Jemahl Evans was born in Bradford on Avon to nomadic Welsh school teachers and was brought up in a West Wales mining village during the 70s and 80s. He has pursued a lifelong passion for History, inspired by his grandfather’s stories and legends. His debut novel, The Last Roundhead, is the first of his critically acclaimed Blandford Candy series, set during and after the English Civil Wars. The second in the series, This Deceitful Light, has just been published.
What is your earliest memory?
I remember being hung in this kind of baby bouncer thing by my grandfather when I was about two, and I have vague memories of blackouts and having to light the house with candles – so 1973-74, I think. My first visit to a bookshop was around the same time. I remember the shelves of books but not meeting Roger Hargreaves who was there doing a signing. I still have the signed Mr Bump book somewhere though.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Being with friends and family – preferably with a drink in hand.
What keeps you awake at night?
I am a really restless sleeper so it can be anything – from high politics to whether the Swans are going to get relegated. I also often get ideas when I’m just drifting off and have to sit up and write them down.
Which historical figure do you most identify with?
I have always been fascinated by Cromwell. I’m not sure I would identify with him, but his historical impact is massive. I think I probably identify with the chroniclers and writers of the past the most: Bede, Gildas, welsh bards like Lewis Glyn Cothi or Guto’r Glyn who wrote during the Wars of the Roses (on opposite sides), or people like John Aubrey. Ruth Scurr’s biography of Aubrey is absolute genius.
Which living person do you most admire?
A lot of my icons have been dying off recently – Mandella, Bowie, Prince, Ronnie Corbett – but I think watching our emergency services sprinting into danger to help people recently, reminds me that ordinary everyday heroes are the ones to admire. That sounds sycophantic, but I have friends and family working in the NHS and Police, so…
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Spaceman, soldier or guitar god. However, I hate heights and flying; I’m basically a coward, and my guitar playing has been described as sounding ‘like a cat being murdered.’
What’s the worst job you’ve done?
Cleaning chicken corpses in a meat packing factory wins that hands down. I also did a summer of scaffolding before going to university which was probably the hardest physical graft I have ever done. I think that was my mother’s plan to make sure I actually went and did my degree.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Passing my driving test at the 4th time of asking.
Where is your favourite historical place?
Carreg Cennen Castle at the top of the Amman Valley in Wales; it has a stunning view from the top of the towers right down the valley. I used to go there for picnics as a child, take a torch and play in the tunnels below with my cousins and brother. My grandfather would make us all wooden swords and we would chase each other around pretending to be King Arthur and his knights. I have a soft spot for Reculver Castle in Kent too.
Which book changed your life?
Knight Crusader by Ronald Welch. It was the first of the Carey series that covered the whole sweep of British history. I read them all again and again, but that one the most. Simon by Rosemary Sutcliff was another. I think they were my favourite authors as a kid (with an honourable mention to Henry Treece, Mary Renault and Geoffrey Trease) and partly responsible for my fascination with the past.
What is your favourite word?
Discombobulate: a state I often find myself in.
What is your guiltiest pleasure?
Single malt whisky, bacon butties, and sly fags when I am trying to give up!
What is your greatest regret?
Not telling people that I loved them when I should have done.
What would your superpower be?
Who would play you in a film of your life?
I want to say Brad Pitt, but it’s more likely to be Martin Clunes.
If you could go back in time, where would you go?
The Beatles live in the Cavern or Dylan going electric (my dad actually did see the latter). Talking to my parents or grandparents when they were young (pre-me) would be fascinating; I would love to speak to my father or grandfather again. I’d also take in a play at the original Globe theatre, then skip ahead to see Nell Gwyn perform in Drury Lane.
What is your most embarrassing moment?
Too embarrassing to relate! Although my biggest faux pas was laughing at Joe Strummer circa 1997, after he said a demo some mates and I had done was really good (I did not recognise him and he did not look like a musical legend/genius). I don’t think my friend Simon has ever quite forgiven me.
What is your most treasured possession?
I have a bust of Lenin given to me by the first ‘A’ level group I taught which sits on my bookcase. I am a bit of a tree-hugging leftie liberal but not an actual Leninist-Marxist – we had been studying the Russian Revolution. They were a fantastic group to teach, very talented, including one young woman who had fled civil war in Somalia and seen some pretty horrendous things. She ended up going to Oxford, although to read literature not history.
Which musicians are currently on your playlist?
Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians, Booker T, a band called Koot who I knew many years ago in Canterbury but only just discovered the album they did, the Robert Johnson collection, Joni Mitchell’s Blue, the Violent Femmes first album, Marian Hill, Mahler’s 4th, Dylan, Beatles, Stones, and some old house tunes seem to be the most played at the moment, but it changes all the time.
Where would you most like to live?
I’ve lived in quite a few places in the UK and around the world, but I love living back home in Wales. I wouldn’t mind a Malibu beach house though.
Who are your favourite writers?
Douglas Adams, Bernard Cornwell, George Macdonald Fraser, C.J. Sansom, Simon Scarrow, Goscinny and Underzo, Aphra Behn and all the afore mentioned.
Who is your favourite fictional character?
Doctor Who. I am intrigued to see how Jodie Whitaker is going to portray the character.
What is top of your bucket list?
Referring to the above, I would love to write a story for Doctor Who.
Tell us something not many people know about you.
I was born with three kidneys, two bladders and three ureters. I spent a lot of time in hospital as a child having the extra bits removed. ‘A medical marvel,’ my mother said. ‘A bloody mutant,’ according to my brother.