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I was born in a farm shed in Ireland to two teenagers, neither of whom had known their parents, and in my father's case who didn't even know his name. My mother was a kitchen maid, my father a farm servant. They had three unwanted babies in three years. At twelve months old, during the Second World War, I was taken to England. I never saw my father again. Nor the brother and sister. I went into a series of foster homes, a children's home, and later to live with my mother. They were not the best of times.
I left school only semi-literate, and became involved in petty criminality. I set out to work my way slowly overland to Australia (a historically appropriate destination for an Irish criminal). I spent two years travelling and working in ten European countries and was then arrested by a beautiful Greek/Irish teenage girl and an unplanned pregnancy. I became an anarchist, was involved in numerous political causes, was arrested many times, locked up on a number of occasions, and deported for political offences from four countries.
I read my first novel (Steinbeck's magnificent The Grapes of Wrath), when I was in my twenties and became an instant convert. I was an unskilled manual worker for eleven years, was awarded a BA in English and Politics, and an MA in Creative Writing from British universities. I went to South East Asia as part of a non-violent action group in 1967 to oppose the American War, was involved in civil unrest in several countries in 1968 ('the year of revolutions'), worked for the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Campaign in 1972, and visited South Africa to oppose apartheid, as well as some of the Soviet Bloc countries.
I began writing when I was in prison in Thailand. At first I wrote performance poetry, and went on to write non-fiction, and then stories, novels, plays, and children's books. Along the way I had six children (or four, depending on how you look at it), each with a different mother, set up a commune in Cumbria, did work for People Not Psychiatry, established a major Arts Festival. I have been writing professionally for thirty years, and have had more than seventy books published. I have had work published in twenty-six countries and twenty-four languages, and have won various awards and honours.
My wonderful wife comes from Sudan in East Africa. We were married in 1977, and have one son. I arrived in Western Australia in 1988 (more than twenty years later than I'd intended), having migrated with my wife and two of my children under the special category of artists and sports people of international reputation, and we have been Australian citizens since 1990. I am a member and a past president of my branch of PEN, the writers' organization with special concern for writers throughout the world who are in imprisoned or persecuted.
With the respected literary critic and poet Dr David Craig, I founded and edited the literary magazine Fireweed, which was published quarterly from 1974 to 1978. As a photographer I had work published and exhibited. North West Arts mounted a one-person exhibition of my photographs in 1977. As an actor I created the role of Joe Malik in Ken Campbell's epic production of Illuminatus which opened in a warehouse Liverpool in 1976 and then moved to The Micky Theatre, Amsterdam, and the National Theatre, London in 1977.
I have taught Literature courses for:
The University of Liverpool;
The University of Lancaster;
The Worker's Education Association.
I have taught Creative Writing courses for:
The University of Liverpool;
The University of Leicester;
The University of Western Australia;
The Worker's Education Association;
The Arvon Foundation;
The Katherine Susannah Pritchard Foundation;
The Northampton Arts Centre.
I have taught numerous writing workshops in schools, colleges, universities, libraries, arts centres, writer's centres, centres for the unemployed, and prisons.
I have held the following writing fellowships:
In the UK:
East Midlands Arts 1977/79;
Northampton Development Corporation 1979/80;
C Day Lewis Fellowship, London 1980/81;
Eastern Arts 1981/82;
Khartoum International Community School 2009.
WA College of Advanced Education 1988;
Shire of Kalamunda 1989/1990;
Edith Cowan University 1990 and 1994;
Katharine Susannah Prichard Foundation 1992.
As well as The Dickens Fellowship Award, and The Irish Post Award for Literature, my books have won four major international awards, been shortlisted for thirteen more, and have picked up sixteen further honours in Australia, Europe and the United States.
I have a PhD in Creative Writing from the University of Western Australia; an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia, UK; and a BA in English and Politics from the University of Lancaster, UK.