During a long career in international shipping I found myself handling dozens of claims, casualties and other assorted maritime mishaps throughout the Far East, the East Med and the Black Sea; and many of these cases provide inspiration for the Angus McKinnon thrillers.
I worked in Hong Kong and Tokyo for twenty years and Piraeus for a further eight. I was sent to the remote Pacific island of Nauru amidst fears of a typhoid epidemic; I hid in a storm drain during an inter-gang shootout in Guam; in Georgia I investigated the theft of a cargo of ethyl alcohol tracing both cargo and the armed criminal gang to North Ossetia; and I oversaw the welfare, disembarkation and migration from Hong Kong to the UK of 1,002 Vietnamese boat people rescued by a British ship in the South China Sea. And I’m a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Shipbrokers.
I was born in Oxfordshire, in the English Cotswolds. I can remember as a child, some of my father’s and others’ war stories. An RAF friend we knew as Uncle Joe told how, on an airlift flight from Berlin after the war, he’d made an emergency crash landing in Yugoslavia. Thinking his plane was carrying relief supplies of blankets and medical supplies for Palestine, he was arrested when crates of guns and ammunition were found scattered across the mountainside. He escaped from prison and walked across the mountains to reach safety. Another family friend had fought and was captured in Burma, spending much of the war as a Japanese POW. He never spoke of his experiences.
Stories like these and the books I read when growing up, many involving wartime exploits, made me curious about the world, and instilled a desire to explore it.
On reflection, boarding school gave me a sense of kinship though it was, by today’s standards, a tough environment with cold baths at six each morning followed by a run up the hill, compulsory rounds of boxing in the gym and canings for minor infractions. But it sounds harsher now than it seemed at the time.
At sixteen I was set free and studied A Levels at King’s School in Tynemouth on the Northumberland coast. Former pupils included film director Ridley Scott and comedian Stan Laurel. It was the sixties: there were parties, pubs, girls…
After a year studying law at Newcastle University I opted out. I think I’d confused the desire to please my father with a vocation which I soon found I didn’t have. So I followed my instincts and found a job as a ships agent in London. It turned into a career and took me from London to Edinburgh’s port of Leith, then to the Far East. Having acquired a family, and after twenty years in Hong Kong and Tokyo, we moved to Athens and then back to Scotland. The wheel had turned full circle.
I’d visited Greece as a student in 1968 when the colonels were running the country, Mikis Theodorakis’ music was banned and there were soldiers everywhere. But I fell for the country and its people on that trip and eventually we bought a small island house in a village on a hill. At first we would all would travel from Hong Kong and virtually camp out on the island. At that time there was no electricity in the village and the water supply was primitive. We loved it. And nowadays we divide our time between Scotland and Greece.
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