Rather than banging on about my fiction, I thought I would post today on another part of my writing life, having just passed a major milestone as an independent consultant over more than a decade for Axco Insurance Information Services, part of the Wilmington publishing group.

I knew what was then Axco Conning from my earliest days in the insurance industry, when their country reports were neatly shelved in the Territorial Departments of Royal Insurance’s International Division. They were a pleasant and undemanding read before any overseas trip, to give background context to Royal’s operations on the ground. They were probably of more value to people visiting to work in the open market, though I suspect they did not then have the wealth of detail on various topics they currently show. This is no reflection on the writers of that pre-internet time, who had much less information available to them than is now available to anyone online in seconds.

In 2009 after leaving Royal (by then mutated to RSA) and taking a year’s sabbatical I cold-called Axco, or at least wrote to them. I heard nothing directly but when a recruitment agent with whom I was registered called and started describing a job involving travel to insurance markets all around the world, I did not need to be told who he was talking about.

Axco’s insurance market reports or IMRs, the major item in their suite of products, are the length of novels in many cases, but must be truthful in a different way, true to the facts and business realities of those markets. They also differ from fiction in that they need to be regularly updated.

I was lucky to benefit from a week’s induction training in London and a shadow trip with an experienced writer to see what the job on the ground was all about, both items relatively recent innovations in 2009. The country was Benin, the writer Grog (perhaps not his baptismal name, but I never knew another) Smosarski, based in France and a former financial journalist rather than an insurance expatriate, as many or most of my other writing colleagues were.

My previous career had seen a strong involvement with Latin America and the Caribbean, which to some extent was reflected in the portfolio of territories gradually assigned to me. It was also, however, a matter of which were available or ‘orphaned’ at the time, so that I would also travel in Africa, Asia, Europe and even for a couple of visit cycles the UK.

My trips to approaching 30 countries can be split between ones with which I had some existing familiarity and completely new ones, with the former predominating as did the use of Spanish for meetings over English. I was particularly lucky to be able to continue visiting territories where I had lived as well as worked in the insurance sector, in Ecuador, Puerto Rico and Colombia. Of ones which were new to me, it is probably fair to say that without Axco I would never have visited the opener Benin, Cambodia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti or Myanmar, all of which gave me full postcards of memories.

Remember postcards? I had always sent them to my mother, other family and friends. I continued the habit from trip zero to Benin, saving a stamp on one to myself as well, usually written at the departure airport or on the flight home.

Before too long I had set myself a target of collecting postcards from 101 missions (I soon started using that word without the initial irony to describe each country visit). This is the milestone I just passed, in Panama. Since most trips cover both life and non–life markets, the total number of IMRs I have posted to date is around 170.

I have been lucky to enjoy the desk research and report-writing aspects almost as much as the country visits, though the latter have always been a key part of the Axco business proposition. They are what truly make the job worthwhile for me personally. Since normal service was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic when meetings had to be conducted remotely rather than in person, and I would not like to see my records asterisked (like Liverpool’s only premiership), maybe I should raise the bar for the avoidance of any doubt. As a proud Englishman abroad or at home, Admiral Nelson’s 111 has a good ring to it (pun intended) for my next goal!

An honour and privilege to swap books (never dream of trying to swap punches!) with the most humble and greatest of the Four Kings, the champion ROBERTO ‘Manos de Piedra’ DURAN. Apart from Seventeen, which I was proud to present him at his home in Panama, I would highly recommend his autobiography I am Duran. Long may he stay in there swinging!

Would anyone be interested in ‘Them Roper Girls’? Would anyone come to the party even if the booze was free, the BYOB meaning Buy Your Own Book? I’m glad to say the answer was yes from supportive family and friends who lived locally enough to make their attendance possible. It’s a bit more promotion than I gave poor old ‘Seventeen’ last year, though it had a place at the table and on my T-shirt! I have just sent out the third free quarterly newsletter to subscribers to my website, not too late to sign up if you want to read an interview with the author and have a chance at winning a free copy of either book.

If to publish one novel may be regarded as a misfortune, to publish a second is the triumph of hope over experience. Yet a year to the day since Seventeen came out, it has a little sister, or four if you count Them Roper Girls individually.

Here they come … Them Roper Girls. Are they ready for the world? Is the world ready for them?

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Lines written for my darling daughter’s sixteenth birthday, verse 52 (yes, really!) no better but the feeling still as true on her wedding day 1/6/22

 

Now as you reach that milestone sweet sixteen,

Please don’t think you have all the answers yet.

When we say ‘no’, it’s not just to be mean,

But help you miss the traps that life can set.

So happy birthday, darling Ponseline

Of all these lines just these last don’t forget:

Whatever sadness, joys and Mr X fate has in store

For you, do know you have a dad who couldn’t love you more.

The trees and shrubs know better weather is coming, along with my second novel of which the final text is now with publisher Silverwood Books. Please do sign up  to receive our free quarterly newsletter, to hear a bit more about Them Roper Girls and see in full the A-side of A Boy Named Bill (Hate) published in my March post.

A Boy Named Bill (Love)

Well I never did know my dad and mom
So I guess I’ll just call ‘em May and Tom
A GI Joe and a pretty little English girl.
He left her when I was minus zero
So you can’t call him my boyhood hero
Even if that weren’t exact how it did unfurl

And ten verses more …

All the best, David.

Ecuador 1 v 1 Argentina

Mil gracias a Oton y la familia extendida ecuatoriana. Empate revancha para 7 septiembre 1983 y final feliz como ambos equipos van a Qatar!

Many thanks to Oton and the whole Ecuadorian family. Revenge for 7 September 1983 in B.A. and happy ending for both teams heading to Qatar.

 

If he was still alive like his pal Elvis, the Man in Black would recently (26 Feb) have celebrated his 90th birthday. One of the few whose name stands comparison with his, Springsteen did a song about a guy with the classic knuckle tattoos, except not love and hate but love and fear. It came into my thinking on two versions of a humble tribute. This one is hate.

A BOY NAMED BILL

Now my daddy was just a GI Joe
Or at least my Uncle John told me so
l couldn’t ask my mum and looks like I never will.
He left her when I was less than zero
That chickenshit yankee local hero
Gave me just his name, said they used to call him Wild Bill.

Might have even been true, but I’ll be blunt,
I reckon he was just one lying ****(BEEP)
And still I tried to be my father’s son.
Don’t know John and June was really kin,
But they was good enough to take me in
Then must have wished a million times they hadn’t done.

Not once did they throw back in my face,
When I brought home only shame and disgrace,
Wild Bill, King Billy were my playground names.
When I hit my teens things could only get worse
For all June would cry and Johnny curse,
School done for me once I sent it up in flames.

Now it was Mildenhall in mid-July
On the US base I was kind of high,
A local girl I don’t recall her name.
I asked her nice if she wanted to dance,
I really thought I had a chance,
Till a yankee voice said ‘Buddy what’s your game?’

Well I never did find out who he was,
I tell you it hardly mattered much because
It weren’t about him nor the girl who caught my eye.
They may have called me Billy the Kid,
But in time of trouble I never hid
‘I’ll show you game all right, you little shite, if you wanna try.’

I gave him my best shot across the jaw.
Maybe he weren’t coming back for more.
I leave him there and things take another course.
Tho I never come near to takin his life,
I did notch his face with a Stanley knife
When they sent me down they blamed me for not showing no remorse.

You know that I’ve done time since then,
You could say I grew up in the pen
And not just because that’s where I turned twenty-one.
I couldn’t be trusted out on parole
And I had a few jobs but mainly dole,
Getting paid for the things I had and hadn’t done.

John could only ask me why
Guess he was sicker than I was seeing Aunt June cry
Had to leave them good folks behind and be on my way.
One more time I had to beg their help again
Look after my own boy David Wayne,
Don’t be like me son, every night I pray.

Course when he was born I gave it a go
Playing happy families with him and Jo,
Didn’t last long though we both gave it our best shot.
The child wasn’t planned you fuckin kidding?
And she wasn’t a girl set to do my bidding
Some men can live with that, and some will not.

I’m a reader, had the leisure
While serving time at Her Majesty’s pleasure,
I know there’s a tide in the affairs of men.
So I’m a rigging myself up a jury mast,
A rope, a chair, a kick and I’m past,
The fret of another stretch of five to ten.

And I won’t be crying for my mum at my final twitch,
But still kickin and acursing ‘Dad, you son of a bitch.’

DGB

The Christmas decorations long down now, but trees can also look fine in the raw. With the first edition due to be published within the next few days, please do sign up  to receive our free quarterly newsletter, to hear a bit more about my next novel Them Roper Girls and read A Girl Named Crisis. All the best, David.