At 11, he joined the local football team, Barking Juniors FC, and played in goal because he wasn’t good enough to play anywhere else. He wasn’t that good in goal either and his manager spent the next three years trying to replace him. Neil moved on to Mayesbrook Comprehensive School, which considered itself one of the better schools in Dagenham because it had a really good basketball team. Neil was tall. Neil never made the basketball team.
The highlights of his secondary school career included kissing a popular girl for seven minutes without breathing, scoring against the Teachers XI and coming 13th in the annual cross-country run at Goresbrook Park. Several younger girls finished in the top 10.
At Manchester University, Neil pulled his socks up and left with a first class degree and a couple of prizes: one for the highest degree, the other for the worst haircut. After six months at a stockbrokers pretending to be a poor man’s Nick Leeson (who later gave Neil a cover quote for his first novel), he got the itch to travel. His old Singaporean mate Dave suggested Singapore because it promised a warm climate and free accommodation. Neil immediately agreed, keen to visit China. Neil found work as a teacher and then a sports reporter with The Straits Times. His class sizes were around 25. Fewer people read his S-League reports.
Eager for a wider audience, he wrote Notes From An Even Smaller Island in 2001. The book sold and, strangely, still sells to this day. A series of reasonably funny columns followed in TODAY newspaper asked and he eventually cobbled them together and published Scribbles From the Same Island and his mother again bought enough to make it one of the best-selling books of 2003.
Three years later, he decided to travel around a marginally bigger island and picked Australia. Singapore had better food; Australia had better marsupials. Wanting to leave on a high and with a trilogy to his name, Neil wrote Final Notes From A Great Island: A Farewell Tour of Singapore; his favourite of the three.
He moved to Geelong, Australia because the Australian Government told him to if he wanted to keep his regional visa. Eager to do more than cut his lawn at weekends, he suddenly became a prolific author.
In 2007, Complete Notes From Singapore was released. Technically, this is more of an omnibus than a book, so this may not count as an actual book. Neil’s tax accountant certainly thinks it does.
In 2008, Be My Baby: On the Road to Fatherhood soon followed and became a best-seller in Singapore and Malaysia. The book followed Neil’s offbeat journey to becoming a dad.
In 2010, his debut novel, Match Fixer, was released. Match Fixer followed the fortunes of a former West Ham footballer sinking deeper into the murky world of football corruption, as he takes his boots from England to Singapore, via Australia’s A-League.
Thanks to the productivity of Singapore’s match-fixing syndicates across the world, Neil’s novel continues to sell.
In 2011, Premier Leech was launched across Asia, Australia and the UK and garnered the best reviews of Neil’s career. Premier Leech tackles the greed, sleaze and corruption tarnishing the English Premier League. FourFourTwo hailed Premier Leech as their Football Novel of the Year. Neil’s mum said the book had too much sex and swearing.
Meanwhile, he hauled his daughter back to Singapore in 2011 to ensure her Mandarin was better than his (she overtook him within three weeks).
In 2012, he released Return to a Sexy Island: Notes from a New Singapore, which topped the national best-seller lists for two months. In 2013, he co-wrote and hosted the TV series, Return to a Sexy Island for Channel NewsAsia, which was repeated in its entirety on National Day. Neil doesn’t know why either.
In 2013, Neil published the first of five children’s books in the Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase series – which proved popular with pre-schoolers and kindergarten kids across the region. The books have been launched in the UK and there are plans to turn the series into an animated TV show. He also released Secrets of the Swamp, a pre-teen adventure set in Singapore’s mangroves. A story where Enid Blyton meets George Orwell – there’s a first – the story was written in conjunction with Singapore’s National Parks Board to celebrate its 50th anniversary.
In 2015, Neil somehow found the time to release three new books. First, I REALLY Rescued a Goat to Save Chinese New Year came out as part of Apple iBooks’ global Chinese New Year promotion. The new book in the Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase series went to No.1 in eight Asian countries and has since been downloaded almost 400,000 times.
Then, Neil released Marina Bay Sins, the first crime thriller in his Inspector Low series, which became an indie iBooks best-seller in the UK and Australia, before the print version hit stores in Singapore and Malaysia.
And finally, his first Singapore non-fiction title in three years, Saving a Sexier Island: Notes from an Old Singapore, came out to appease those who believed he’d gone far too long without writing anything with “island” in the title.
In 2016, Neil released Rich Kill Poor Kill, the second crime thriller in his Inspector Low series. Rich Kill Poor Kill was short-listed for the Singapore Book of the Year Prize. It didn’t win, obviously.
Neil also wrote The Hunt for the Green Boomerang, a second book with Nparks to celebrate the biodiversity and heritage of Pulau Ubin, one of Neil’s favourite places.
In 2017, Neil collaborated with WWF for the first time, writing another story in the Abbie Rose and the Magic Suitcase series – I Saved Two Tigers with a Really Magical idea. The book was released on Global Tiger Day, with half the royalties going to WWF-Singapore.
In 2018, Neil released a new title in his best-selling Magic Suitcase series, called Telling the Otters to Leave Home was a Really Big Mistake.
In 2019, he launched a new children’s book series, Princess Incognito, for middle-grade readers. The first volume is called A Royal Pain in the Class and is proving a huge hit with young readers everywhere.
For three years, Neil appeared as a Premier League pundit on various Singtel TV shows, including Singtel Game On with Paul Parker and Richard Lenton. It was a live, three-hour show with no ad breaks and no script. Some called it groundbreaking. Neil called it a laxative.
Neil has written for the BBC, The New Paper, Men’s Health, Esquire, FourFourTwo, Channel NewsAsia, Young Parents, Dads For Life and Ex-Hammers’ West Ham magazine among others. He has also written ads and campaigns for different creative agencies.
Eager to connect with a generation that was born after he arrived in Singapore, Neil also gives school and college talks, seminars and workshops across the country and teaches a class at Ngee Ann Polytechnic.
And when he’s not writing, Neil spends his spare time writing … usually plays, scripts and novels that’ll probably never be commissioned. He also makes up stories for his daughter at bedtime, which might be his best work.