybody who would reply: family, pen-friends, newspaper and magazine editors. I had my first publication at 15, a letter to Football Monthly on the growing danger of football hooliganism. A year later I started a pirate school magazine. I learned to type on an antique Imperial. I wrote, edited, collated, printed, stapled and distributed copies.

When I left school, I decided I would experience the world as my literary heroes did. Like Hemingway, Steinbeck, Kerouac, Jack London and Mark Twain, I would travel, work, write down what I saw and heard. For twenty years I took any job that came along. I was, among other things, a gardener, immigration officer, freight train guard and rat-catcher.  

At 35 I started a degree in American Studies at Hull. Always fascinated by the West, I jumped at the chance of a year in Albuquerque, New Mexico. I bought a window-cleaning round to pay the bills. When I sold the story of that enterprise, for £120, I thought I was on my way.

After graduating, I took an M.A. in creative writing at the University of East Anglia. I taught American Lit. at Hull, and creative writing in Adult Education. I sold travel articles, reviews and features, an odd short story. I completed a novel.

In 1993 I was invited to write the history of a 150-year-old Hull food retailers William Jackson & Son. Two more commissions followed. Then one of my clients handed me 700 love-letters written by his grandfather during the Great War, and asked me to edit them. After the launch of Destiny I was handed a second collection, written by a nurse to her sweetheart in the trenches. They became ‘Thank God I’m Not a Boy’.

In 1997 I was hired by the BBC to write scripts for documentaries such as Vets In Practice. I joined the writing team at Britain’s no. 2 soap opera (Emmerdale). Along the way I self-published a book about  Manchester United [Yesss!!!! United in Defeat], chronicling its most abject defeats over the previous hundred years.

During the period 2007-13 I ghosted seven books from former Yorkshire copper Mike Pannett

In 2001 I began reading non-fiction manuscripts for The Literary Consultancy and got to work with a number of clients as adviser, mentor, co-writer and ghost-writer. I still read for them.

In 2011 I spent six months alone on a cattle ranch, writing my first full-length travel narrative, The Red House on the Niobrara. I followed with an account of a bike ride across the Great Plains, There Used to be a Guy,… But He Died, and the  story of a journey along the 100th Meridian, Between The Rockies and a Hard Place.

In 2015 I ghosted Chasing Black Gold for Robert Stone, diver, treasure-hunter, fishing fleet owner, smuggler, black-marketeer and ex-con.

Then came P*** Up In A Brewery, the story of York’s first independent brewer in 60 years.

I have recently completed the biography of Ted Oliver, a British bounty hunter operating in the USA.

In April 2017 I finally sold my debut novel. I’d started Cody, The Medicine and Me in 1993. I almost sold it in 1994, but the plug was pulled at the last minute. It was not until 2015 that I was awarded a three-month fellowship at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico and had time to re-write it. In April 2017 it was published by Ouen Press.

Since Cody came out I have completed Writer: Must Have Experience, an account of all the jobs and writerly endeavours that have kept me afloat since 1964. 

I am currently working on the life of a former Member of Parliament from the South Wales coal-mining district, and have just joined a team writing a German theatre production Sherlock, Das Musicale.

residencies, retreats and time to write

In 2004 I was selected as the thirteenth writer in residence at the Jack Kerouac House in Orlando, Florida.

The Kerouac Project invites writers to apply for a three-month residency at the Kerouac House, rent-free, with a bit of help towards groceries. My letter of acceptance included the assertion that I ‘embraced the spirit of Kerouac.’ While there I worked on an account of the forty or so jobs I’d had before I turned forty –now re-written as Writer: Must Have Experience, and out at my publisher’s.

In 2010 I was awarded a $10,000 Wingate Fellowship, which enabled me to spend six months on a western cattle-ranch. I stayed in a remote hunting lodge – leaky roof, snakes in the cellar - in the Sandhills of Nebraska, studying the life and work of Mari Sandoz. The blog I wrote there is still available here. I have since published a full account of my time there. The Red House On The Niobrara is available as a download for kindle, and as a paperback from the amazon website or by emailing me.

As part of my work in the Red House, I also explored and co-wrote a new, updated online guide to the Old Jules Trail. 

In 2015 I was awarded a three-month fellowship at the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation in Taos, New Mexico. Once there, I ripped up and re-wrote the twenty-year old manuscript that was to become Cody, The Medicine Man and Me.