Meet Doncaster author Roger Wilson-Crane whose award-winning novel is inspired by real life in Yorkshire

Roger Wilson-Crane has written a fictional memoir likened to the printed version of Four Weddings and a Funeral. Phil Penfold speaks to the South Yorkshire-based author.

There is one infallible rule to follow if you are a budding actor – if you want the starring role, write the play yourself. And, if possible, also grab the role of director.

If you are a would-be author, the advice has always been “write about what you know”.

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It was the American author Ernest Hemingway who offered the literary thought, and he usefully added: “Leave out unnecessary words, and do it not to be famous”. Hemingway even created a compilation of his reflections on the writing process, which provides a fascinating glimpse into the mind of one of the world’s greatest novelists.

Roger Wilson-Crane has written a fictional memoir called Certified.Roger Wilson-Crane has written a fictional memoir called Certified.
Roger Wilson-Crane has written a fictional memoir called Certified.

Yorkshire’s own Roger Wilson-Crane – whether he knows it or not – has been guided in both arenas, stage and literary. Roger, who now lives with his wife Victoria in the Doncaster suburb of Cantley, was born in Harpenden, near St. Albans, but, when he was six years old, the family moved to the glorious countryside around Settle, in North Yorkshire.

And, when he was around 14 or so, he wrote a fifteen-minute drama for his school, in which he not only had the lead, but which he also steered onto stage, and for which he took three resounding curtain calls.

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“It was a very happy childhood” he recalls, “I think that had we moved north when I was a few years older, it could have been rather difficult, making friends and ‘fitting in’ and all that. But at six, with older siblings, we had a family with youngsters around our age across the road, and another, who ran a farm, just down the way. It was the nearest thing to ‘idyllic’ that you could imagine. They were all so welcoming, and we swiftly became part of village life.”

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The author with his wife Victoria.The author with his wife Victoria.
The author with his wife Victoria.

But why Settle, and Yorkshire? He pauses to reflect that “I think that my dad felt that he was stuck in a bit of a rat-race, and that he wanted to try something new, before it was too late. And we used to have a lot of holidays up in the Lake District which meant, back then, going through all those beautiful North Yorkshire communities – before they were all given a by-pass.”

He was “for a while” Captain of the school football team, and even remembers being put in charge of the cricket team. A cricket team, as it turned out, where the players were all masters at the school. “WE had to play a couple of matches down near Reading, and in the first, they were all so spectacularly bad that I had to give them a spectacular post-match [talking to]. But they must have taken it on board, because we had a much-improved performance next day.

“I was the sort of pupil who would do anything for a dare or a challenge. A mate would say ‘Bet you won’t wear your slippers to school tomorrow. Fifty pence says that you won’t!’ So, I did. And made a few quid out of it, as well!”

When he left school, he went to work with the local ironmongers on a Youth Training Scheme. “They were supposed to be for just a year, on a minimal wage, but I stayed for five years, quite cheerfully, and I learned a lot about customer service.”

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Perhaps even more importantly, and with hindsight, it also added another string to Roger’s bow, because it was while he was behind the counter one day that “a rather nice lady asked if I had anything to do with amateur dramatics and, even if I hadn’t, would I like to join the cast of a local production – they were reviving the musical Half a Sixpence. So I went along and found a whole new circle of friends. Some of the productions were really good and others were, shall we say, rather better forgotten.”

What it did do, however, was to give the young Roger a degree of confidence, an ability to hold his own, and also an understanding of human nature. Later, he went into the motor trade, and built up and sustained successful businesses with which he is still involved today, albeit in an advisory capacity.

Now 55, Roger’s first novel, Certified, has just been published, and is already winning awards and appearing on best-seller lists.

Why that title? Well, we are all of us certified at least twice in our lives – when we are born, and when we die, and there may also be others in between, such as marriage.

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Roger’s narrative takes his hero from being a young man through to relationships (some more successful than others) and to a final parting with a close relative, which provides several surprises. It has been likened to being the printed version of Four Weddings and a Funeral and, he says, “there’s no better praise than that, is there?”

In fact, one of the things that he is working on at the moment, is a screenplay – of Certified. And he has certainly taken that “write what you know about” line to heart, because the book is crammed full of bizarre incident – nearly all of which have their roots in the truth.

He laughs: “You know that old line about ‘only the names have been changed…..’? Well, that certainly applied with Certified. So much of it is true – things that have happened to me along the journey.

“The dog-napping incident? All true. The story about the time I was working in a hotel, and a very demanding and plausible guest ran up a huge bar and accommodation tab, only to be found dead in his bed, with his bill unpaid? All true. The money found under the mattress, and the arrival of the supermarket staff at the funeral of a beloved customer? All true again. I had so much fun writing it, and there were no ‘storyboards’ in my mind, it just seemed to flow along.

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“Yes, it was cathartic, in that I’ve included things in my life which haven’t gone as well as I had hoped, and when I have, perhaps, not been at my best, but that’s life, and that’s open, and I think (I hope), that I am an honest human being.

“As for real names, well yes, I did err on the side of caution, and I certainly didn’t want to hurt or deride anyone.”

He pauses and then says: “You know, the odd thing is that I believe that I’m quite a shy person, so perhaps this is just getting it all out on the page? With hindsight, I don’t think that I was getting a lot off my chest, but that I was getting a sense of achievement, getting it all on the page."

A truly rich existence, so a sequel to Certified seems assured.

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And, when it does reach the screen, who – in an ideal world – would he like to play the older narrator? He doesn’t hesitate. “Sean Bean”, he says with a smile. “I think that he’d relate to a few of the stories……”

Certified, by Roger Wilson-Crane,

Roger Wilson-Crane’s fictional memoir Certified took the 2021 Grand Prize in the Mark Twain (Humour & Satire) category at the CIBA International Book Awards in Washington, USA.

Roger’s Certified made it through the preliminary round, longlist, and shortlist (featuring 12 finalists) before being announced as the overall winner.

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During 2020, Roger joined a Write That Book Masterclass run by one of the world’s leading personal development coaches Michael Heppell.

His comedy drama, Certified, was born and was published in August 2021. The fictional memoir follows one man through birth, marriage, and death, and is inspired by real life events.