By the time I had made it into my teens Cambridge had blossomed and become prosperous and I grew up in a privileged world. I was 13 when I went off to board at Oundle School and Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel burst incandescently upon the world. I began writing at Oundle and published poems and short stories in the UK, the USA and in France. I toured the UK performing with my poetry & jazz group. My interest in film took me to the London School of Film Technique in 1965. When I left Cambridge to go to the school I moved into a flat in Cromwell Road, South Kensington – the infamous ‘101’. When David Gale wrote about 101 in The Independent he recalled:
“As the 60s began to generate heat, I found myself running with a fast crowd. I had moved into a flat near the Royal College of Art. I shared the flat with some close friends from Cambridge, including Syd Barrett, who was busy becoming a rock star with Pink Floyd. A few hundred yards down the street at 101 Cromwell Road, our preternaturally cool friend Nigel was running the hipster equivalent of an arty salon. Between our place and his, there passed the cream of London alternative society – poets, painters, film-makers, charlatans, activists, bores and self-styled visionaries. It was a good time for name-dropping: how could I forget the time at Nigel’s when I came across Allen Ginsberg asleep on a divan with a tiny white kitten on his bare chest? And wasn’t that Mick Jagger visible through the fumes? Look, there’s Nigel’s postcard from William Burroughs, who looks forward to meeting him when next he visits London!”
During a weekend spent in Cambridge with old friends as part of my experimental work at film school I shot the now cult-movie classic Syd Barrett’s First Trip.
When I joined the industry as an editor I worked for Hugh Hudson, director of Chariots of Fire, on TV commercials and documentaries. The film Performancewas produced from his Chelsea studios. In 1968 I was commissioned by Mick Jagger to co-write a screenplay with Christopher Gibbs (the set designer onPerformance) called The Quest. Marianne Faithfull writes about this project in her biography Faithfull. Mick, Keith and Marianne were already cast and keen to make it. The script we wrote drew on Arthurian legend, Celtic mythology and romantic poetry. Donovan had been writing music for the film and was disappointed when the project stalled due to other Rolling Stones commitments. To make up for this he suggested that I produce and direct a film of him making music sailing through the islands of the Aegean Sea with a small acoustic band. The band was called Open Road and the completed 30-minute film wasThere is an Ocean.
I then moved to the BBC as an editor, cutting dramas and documentaries for two years. I went on to work with Pink Floyd, 10cc, Squeeze, Rainbow, Joe Cocker, Big Country, Wings, Paul Nicholas and Leo Sayer amongst others in the 70’s.
I concentrated on commercials and corporate videos throughout the 80s. I wrote and directed Regiment a documentary about the Royal Air Force’s Infantry Regiment before I made the award-winning television documentary The Colours of Infinity, presented by Sir Arthur C. Clarke with music by David Gilmour of Pink Floyd in 1993. The Colours of Infinity has been broadcast in over fifty territories. It brought the Mandelbrot set and the subject of fractals to the attention of the general public for the first time.
I also directed The Bobby Charlton Story, Reflections Satguru, Rainbow – Live Between The Eyes and the series Whatever you Want for the UK’s Channel Four.
Following the success of Colours I have since written, produced and directed the broadcast documentary Is God a Number? This science documentary looks at the mystery of consciousness and the relationship between maths, the mind and the physical, observable universe. I then made Clouds are not Spheres, a biographical broadcast documentary on the life and work of the mathematician Benoît Mandelbrot.
My first book Introducing Fractals was published by Icon Books in the USA and in the UK. This book has now sold over 16,000 copies and is available in Italian, Croat, Chinese and Korean. In 2005 I completed a modular DVD called Mandelbrot’s World of Fractals, which I directed, produced and presented for the National Science Foundation in the USA through Yale University.
The short comedy The Mysterious Michael A, starring Nicholas Jones and Joanna Bowen, was written, directed and produced by me in 2007. This film has been shown at over 20 film festivals worldwide thus far and has been very well received. I directed the acclaimed documentary Brixton Beach in 2008.
In 2009 a compilation of three of my science documentaries, featuring a fractal chill-out film with David Gilmour’s music was released on DVD. My second book, which was based on The Colours of Infinity, was published by Springer in 2010. The contributors to the film are joined in this comprehensive survey of the fractal theory and practice by some other leading experts in the field. The book features contributions from Arthur C. Clarke, Professor Benoît Mandelbrot, Professor Michael Barnsley, Gary Flake, David Pennock, Will Rood, Professor Ian Stewart and myself. The book includes an online link to the film.
Following the death of Benoît Mandelbrot I appeared on BBC Radio 4’s Last Word describing my relationship to the great mathematician. I have written a tribute to Mandelbrot for the American Mathematical Society. I also wrote his obituary for The Guardian and The Independent.
In 2010 I gave an interview to Conscious TV on fractals and the mystery of consciousness, which can be watched at this link:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BZjx-Ix9DVA
Nothing and Everywhere was my first novel, which I finished in 2011. I have produced a promo film for this romantic, comic thriller. It can be viewed on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PdxSkYL5cVQ
In 2012 I presented my science documentaries in Berlin, Kassel, at UCL, Queen Mary College, Imperial College in London, Leeds University and at Waterstones in Cambridge.
I also wrote the biography of an airline pilot and drummer (Tibor January) called Aerodrum in 2013. I have recently completed my second novel, Life is Just… This is not the often requested sequel to Nothing and Everywhere but is something very different indeed. This book tells the story of a perfect family’s fall from grace and its ultimate redemption. It is published by Eventispress.
I have just produced and directed a fund-raising teaser aimed at investors to garner the finance for the production of the screenplay based on my novelNothing and Everywhere, which can viewed on Vimeo at this link: https://vimeo.com/103056180
Following the worldwide success of The Colours of Infinity on TV and DVD, we aspire to make a new 3D feature film version using existing footage of Arthur C Clarke, Benoît Mandelbrot and Stephen Hawking, new HD 3D fractal computer animations of the Mandelbrot Set, and new HD 3D footage of natural fractals. There will also be a 2D version. The teaser/trailer can be viewed on Vimeo at this link: https://vimeo.com/124986429 (Password: reallyinfinity).
That’s fascinating Nigel. An unusual fusion of maths, science and spirituality in your life giving a tremendous range of experience to bring to your writing. Now to your latest novel ‘Life is Just… ‘ What a brilliant title. I know you want the reader to complete the sentence for themselves but using the title can you sum up the novel in a few choice phrases?
Life is Just … whatever you make it.
Life is Just … one damned thing after another.
Life is Just … ruled by the Law of Karma: As ye sow so shall ye reap.
That’s a perfect way of giving us a succinct flavour of your novel! It is certainly full of every human emotion – a reflection of a dysfunctional family who have issues which you deal with in an extremely moving way. I think you’ve described your novel as a period family drama set in the 1960’s. Why did you choose that period in history?
I think that the 1960’s were a cultural turning point. I was 19 at the time the novel is set. So I was there and I lived it. I grew up in Cambridge and I was still living there at the time the novel is set so I was able to draw on my own vivid memories and experiences.
Odd to think of our lifetime as history isn’t it? Dare I ask if there is an element of autobiography in any of the characters? Which character would you say was most like yourself or maybe your younger self?
Yes it is a semi-autobiographical. The twins Dominic and Mark are the two sides of my personality – the one a poet/mystic, the other a hard-nosed, rational scientist. Although this was a useful device to explore the conflict of atheism and faith, I am in truth Dominic the poet/mystic. He is the hero of the novel.
Now on to what next. Do you think you will write another novel or are some of your other projects more pressing at the moment? When a reader loves ‘Life is Just …’ how long before your next one comes out or perhaps they could read your first novel too.
I am working on the sequel to my first novel. It is set some 15 years in the future and continues the saga of the hero and heroine of Nothing and Everywherein their battle against the forces of darkness in the shape of their arch-enemy Tigran Gevorkian and the New World Order. This novel is called A Glass of Two Milks.
You do come up with some wonderful titles!
Thank you so much, Nigel, for joining me today and giving us a glimpse into your life, writing and your mind. I wish you good luck with ‘Life is Just…’ which I really enjoyed.
Life is Just is available on Available on Kindle and in paperback from Amazon worldwide. Here are some links.
It is a wonderful summer read to immerse yourself in while relaxing, or good for a bit of escapism if you’ve already returned to the grindstone. It may evoke college memories of your own too.