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Robert Leeson

As a child

I grew up on a council estate in a Cheshire industrial village, perched above a massive chemical works. I was the youngest of four children, my father was an ex-soldier/labourer, and my mother was a charlady/laundress. They backed all four of us through grammar school (on scholarships), where an English teacher encouraged me in the habit of writing stories instead of essays. Out of school, I roamed a moon landscape of abandoned salt workings, canals, villages sunk by subsidence, marshes. All of these were settings for adventures derived from dreams, or reading R. L. Stevenson, Hotspur, or Wizard comics. I told the resultant stories to half-believing schoolmates. Our local Primitive Methodist chapel ran a concert party, which entertained villagers during World War II blackouts, and they performed sketches I wrote. At sixteen, I worked on the local newspaper, learning the "trade": the who, when, what, where and why of economical writing.

As an adult

At seventeen, I volunteered for army service and was shipped to Egypt where, with time on my hands, I began seriously to try to write novels. This Arabic influence led, nearly thirty years later (via 1001 Nights), to a range of books, both comic and serious, featuring genies, caliphs, monsters, etc. Once de-mobbed, I took various jobs, before returning to journalism, working in eastern and northern Europe for several years. I married a Norwegian colleague, and we have a son and daughter who are now established in professional life. After nearly fifteen years in national newspaper and magazine work, I went freelance at the age of forty-one, earning a chancey living from reading manuscripts, and doing editing jobs for publishers.

As an artist

Our two children, then aged ten and fourteen, led me to put writing adult non-fiction to one side, and concentrate on stories for young people. The range of genres in children’s literature, from the school/comic to the adventure/fantasy, were just to my taste. Between 1973 and 2003, I have had seventy of my books published for young people, and five social-industrial history and literary critical works for adult readers. A favourite area has been folk tales, with a bias towards the adventurous female character, like Smart Girls, Smart Girls Forever and Why’s the Cow on the Roof?. The total includes some twenty-odd school stories, four of them linked with the Grange Hill TV series. Then there were radio plays and serials, work for TV and theatre. And all the time, I was travelling around the country, visiting 500 schools and libraries in thirty years, urging young people to enjoy reading and writing. All this activity, at seventy-six, is now somewhat behind me, although I still have story ideas. Old writers (like old soldiers) never die – they just go out of print.

Things you didn't know about Robert Leeson

  1. From fourteen to sixteen, I worked on farms. I wanted to be farmer.
  2. At Christmas, I worked as a relief postman, along with my mother!
  3. I played the lead role in The Monkey’s Paw in an army theatre.
  4. I narrowly escaped jail for insulting an officer, while on guard in the Suez Canal Zone.
  5. I lived and worked in fourteen countries before marrying, and settling down.
  6. I learned Arabic from fellaheen, Norwegian from cowboy books, and German from magazines.
  7. I am a fanatical tree planter: fifty of various species planted at odd places in England and Wales. Some are now 30ft high.
  8. A happy memory I have is of fishing trout in daylight at 3 am, 120 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
  9. My favourite food is risotto, as made by my wife.
  10. My favourite pastime is sharing a meal and a joke, when my son and daughter are home.

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