I am sorry to have to say this, but for anyone unaware Mike sadly passed away in Decmber of 2009. He will be sorely missed by us all, Martin (Stepson)
It is, I suppose, inevitable that my upbringing has had a profound effect upon what I am, and in turn how my approach to art has developed.
My early years were spent in the Valleys of South Wales - a schizophrenic environment when the landscape of miners' terraced houses clinging to the hillside segues seamlessly into crags and fern-garnished mountainsides, vigorous brooks and secluded woodland. Musicality, lyricism and a love of spoken language are all part of my Welsh heritage and I think they are all discernable in my written works. My father was killed in WW2 and my widowed mother married a man from Manchester in the north-west of England. To say this development was a culture-shock to me is an understatement - I hated my new home, and my new family. Wales was - and remains - the place I call home, though we only visited there each summer holiday every year until my mid-teens.
Apart from those early years and visits, a further two years living semi-rough on the resort coast of North Wales, three years at College in Chester, and a single year working in the Fenlands of East Anglia, I have lived and worked in Manchester. The earthy and grounded tones in my work are directly attributable to my childhood and adolescence in the back streets of this soot-stained, grimy industrial city. My passion - and my life's work - for the education of children with special educational needs arose purely by accident: during the summer of one of those years on the North Wales Coast I worked at a Holiday Camp., and was asked, as a favour, to be 'Uncle' and look after the guests' children, arranging activities etc. The problems of one or two children who simply didn't fit in affected me deeply, and pointed me in the direction of my future career.
If asked what my influences are I could be ridiculously trite and say 'life' and given that I've lived more than sixty reasonably eventful years, there'd be more than a modicum of truth in that. However, in terms of literary influences, here goes: I've always been a voracious and woefully indiscriminate reader, although until I was in my late teens my reading was almost exclusively non-fiction. I was a typical back-street philistine late-fifties teenager interested in birds, booze and Buddy Holly - in that order. It wasn't until I reached my late teens that I began to read anything of interest, but when I did I devoured everything - Satre, Camus, Kerouac, Dostoyevsky, and Nietzsche. Poets included the beat poets Ferlinghetti et al, Blake, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Baudelaire, Rilke, Lorca, Cummings and a selection of contemporary British poets, Dylan Thomas, T S Elliott, Christopher Logue, Ted Hughes and [ironically] Sylvia Plath. Of these, I think only G M Hopkins and Dylan Thomas had any stylistic impact on my work, and then not deliberately.
Until the age of 18 art was of minor importance only - I wrote the odd poem purely as an elaborate 'chat-up line' - but my main academic interest lay in science. It was assumed that I'd go to University and end up in medical research. However, a chance friendship with an art specialist changed all that. After a few visits to pubs I discovered that I was moderately skilled in sketching likenesses: this led to portraits with pastels and then oil-painting. I was hooked. My friend sent a folio of my work to an art college and I was offered a place, much to my mother's dismay and disgust, because I'd also been offered places at Oxford and at Aberystwyth Universities to read sciences.
The upshot was that, after a catastrophic row, I turned down all the offers, left home and for two years drifted aimlessly in North Wales hardly earning enough to feed and house myself let alone afford to buy art materials. The experience with children in the holiday camp seemed like the answer to my problem - I could have a 'proper job' and still have time to make pictures and write. I made my peace with my mother, did a year's unqualified teaching to be sure I'd made the right choice, and as a compromise accepted a Teacher Training Course specialising in Art and in Human & Social Biology. At college, I exhibited and sold my first pictures and also had some poems published in college magazines.
For ten years I combined committed teaching with a moderately successful period of art production. Headship, however, requires a great deal more involvement, and the amount of spare time for painting and writing diminished year by year, until by my mid-forties I was totally wrapped up in my work to the exclusion of every other interest. My son's suicide changed all that. Art provided an essential outlet for the mental devastation of this tragedy, and for the trauma of a distinctly nightmarish final year of teaching leading to premature retirement. I don't exaggerate when I say that Art - pictures and writing - and the opportunity to 'publish' online saved my sanity.
There has been more than one defining moment in my life:
a. my sudden switch to art, leaving home, and the final choice of teaching as a career
b. my marriage and horrific divorce after 15 years
c. my son's tragic suicide [aged 29] - my promise to him led to online publishing
d. my premature early retirement after gross mismanagement by my employers
I'm married for the second time and have a stepson and stepdaughter, in addition to my own two daughters - and 8 grandchildren [to date!]