I owe it all to Tolkien (and PLEASE spell this name correctly. It’s not difficult. Nor is it ‘Tolkein’).
I’d been reading SF and Fantasy regularly since I was 14, in 1967. I read THE LORD OF THE RINGS in 1971 (I’d never read THE HOBBIT as a child). It changed my life. Because I am an obsessive. So I grabbed every book I could find by and about JRR Tolkien. Including the Coles Notes, which mentioned a Tolkien Society in the USA. I wrote to Tolkien’s publishers, Allen & Unwin, to ask if there was a Tolkien Society in the UK. There was. I joined.
From there I went to parties with other members of the society and found out about the monthly London SF Meeting – then at the Globe pub in Hatton Garden on the first Thursday of the month. I first attended in November 1972. And found out about SF conventions. So my first con was the following Easter, OMPAcon at the Grand Hotel in Bristol, where Samuel R Delany was the Guest of Honour – Chip was living in the UK at that point. I made lifelong friends that weekend and across the next year leading up to the 1974 Eastercon, Tynecon at the Station Hotel in Newcastle. But at Bristol I’d also spent all of one night chatting and drinking with Brian Aldiss and James Blish, two of my writing heroes. I got to know writers and publishers, and by the end of 1974 I was writing book reports for the UK’s only specialist SFF agent, Les Flood of the Carnell Agency. And I knew that I wanted to work in SFF publishing. Over the following years I wrote book reports for several publishers too, met many people at conventions who became firm mates (including Iain Banks). And finally, in January 1988, I started working in publishing – where my first job turned out to be running Orbit. Which was quite a learning curve, since I’d been working in public libraries for the previous 15 years. I was offered the job by the late, great Richard Evans in December 1987, at which point I was able to phone Iain B and tell him I’d be his paperback SF editor from the following month. “Good grief,” he said. Or something similar.
That was How It All Started…