Although not born in Wales, my parents moved to Swansea when I was 2, so I consider myself Welsh. But my whole working life was spent in SE England – a degree in Biochemistry at UCL, PhD at Guy’s, postdoc at the School of Pharmacy, before getting a lectureship in Microbiology at the University of Surrey where I stayed until I retired, when we bought a house in Glossop. It was good to have the hills and fresh air of the Peak District after so long in the bustle and grime of SE England.
The Folk Club at UCL introduced me to the traditional music of these islands, which took on a new dimension when I started on the English concertina shortly before I retired. That has now been joined by the whistle, and then the harp – and now I’m trying to learn bagpipes (a small English version, not the big Highland pipes!). They say that learning a new instrument is a good way to keep the mind active, so I’m hoping that works! To give it an extra push, I’m trying to learn Welsh as well.
The music keeps me busy, especially at the Glossop Labour Club. which has become a noted local centre for folk music, with a Folk Club on Tuesdays, and an instrumental (mainly) session on Fridays, as well as a monthly Sunday session. I also run a Singing Group, which is aimed mainly at the many people who were told years ago that they couldn’t sing, and have spent all their life believing that – although it’s rarely true. I’ve yet to find anyone who genuinely cannot sing!
I started writing books as an adjunct to my University career, starting with recognising that my students on a 1st year bacterial genetics course lacked a suitable simple book. For Molecular Genetics of Bacteria I envisaged myself talking to the students and just wrote down what I would say. That seemed to work well – it went though 5 editions – so I followed it up (in collaboration with others) with From Genes to Genomes, which covered a wider range of material (including humans and plants). Then there was Understanding Microbes (which I wanted to call It’s a Small World, but the publishers thought that created problems) which covers the whole field of microbiology in a way that would be accessible to a wider audience.
More recently, I have turned my hand to fiction. Come Listen to my Song was inspired by traditional songs of Britain and Ireland. Many of these have superb stories underlying them, although derived from a different era, with different beliefs – and often lacking in details of the characters, and background. So I have used the essence of those stories to develop a set of short stories, set in a modern times, filling in the ‘back story’. Some are humorous, and some tragic – to an extent that I was crying as I wrote them!