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Interview with memoir author, Nick Albert

April 8, 2021
Nick, in his other job as a golf instructor

It’s a couple of months since my last author interview here, so I’m delighted to welcome popular memoir author and great Facebook pal, Nick Albert, who has just launched the fourth book in his delightful Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds series. I ‘met’ Nick via the Facebook We Love Memoirs group and quickly became a fan of his writing.

Nick’s latest book
The first three books and his novel

Q: Nick, it’s lovely to have you here. I’ve so enjoyed your books about life in western Ireland. Could you tell the readers here something about your background and how you came to be living in Ireland?

A. Of course. Thanks for asking, Val.

Our decision to sell up and move to Ireland, a country we had never before visited, was very much out of character.

I was brought up in a forces family. When I was born in the late 1950s, my father was still a pilot in the British Royal Air Force. It was the height of the Cold War, so he was moved around quite a lot. For the most part, whenever Dad was posted to a new RAF station, we went too. Before his final posting to Norfolk (in the east of England), I had been to more than a dozen schools. I don’t know if that helped or hindered my education.

In retrospect, military life is an unusual upbringing for a child. With regular postings being commonplace, childhood friendships were short-lived and insubstantial. The accommodation was basic, especially by today’s standards. There was hot water but no heating. Discipline and good behaviour were expected. We children were the representatives of our parents. An RAF officer’s career could easily be derailed by an indiscretion, even if it was by a child. Back then, RAF bases were gated communities — a safe space where an inquisitive child could roam free, especially during the summer holidays. I have many happy memories of laying on the warm grass at the end of the runway, eating a sandwich and watching Lightnings, Hawker Hunters or Vulcans take off towards me. It was my personal air display!

When we moved to Norfolk for my father’s final posting before leaving the Air Force, we lived off base for the first time. Perhaps it was the temporary nature of RAF life or the thick Scottish accent I’d acquired whilst living in Fife, but I struggled to make friends. I was the youngest in my class at school. Arriving halfway through the term and presented with an unfamiliar syllabus, I found it difficult to keep up. For a while, it was sink or swim. I guess somehow, I figured out how to swim.

So, I took acting classes, discovered how to make people laugh, learned to be comfortable with my own company and developed a passion for finding out how things work. Although I’ll never be an expert at anything, I’ve become very good at being average at a lot of things! Such an attitude put me in good stead for the future. My father had been a flight instructor and engineer. He’d also endured the dreadful privations of being a prisoner of war. His stories of surviving the Siberian winters, making daring escapes and adapting to circumstances, inspired me to have confidence in my abilities. For that, and many other things, I’m very grateful.

For the most part, my work history is largely uninteresting. I began in retail, progressed into management, then moved into the financial services sector. Then one day, I was offered a fantastic job. A business acquaintance was setting up a new venture in Africa and wanted me to oversee the project. The position came with a two-year contract, accommodation and an attractive tax-free benefits package. Although it was a tremendous opportunity, the decision was difficult. Lesley and I had only been married for two years and our baby daughter had just taken her first steps. Leaving them behind for the first six months was going to be tough on us all. After much hand wringing and discussion, we decided it was an opportunity too good to miss. So, much to the displeasure of my employer and parents, I quit my job and headed to Nigeria. Inevitably, the venture was a disaster. Just after the office was up and running, and a day before my accrued salary was due to be transferred to England, Nigeria was rocked by a military coup. I was fortunate to get out when I did but had to leave my luggage and all of our money behind. Suddenly, Lesley and I were destitute.

I resolved to do whatever was needed to dig our way out of the financial hole we had stumbled into. I didn’t care if I washed windows, stacked shelves, coached sports, worked in a factory or became Britain’s worst milkman, as long as it was honest work that put money in my pocket. The morning after I arrived home, I began driving taxis. It was the first paying job I could find. I started at 7am and worked for 20 hours. By the end of my first shift, we had enough cash to pay some bills and buy a little food. Although she was upset by how things had turned out, my wife was a rock. With her parents babysitting for our daughter, Lesley went back to work. And so it continued for several gruelling years until we were back on our feet. Eventually, fate turned a kindly eye in our direction. I found work as a retail manager and a few years later was able to return to the financial services sector.

The traumatic period in our lives that followed my ill-fated trip to Africa left Lesly and me risk-averse and hungry for stability. I got my head down, quietly and diligently did my best work and progressed up through the ranks. Life was good once more. We sold our town centre house and moved to a pretty village on the outskirts of Colchester. Our daughter, now an adult, decided it was time to leave the nest. Just as it seemed we had found some permanence and stability in our lives, my employer announced a massive programme of redundancies. The stomach-churning fear of unemployment and destitution returned. I survived that cull and the six that followed, but when another programme of job cuts was announced, I realised I’d had enough. Aged 45 and at the peak of my earning capacity, I was unlikely to progress further, especially in a shrinking sector.

Feeling vulnerable and helpless, we began searching for a solution. It was obvious we would need to move to a more affordable property, but where? Without a guarantee of work, our budget was limited. We considered and discarded prospective properties in Scotland, Wales, England and several European countries. One wild idea we’d often kicked around was to buy with cash, so we could live off the grid, debt-free and semi-self-sufficient, in a smallholding somewhere a long way from civilisation. It was a dream and would have remained so had Lesley not spotted an advert for quirky but affordable properties in Ireland. It was a eureka moment. Suddenly, we could see the possibility. Despite our risk-averse nature, we sold our home, took every penny we had, and bought Glenmadrie, a dilapidated farmhouse in County Clare, in the west of Ireland.

Nick in his beloved Ireland

Q. Wow, Nick, I had no idea you’d had such a diverse background and had moved around so much. What a tumultuous time you had in Nigeria too. Was it difficult to adapt to the quiet of rural life in western Ireland?

A. Not at all, Val. We found everyone here to be affable and welcoming. It helped that we weren’t as wild, woolly and ‘out there’ as some of the previous occupants of our home. When we arrived, Glenmadrie had a considerable reputation as a great party house, where the music was loud, the air would be thick with strange smelling tobacco, and the locally brewed poteen flowed freely. I think our neighbours were quite pleased to discover we were a somewhat middle-of-the-road couple, planning to renovate our home and live a quiet life.

Making friends was a little trickier. Even then, life in rural Ireland revolved around the pub, the livestock mart and the church — in that order! If you didn’t attend those three institutions, you were likely to miss a lot of what was going on. However, people in county Clare are always looking for an opportunity to stop and chat. It’s perfectly normal to find two cars blocking the road while their occupants pass the time of day through the open windows. Anyone delayed by such a casual conversation will happily kick back and read the newspaper until the road is clear. Surrounded by such approachable and relaxed people, we soon made friends.    

Q. It sounds delightful. A pace I’m sure I’d enjoy. But what do you find most inspiring as a writer about living in western Ireland?

A. Probably that Ireland has such a rich history of famous writers. Visiting poets corner bar in Ennis, or reading the names of such iconic figures as George Bernard Shaw, W.B. Yeats, Douglas Hyde, Sean O’Casey, and J.M. Synge, carved into the Autograph Tree in Coole park, would inspire any author. Secondly, the stunning countryside always gets my creative juices flowing — even if it’s only with a camera!   

Q. Ah yes, I’ve seen your photos. Your part of the world looks positively magical and would kick start anyone’s imagination, talking of which, you started off writing fiction, didn’t you? So what prompted you to start writing memoirs? And how long have you been writing?

A. I’ve always been a writer, Val. My first book, “The Adventures of Sticky, The Stick Insect,” was completed when I was eight. At just five pages long and sprinkled with spelling errors, it was not a big hit with the critics. (Haha, I like that! V) Undaunted, over the next 45 years, I continued to write, gradually developing my skills, but not my spelling! What moving to Ireland gave me was space. At last, I had the time I needed to write.

My first published work was the weekly golf instructional column I wrote for the local newspaper. After several years, I had enough content to make a book. It was a massive project and took a lot of work to edit, but by 2010, it was ready to go. The book was well received and, for a while, outsold Tom Watson, who had just narrowly missed winning the Open Championship at the age of 60. (Wow!!)

Bursting with confidence, I wrote two 120,000 memoir manuscripts about our life in Ireland. They were somewhat rambling and wordy, but with the guidance of my publisher, they formed the foundation for my Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds series. I wrote those memoirs because I had a story I felt people would enjoy, especially if it was told with humour and passion. It seems to have worked.

But…before I signed with Ant Press to produce Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds, I began writing a thriller.

Wrecking Crew came out in 2014. The book did well and achieved my aim of creating some strong characters within a believable but twisty storyline. It was only when I began work on the sequel, ‘Stone Façade’ at the beginning of 2020 that I realised I’d dug several inescapable plot holes in Wrecking Crew. Undeterred, I set about rewriting large parts of the original manuscript to fix those errors and improve the pace and readability of the book. I’m delighted with the result. The book was republished in February under the new title, “Hunting the Wrecking Crew.” Production of the audiobook began last month.    

Q. And that one’s on my wish too! Okay, then, which do you prefer writing? Fiction or memoir and why?

A. I really don’t have a preference, Val. They are different hats, but they fit the same head. I enjoy the creative writing process and the pleasure my books bring to my readers. If I could only work in one genre, I’d choose memoirs because it’s a platform for comedy. Nothing gives me more joy than bringing a smile to someone’s face.

Q. That’s a lovely thing to be able to do. Now, of course, I’m wondering. Do you write anything other than fiction and memoir?

A. Yes. It’s a long, slow project, but I’m working on a biography about my father’s fascinating life during WW2. It may end up as a novel, but either way, it’s a cracking tale that should be told.

Q. That sounds very exciting, Nick. You’ve been so prolific, what if you had to give the readers here a tip about how to get started on a book? What would it be?

A. I presume you mean how to begin writing. I’m a plotter. I love my lists, storyboards and notes. I don’t start writing a chapter until I have visualised each scene. Other authors prefer to write on the fly, allowing inspiration to surge from their imagination through their fingers. Whichever you are, one rule is sacrosanct. You must write. Get it written first, go back and edit later. And remember, “A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t give up.” That must be true; it’s written on my mouse pad!

Q. I think I’m going to steal that one! Nick, I know that like me, you are a keen renovator. Have you always enjoyed doing DIY?

A. I’d enjoy it more if someone else did it, Val! (funny!) I’m from the ‘make do and mend’ generation. DIY was a life skill, not a talent. That being said, there is a great satisfaction to be found in fixing stuff or making things. I remember the first time I made fire without the use of matches or a lighter. It was a fascinating challenge, both physically and intellectually, but great fun. The sense of achievement when I coaxed those first smoking embers into flames was almost indescribable. Give it a try. It’s more fun than you could imagine.  

Q. Hmm, I’m not sure that would really get me excited, but I’ll give it a go! Now, confession time. What is your greatest strength in life? And then (of course) what do you see as your weakest point?

My greatest (some may say only) strength is adaptability. The ability to take a particular skill or piece of knowledge, twist it around and flip it over so it can work for another purpose. It’s what helps me to be very average at lots of things, without being good at anything. Jack of all trades, but master of none? I can live with that.

The item which makes the top of my very long list of weaknesses is Imposter Syndrome. Even as I write this, there’s a bit of my brain shouting, “Why are you doing this. You have no right to be here!” I understand it’s a common trait of many authors, so perhaps I’m in good company, but from where I’m sitting, it’s a lonely and vulnerable place.

Q. Oh Nick, even if you feel it’s a lonely place, you’re far from alone. I think we all feel that to a greater or lesser degree. But as a writer, you have to love reading too. What kind of book do you enjoy reading most?

A. My collection is somewhat eclectic. I’m not sure what that says about me. I have a library and dozens of stacked boxes bulging with biographies, memoirs, thrillers, fantasy and sci-fi. I have the complete works of Sue Grafton, Lee Child, Tom Holt, Terry Pratchett and William Shakespeare. I’m never without a book. My only requirements are that it must be stimulating and well written. Val Poore’s books make the grade with room to spare! (Aw, bless you!)

One secret I can reveal, if I’m writing comedy, I’ll only read thrillers – and vice versa.

Q. That’s an interesting strategy. I must remember that. I think the only one on your list I’ve read is old Will (barring the last one, of course). Now, I’m sure the readers here would like to know this. Are you writing anything at the moment? Can you tell us what it is?

A. I’m in the planning stage for Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds five. I hope to begin writing by August 2021, but I may delay that date to write the thriller Stone Façade.

Q. Oh great! On both books! So, lastly, Nick, I ask everyone this. if you had a bucket list, what would be in the top three positions?

1. A better bucket… ( 🙂 )

2. To visit my family in England. I haven’t seen them since before Covid arrived.

3. More time to write.

Lovely. I like that. They all sound achievable; at least, I hope they are! Nick, thank you so much for a fascinating interview. I’m so pleased your could make the time to answer my questions. Here’s wishing you well-deserved success with your new book, Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 4. I’m sure I’m going to enjoy it immensely, and I think it’s almost guaranteed that all your fans will as well. Good luck too with your other writing endeavours. I’m definitely going to pick up ‘Hunting the Wrecking Crew’ very shortly.

For anyone interested, the link to Nick Albert’s author page on Amazon is here

The link to his website is here

The link to his Facebook author page is here

The link to his Twitter page is here

And for anyone who enjoys memoirs about moving abroad and/or country life, I can highly recommend Nick’s memoirs.

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