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Vic Templar, aka Ian Greensmith and his book Taking Candy from a Dog

Meet Vic Templar and Lucky Luke

Theres not many books co-authored by a sock monkey, but Vic Templars Taking Candy from a Dog is a unique book in more ways than this. It’s a ficitionalised autobiography – no ‘misery memoir’ like Angela’s Ashes, but a sunny and funny depiction of what it was like growing up in the ’60s and ’70s in Kent. It’s the Recherche de Temps Perdu of a working class lad with a handful of Billy Liar fantasies chucked into the mix. The perfect Christmas present for those difficult to buy for blokes of 50-something. HOT’s Erica Smith caught up with Vic (aka Ian Greensmith) and asked him some leading questions.

Q: Vic, you have lots of different aliases. Do I need to refer to you as Vic throughout this interview and not reveal your other name(s)? And why do you like pen-names?
Well spotted! Call me whatever you like. Vic Templar is explained in the book, so I shan’t spoil that. Suffice to say that I decided when I was nine that one day I would be Vic Templar! My real name was the same as the kid in the book – Ian Smith. It’s such a plain name (I had no middle name) and I always wanted something more exotic.  I don’t know about you, but I feel no connection to fellow Smiths. One of my favourite pop stars is Mark E. Smith, but I’ve never had the feeling of “hey, we share the same name,” in the way that I’m sure I would have if my name was Ferry, Bolan, Presley, or Bowie, for example.

I play cricket and this has evolved a whole host of imaginative nicknames, apart from the obvious Smithy. There’s Roadrunner, Smudge, Smudger, Smidge, plus several more that I may have forgotten. My punk rock name, as drummer in the world famous Armitage Shanks for almost twenty years, until my retirement from showbiz last year, was Vic Flange. This was lifted from one of Sid James’ Carry On roles.

My Dad always called me Bud, which I really liked, but he was the only person who ever called me that and since he died in 1996, I feel like Queen Victoria, who said when Albert popped his clogs that‚ “now no-one will ever again call me Vicky”. I use Bud Smith as my Flickr name.

To confuse things further, when I married my lovely wife, Deborah, I finally got something more exotic and changed my real name to Ian Greensmith, as she used to be Debbie Green. I’ve also got a real middle name now too. It begins with E and it’s not Erica!

Q: Was Taking Candy from a Dog your first book? What is it that attracts you to the written word.
Taking Candy from a Dog feels like my first book, although I’ve had several smaller books published down the years. It’s my first novel, although it is more of a memoir with a few made-up bits. I’ve found I’m not very good at self-promotion, part of which is not having a succinct description of the book to hand when people ask me about it. The nearest I’ve got is to say, “it’s a novelised memoir about childhood and family”. I then ramble on about it having chapters on picnics, holiday camps, beaches, football, tennis, ghosts, monkeys, skeletons and punk rock – and that it is meant to be funny, despite not having a single joke in it.

Nonetheless, having badges made featuring co-author, Luke the Sock Monkey, does help in the promotion battle, I find.

As for words, I love them, doesn’t everyone? I think I got the bug from my Dad’s side of the family. His Mum, born in the year the Titanic was launched and, co-incidentally, also the year it sank, was an avid reader of American crime fiction. She features a little in Taking Candy from a Dog and loved a good murder. Dad always had a paperback on the go – westerns, crime, or thrillers. I grew up reading comics, newspapers, and ghost books. I didn’t really read much fiction until I was sixteen, when I read Billy Liar (for the first of eight or nine times), Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, and Camus’ The Outsider, all of which made a great impression on me.

These days I love reading about words – Bill Bryson’s Mother Tongue and Troublesome Words  are favourites.

Q: You have incredible recall of your childhood days. Have all those memories stayed with you, or, as you wrote the book, did more and more memories return… including the ‘daydreams’, like when you go to Manchester to hang out with George Best… or did you keep a diary?
I kept a diary from 1975 when I was 10. However, I rarely used the info when writing the book. The entries have great charm, but were not much use as source material. To illustrate:

Saturday 10th May 1975: We went to Greenwich park. I went on the Gypsy Moth. I got a kind of book as a souvenir.

Friday 16th January 1976: Blue Peter cat Jason died.

Thursday 5th January 1978: Me, Mum & Glenn went out in the afternoon to Gillingham. We went in a shop that helps protect cats (like a charity shop). I got an old football annual, Glenn got 2 annuals and a clockwork dog.

All of it I can remember. I can remember dates – birthdays of fellow pupils from junior and secondary school. These are people I haven’t seen for 36 years. The book may seem like I just put down everything I can remember of my childhood, but believe me, it is heavily edited. I can remember Mr Owen, a tubby Welsh guy who taught what would now be called Year 5 or 6 (final year of primary school). I remember walking five paces behind him on the way to school one morning. Would have been 1973 or ’74, one beautiful sunny, spring morning. He had a brown suit on, carrying a brown leather briefcase, wearing brown leather shoes. I was watching as the toe of his shoe caught a slightly raised pavement slab and he did one of those embarrasing half-trips, but carried on walking as if nothing had happened, hoping no-one had seen it. We’ve all done it and do it about once a year. He would have forgotten all about it within the hour. Not me. The incident still lives with me. I don’t know why. It didn’t go in the book. It wasn’t interesting enough, but it’s just an illustration of what has stuck with me from the period 1972–76.

I can recall things from secondary school, but the memories have to be anchored around specific incidents, usually associated with a particular song, for me to remember them.

As for the daydreams, you have to remember that Billy Liar is my favourite book and though I try to be honest in all that I do, I am rather expert at daydreaming.

Q: You grew up in Kent, and spent time in London before choosing to move to St Leonards a year ago. What drew you to Hastings? And how do you think towns like Margate and Hastings have changed since your teenage days?
We moved here because Deborah had lived all her life in North London and had always wanted to live by the seaside… plus, once friends found out we were considering a move, two Hastings chums badgered us to move down. One was the jewellery designer, Jane Runchman, who I expect several of your readers will know and the other was a dear friend called Michelle, who was diagnosed with breast cancer the very week we moved here and passed away in July. We miss her very much, because we are having great fun down here, but we were meant to be having fun with her.

I have a feeling I’ve given longer answers than you’ve bargained for. I don’t think we have room for my thoughts on the seaside towns of the south (specifically Kent, Sussex and Devon) as it’s one of my specialist subjects. Suffice to say that to an 8 year old, who doesn’t know what this town was like in 1932, ’52, ’72 or ’92, it will still appear every bit as magical as it did to 8 year olds in those years. Salt water, fresh air, sun, a stick of rock, ice cream, bag of chips, funicular, crazy golf, and legends of smugglers and ghosts make it a place of great wonder.

Q: What are some of your favourite things/places that you have discovered since moving here?
Lots. The people are very friendly, whether in pubs, shops, charity shops, fishmongers.

I thought Pirate Day was marvellous. What fun! A whole town dressed as pirates. Where I’m from, we used to have the Dickens festival, but it always felt, as a local, that it was for tourists and not locals. I may be wrong, but I didn’t detect any cynicism. It was a local event for local pirates of all ages. And whoever decided to spend local money on the Red Arrows was a genius. Worth every penny. Have you met anyone who saw it who didn’t think it was one of the best things they’d ever seen?

We love the fish, our local butcher, the farmers’ market, charity shops, junk shops, Philip and Olivia’s lighting grotto in St Leonards, the fact we can go for great long walks on beach or countryside, the town’s great vinyl record shops/stalls (especially Rick’s and Bob’s), Bell’s Bicycles, several very nice pubs/bars (special mention to the Dragon Bar and Royal Standard, both of which allow me to DJ), the sea, the gulls, the cycle path, the history, the open houses and gardens in Old Town Week… This is such a great town to live in.

Most of all we like our lovely cottage and the new friends we’ve made.

Q: How much is your book and how do we get hold of a copy?
The book is £10 and is available from the publisher, Blackheath Books. Based in south Wales, it is a true cottage industry using almost exclusively vintage mechanical printing equipment. The publisher, Geraint Hughes, really puts his heart and soul, not to mention time and money, into every book. Your readers may be interested to know that Geraint published the first poetry books of Jenni Fagan, whose The Panopticon is one of Waterstones 11 Best Debut Novels of the year. He’s also published a couple of Billy Childish’s recent books.

Q: And when are you DJing at the Dragon Bar next?
22 December. It’s the Saturday before Santa comes, so it may be a bit more chaotic than usual, but I’ll be playing my usual mix of ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, plus my Tijuana Brass Xmas album.

You can order Taking Candy from a Dog from the Blackheath Books website.

Posted 14:55 Monday, Nov 26, 2012 In: Literature

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