Eddy Shah, 64, revolutionised newspaper production in the UK when he launched the now defunct daily 'Today'. He also owned 60 local newspapers. Shah recently started up the eco-house business Green Ladder Homes. His fifth novel, 'Second World', is out this month.
As a child, I always wanted to write. My father was Cambridge-educated – unlike his son – and a barrister with the UN. From when I was 12, my father would make me read a book a fortnight and ask me what I thought about it: The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell; Thomas Wolfe, Allen Ginsberg, Shakespeare, Jack Kerouac. These books gave me a great feeling for how words looked on paper. At 16, I wrote a novel called Cornice; I had a lot of rejection slips (I'm not surprised).
I was a lousy pupil. I had a broken schooling but I think it was perfect for me: it gave a maverick feel to my life. The first school I went to was in Cambridge, where I would be dropped off at a stop near the station and collected by my grandparents. I remember once running out from behind a bus and a car just missing me. Years later, I saw a painting of a boy running out from behind a red bus, a car, his parents and a station in the background: it was just that scene.
As my parents were always moving, I went to Pakistan to be with my grandparents who were living there. I attended Karachi Grammar School. We came back here, and I ended up at Hillside prep in Reigate. I got caned for fighting a bully called Ashley; I banged his head against the wall and he never bullied me again.
Gordonstoun, the Scottish public school, didn't have the normal Common Entrance but had manual dexterity and aptitude tests; you had to put square pegs in round holes. Or something. Did I enjoy Gordonstoun? Not really. With a nomadic background, I had no roots or childhood friends. My saving grace was that I was great at sport and broke some school records. I was suspended twice for bad behaviour. Years later, the headmaster said he would like me to talk to the sixth form. I said: "No – I was a failure at school!" But he wanted me to speak about the fact that there is life after school.
At 16, I went to Reigate Grammar – but for only two terms, as I didn't go in much – and then to secondary modern in Haywards Heath (now Oathall Community College). I liked it there; I was starting to get comfortable with myself and had my first girlfriend. Then I was sent to Davies's Tutorial College, a crammer in Hove. Having already got English language and English literature O-levels, I passed geography and physics and some other O-levels, which added up to eight or nine. I then went to a technical college in Barnet; I only lasted a term there. The idea of the Army was mooted by my father but I said I wanted to work in the theatre. For my first show, I was a dresser for Arnold Wesker's Chips with Everything at the Golders Green Hippodrome; the guy I dressed was John Noakes, who later went off to Blue Peter.
I didn't even start any A-level courses, but I became an A-level subject in media studies and they ask questions about me on The Weakest Link. When my son was at the London College of Printing, he got into a yelling match with one of his tutors. She was sounding off about how bad I was with the unions but, in fact, I had given power to the journalists instead of the printers.
Thanks to my schooling, I have been able to think outside the area in which other people think. Second World, my fifth book, is a novel that takes a look at the future, but my publishers said they wanted a political thriller like the previous four, so I put it away for 12 years. It is now a "Read of the Week" at WH Smith.