A bit about me...Who is the author behind Martyn Blunden?
Who is Martyn Blunden?
I live with my long-time partner Helen and our two daughters Jaye aged 15 and Lexie aged 11, in the seaside town of Shoreham by Sea in West Sussex. However, I was born and grew up in the rural market town of Steyning, in West Sussex. With Anglo-Saxon origins, it is a town with a great amount of history, including a classic Norman church founded on a site, so legend would have it, where St Cuthman ended a journey with his mother in a wheel barrow! As a young child I had to walk through the grave yard of the church on my way to primary school and back, which – after seeing the film Great Expectations, featuring a frightening grave-yard scene – used to scare the pants off me in the dark afternoons of winter. For years I suffered a reoccurring nightmare of a small Beelzebub type creature hiding behind the tombstones waiting for me on my trek home. It was made worse by the towering elm trees that surrounded the grave yard and others that were dotted around inside that cast long shadows on a dull winter’s afternoon. In my youth parents didn’t escort their children to and from school as they do today – we just got on with it. I always walked to school, but during winter for the part of the journey from the lych-gate to the wooden stile on the other side of the graveyard, I ran – fast!
Steyning is lovely town to visit, nestled in the beautiful countryside of the South Downs National Park. It has a wide variety of shops, cafés and public houses, but with not quite as many pubs now as it did when I was a youth! It also had a train station then – that has long since gone though. It does however have a museum, a good library and hosts farmers markets on a regular basis. When I was a kid there was a proper traditional animal and farm machinery market, held on Wednesdays, next to the railway sidings; which got a bit-part in a film called Mister Drake’s Duck that was filmed in and around Steyning. There were some big names in the film like Douglas Fairbanks Jnr, Jon Pertwee, and Wilfrid Hyde-white. It was mainly filmed at Horsebridge Common just outside Steyning, but there are some good views of the town in the 1950’s film, particularly the market – where the duck was bought!
I went to Steyning Grammar School, founded in 1614, which is split between two sites of Church Street (the ancient part) and the Shooting Field site, originally built in the 1950’s. The old part is a wonderful building and it is incredible that it has been used as a school for all this time. When I attended, the windows overlooking Church Street in the upper storey that can be seen now were still covered over in hanging tiles a legacy from the days of the introduction of the “Window Tax” in 1696! I remember the sixth form common room being particularly dark as there were only widows along one wall at the back. I didn’t endow myself particularly well with ‘A’ Levels as by that age I’d discovered girls and beer – rather too distracting to perform well at school studies and I was more well known for putting on parties! My mates and I had a great venue for that, an old abandoned underground Radar station that we got permission to use. I also had a shed in the garden that catered for smaller numbers – on more than one occasion the School Boarding House Master (Mr. Webster) phoned my father to see if we had any of his missing boarders at our house! He didn’t seem to like me that much – too much of a distraction for his boys!
I left school and went straight into work on a local farm. It hadn’t been my plan to enter the world of agriculture – but then not many of my peers had plans either. I come from a large family with six siblings and from a very young age I had worked to get spending money as mum and dad had little to spend on us kids. My first job at the age of eleven had been to work at the local chemists – clearing up rubbish and delivering prescriptions to sick people around town. I lied about my age of course to get the job – I should have been thirteen! I don’t think it would be allowed these days to employ a child to deliver medicines or work unsupervised in the drug store room, but those were days of innocence and it never crossed my mind to do anything but deliver what I was given and clear up the rubbish. I worked five evenings a week after school and Saturday mornings for ten bob – fifty pence in today’s money! There was one occasion that was forever frosted in my memory from my days at the chemist. One of my jobs on a Saturday was to wash the shop windows. On one of those Saturday’s in winter, it was so cold outside that the warm water in the bucket that I tried to wash the windows with, froze on contact with the glass! I went back inside to tell the shopkeeper of my problem, but he didn’t believe me until he’d followed me back outside to see for himself. With a huff, he said I could leave it for that week!
My prospects improved when I was thirteen and was able to get a morning paper round – the paper shop owner knew my age so I couldn’t fool him! My wages doubled and I didn’t have to wash the bloody windows from a ladder perched on the cobblestones. However, it meant early mornings and in the winter that meant in the dark. I did have a light on my bike, but the crappy batteries of the time didn’t last long, so I often cycled with little more than candle light to illuminate the way! Most roads were lit by feeble street lights, but there were some that weren’t. The fear of being alone in the dark returned when I had to deliver a newspaper to the old railway-crossing keeper’s house. By the time I was employed as the newspaper boy to deliver to the railway-crossing house, the crossing had long gone and the path to the back door of the house, for that was where the letter box was, was like the forest scene from the Wizard of Oz. I never saw the occupant of the house, but my heart raced every time I had to venture down the path under an overbearing archway of creeping ivy and low hanging branches of trees that I was sure were watching me! I was not sorry when that particular pleasure was given to someone else after I got a job delivering boxes of vegetables, for the local greengrocer, with the aid of a “Butchers Bike” (aka Granville, in Only Fools and Horses).
However, as I mentioned, my first full-time job was in agriculture – where I stayed for around twenty years. After a short time I specialised in machinery repair and had my own business repairing the broken equipment of the local farmers and enjoyed it immensely. During that time I worked on most types of farm equipment, repairing engines, hydraulic, electrical and mechanical systems and fabricating some pieces of specialised equipment too. By the mid-eighties small farms were in decline and the industry was changing, so I decided to make a major change myself and follow another dream – to be a flying instructor. So I left behind the prospect of cold winter days standing in the middle of a field, freezing to death while trying to mend a broken tractor and retrained to become a professional pilot and flying instructor. From then on I took to the skies in the comparative comfort of an aeroplane cockpit.
I obtained my private pilot’s licence in 1978, but I have only flown commercially for the last twenty years or so, based at the local airport as a Flying Instructor and Examiner. I taught both private and commercial pilots as well as those pilots wanting to become flying instructors on single and multi-engine light aircraft. I enjoy and get great satisfaction from teaching and writing – which up until now has been mainly of a technical nature. I have two technical books previously published on two different light aircraft – the Cessna 152 and Piper Warrior aircraft – both popular training aeroplanes. Currently I lecture in aviation technical studies for people training to become commercial pilots.
For many years I have written newsletters for the flying club, combining hard fact with humour and the bug of writing a novel began to bite a few years ago – on holiday in fact. It was the only time I would get to totally relax my brain (some say that it is questionable that I have one!) and drift off into day-dream land. You just can’t do that sort of thing when you’re responsible for, or actually flying an aeroplane. As a kid I can remember sitting in a chicken coup with a friend of mind on his father’s farm and pretending we were flying and looking down at the countryside floating by beneath us. It was our aeroplane – and as a kid it was about as close as I was going to get to one. Now I do it for real – but not the day-dreaming bit, at least not whilst I’m flying! However, flying at my level is fairly intense and carries with it many responsibilities and having done it for many years I have decided to share with the flying with another passion of mine – being creative. I always like to be working on something – making, mending, tending my garden, or restoring some vintage vehicle. I do read, but I can’t do it for long without feeling I need to be…doing something!
In some of my spare time, for the last few years, I have worked on my adventure novels for children and young adults. The first one, Charlie Green and The Pirate’s Treasure, has been followed with Charlie Green and the Underground Railroad and later this year Charlie Green and the Knights of the Round Table. I also immensely appreciate classic or vintage engineering and get a great deal of satisfaction from the restoration of such things. I have restored a classic 1976 Alfa Romeo Spider that was ready for the scrap heap (not that I really appreciated that when I purchased it!) which took around eight years, and three house moves to complete. I have used the term ‘I’, when really I should say ‘we’, as my partner Helen is also very involved with the process too. Normally, it is she that has the idea we should buy some clapped out classic and then worry about how ‘I’ am going to organise the rebuild! At one time we completely stripped out a written off VW Golf and fitted the parts into a new chassis designed by ourselves to replicate a WW2 Willy’s Jeep. We’d nearly completed it before we moved to a house that did not have room to keep it and the Spider, so we donated to the local engineering college which finished the build and raced it!
A few years ago we bought a classic 1950’s speed boat that looks a bit like a classic Riva boat with an inboard engine and a teak deck – but it was originally built in Wales and has a marinised Ford Cortina engine fitted – so not quite as classy. The boat was a shell and the engine was in a crate and numerous boxes of parts – a kit build boat without any instructions. It kept us/me busy for a couple of years – but it does look beautiful. The next project, when we have finished self-building our house extension, is a 1970’s Vespa given to me by a friend. I completely stripped the thing down a few years ago and put it all in boxes. Some time, hopefully in the not too distant future, I shall have the fun of trying to work out what goes where on the reassembly! I have never owned or ridden one before, or even held a motorbike licence for that matter, so it should be interesting. In the meantime I have a nearly-full-size Dalek to finish for my daughter, who is Dr Who mad. Oh, and then there is the lawnmower engine to put back together and a classic suitcase valve-radio to strip and repair! Happy days!