Another year when I shan’t be getting to the Fiestas de San Sebastian in Old San Juan to celebrate the last knockings of Christmas, after the gifts of Reyes another eight days before the party really has to end and the new year begin. Back to the basics of reading and writing.
The 22 books in the photo come from the goodness of family at gifting times; from France and Ireland; from the public library; from the book farm; and out of my own head. There is one is to be reread after 50 years or so, one finished today (those library return dates), five started, thirteen to read and two written. I hope to increase that last number later in the year and reduce most of the others to zero before publication of my new novel. Sign up on this website to receive my next newsletter sometime in February, with more on that work. There is a change of title from the one trailed earlier as part of a detoxed, slimmer version I am preparing for the copyeditor – like washing the plates before putting them in the dishwasher, but I’m told it has to be done.
Stay in touch, all the best David.
In my constant search for more things to be nostalgic about, I wanna take you back to my childhood in a way, to that special date in November, that blessed month. It’s not too late to sign up for my latest quarterly newsletter featuring Bonfire Night, a little behind the day but perhaps that doesn’t matter since it’s really about such nights over half a century ago. More currently, I’m in the middle of a book review blog tour for Them Roper Girls (or as one carelessly but pleasingly restyled it Them Romper Girls) which had me checking that ‘shellacking’ means what I thought it did. It do.
Here we go, here we go, here we go. Just as Europe closes down for the winter and the action moves to the Middle East, in my random world them Roper Girls are off on a trek of their own. Looking forward to the ride, hop onboard!
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.