A brief life
It’s 2019 and Simon’s two main preoccupations presently are writing fiction, and being CEO of The Mind Clinic.
Well, someone’s got to do it.
Simon’s most recent book is an imagined life of Julian of Norwich, The Secret Testament of Julian. She was the first woman to write a book in English; though she’s extraordinary for other reasons as well. This follows the 2017 the publication of The Soldier, the Gaoler, the Spy and her Lover – the remarkable story of the last year in the life of the imprisoned, narcissistic and philandering Charles I.
Meanwhile, Simon has a proper job, as CEO of The Mind Clinic, which takes counselling into organisations as diverse as recruitment agencies, schools, hospitals, clothes retailers, food retailers – ‘we’ve even worked with a cathedral’. Our calling is to provide safe, confidential and insightful space for individuals, because life is difficult; and sometimes it’s important not to have to edit what we say.
But it hasn’t always been this way. Whether we wish it or not, life is change… and as Cardinal Newman said, ‘To be perfect is to have changed often.’
Born in Sussex, Simon mainly wanted to be George Best until he picked up a degree in history (still a great love) from Oxford University. It was also there that became involved in the dismantling business of satire, producing scripts for TV and radio, including Spitting Image.
While at university, Simon auditioned for one of Richard Curtis’ reviews, as they were contemporaries; but someone called Rowan Atkinson got the gig instead. Whatever happened to him? ‘I’m sure Richard, despite his CBE, regrets his decision to this day.’ A few years later, and still feeling the pain, Simon did win a Sony radio award for his script work on Simon Mayo’s Big Holy One.
Having given up the idea of being George Best, Simon was a priest in the Church of England for 20 years, serving in three London parishes, which was ‘an enormous privilege’. ‘The church has the capacity to be a remarkably kind and creative presence in the community – whether it’s Midnight Mass, a food bank or a pantomime. There was a cost. It was a very public role for someone who has always been an aspiring hermit… yet the right one. I was the failed hermit; but happy in failure.’
It was an uncomfortable surprise when Simon felt that adventure to be over. He’d expected to be a priest all his life and finding work was difficult. He ended up working for three years in a supermarket, where he stacked shelves, worked on the tills and on the bakery; chaired the shop union (he was appointed in the cold store) and had a good laugh and cry with his colleagues. He also twice caught shoplifters after a chase up the street. Simon’s early morning runs paid off. This experience became Shelf Life, published by Random House.
He left the store with both sadness and gratitude to risk the freelance adventure and has now been a writer, therapist and retreat giver for eleven years. Various books have emerged over this time, including The Beautiful Life (Bloomsbury), now republished as The Journey Home; and The Enneagram: A private session with the world’s greatest psychologist (White Crow).
He wrote a weekly column in the Daily Mail for four years, and was a columnist for the Church Times for 11 years (it started out as a six week slot).
He’s had six fascinating conversations with figures from the past: Vincent van Gogh, Jesus, Mozart, Tolstoy, Meister Eckhart and Conan Doyle. Each conversation is imagined, but their words are not. People have found them a unique way to get to know these famous figures, sometimes more authentic than traditional biographies.
More recently, Simon’s books have included the popular One-Minute Mindfulness, published by Hay House; Solitude: recovering the power of alone, published by White Crow, Pippa’s Progress: a pilgrim’s journey to heaven, published by DLT, and One-minute Meditation, published by White Crow.
Simon leads retreats in various settings and works with a consortium of head teachers, providing safe space for emotional support in their demanding roles. Simon sees many people one-to-one for work support, spiritual direction and counselling. He also offers individual retreats in The Hermitage, a lovely self-contained space next to his home.
After 30 years in London, Simon, who has two children from his first marriage, now lives with his wife in Seaford. He enjoys running long distances, the changing seasons, the white cliffs, the island of Rhodes, Christmas trees, reading, football, frost on leaves, roses, a fire in the hearth, roof tops in silhouette – ‘oh, loads of things, too many to mention – the grace of things!’ His favourite author is Hilary Mantel; favourite TV detective, Foyle; favourite TV comedy, The Office; favourite musical, Les Miserables – he has seen it six times; favourite painters, JMW Turner, Caspar Friedrich and Van Gogh; and favourite meal – well, doesn’t it have to be fish and chips by the sea?
Simon has grown up with Elton John and Bernie Taupin from their first album, Empty Sky. He now likes to sit at the piano and sing a bit himself. Some of his songs are here: Songs for the journey.
His hero from the past (with no recorded incidents of piano playing) is Meister Eckhart, and his hero in the present, anyone who’s kind, who listens or who makes him laugh.
His ambition is to be happy in his own skin. ‘Ah, that’s the holy grail! Lost and found, lost and found.’