I was born in 1948 into a working class family in Essex, England. Just over a hundred years previously a report titled The Moral and Physical Conditions of the Working Classes Employed in the Cotton Manufacture in Manchester revealed that the average life expectancy for "mechanics and labourers" was 17 years.
My dad started his working life at 14 in the coalfields near Sheffield. A few years later he joined the Merchant Navy in search of a better life. When war broke out he enlisted in the Royal Navy. By the end of the war he was a leading stoker down in the ship's boiler-room. In 1942 his ship was torpedoed and sunk off Crete. Later on, the destroyer he was on was sunk by a mine during the D-Day landings. Early on in the war he signed up for escort duty to Murmansk because you got paid a few shillings extra for danger money.
I know these things because I researched his life on the internet. I had to - he died at the age of fifty when I was eleven and I hadn't really got to know him. When he died he was a labourer in the dockyards in Tilbury in Essex. He used to take me aboard some of the ships in dock - right down into the engine rooms. I can still remember the smell of diesel and oil that permeated his clothes. Holding his hand as he led me up the gangway onto an ocean liner I've never been happier.
I loved my father, no question about it. I have so many happy memories of him. The day he died was - and remains - the saddest of my life. I still feel the sense of loss. I guess you can figure out why I want to write about him in my next novel.
Much later I asked my mother what he had died of, but she couldn't remember. I used the internet to get his Death Certificate and started to find out more about him. His illness was hereditary. I've got a 50% chance of dying of the same thing. I got myself tested a few years ago and I was clear at the time. I didn't resent the legacy he might have left me. Not at all. I'd be rather proud to go that way - glad that we had something in common.
I've already lived eight years longer than he did but no matter how long I live I'll never be half the man he was.