Men and Sheds - An Interview With Gordon Thorburn

men and sheds cover

The book Men and Sheds was first published in 2002 and has been described by everyone involved in the project as one of the most enjoyable and successful that they have been involved with during their career.

In one of the worlds greater coincidences I come from a small town in the North of England called Appleby-in-Westmorland. In a recent visit there I met up with John Baxter who was the Photographer for Men and Sheds and he gave me some great insights into the way this great book was produced.

Gordon Thorburn was the key person behind the execution of the Men and sheds his initial research was to identify potentially interesting shed owners. How he did this is most likely a trade secret but must have involved internet searches and extensive delving into newspaper archives.

Having identified the subjects of the book the country was divided in two with the photographers John Baxter and Laura Forrester covering the North and South respectively.

Their mission? come up with a series of photographs that captured the unique characters of the sheds and their occupants.

Following receipt of these photographs it was then up to Gordon to craft text (to a tight print deadline) that was both descriptive and characterful to respectfully portray the many obsessions and quirks of the folk that they had found. John enjoyed the commission enormously with all of the individuals he met being people who had every day interests, but had just taken them that step or two further than most of us.

Following my chat with John I was interested to find out more about the project and gave Gordon Thorburn a call and he kindly came up with the answers to many of my (and hopefully your) questions.

Interview with Gordon Thorburn

1. Gordon thank you for granting us an interview. Please take a moment to introduce yourself and tell us about your writing career.

Gordon Thorburn is the legitimate child of Hrothgar Tørbjorn, Swedish air ace, whose Volvo night fighter was mistakenly shot down over Dewsbury. Hrothgar sold his parachute and married Ivy Milburn, a Geordie ice-cream girl and exotic-dance understudy, in a private ceremony at Leeds City Varieties.

As a boy Gordon was keen to be a bought ledger clerk with the Assembly of the Free Churches of Scotland but his father wanted him to be a poet or sculptor. As a compromise, Gordon enrolled at the Kirkstall Lane Temperance College to learn black-pudding knotting. He supplemented this with a course in participle dangling then ran away to London to be indentured to the advertising legend S H Benson, gent., as an infinitive splitter (hot metal).

After two years' trying to think of a different way of saying 'Guinness is good for you', Gordon joined McCann Erickson where he became known as 'The Nine out of Ten Copywriter'. Phrases he coined there included 'The Esso sign appertains to happy motoring', 'A Double Diamond works quite well considering', 'Oh, Bisto', 'Hardly anything acts faster than Anadin' and 'I'd like to buy the world a Jennings of Cockermouth'.

Gordon lived in Suffolk for 15 years but became dismayed at the number of Essex people moving in and erecting fibreglass Victorian street lamps in their gardens. After ten years in Appleby-in-Westmorland smallholding and good-lifing, he's now back in Suffolk with his wife Sue where he is working on several new books.

2. Looking back on the project is there anything that you would differently if you were to do it again?

More time would have produced a better book. I should have liked more words but the design, done before the writing, didn't allow it.

3. Do you have a favourite shed or shed owner in Men and Sheds? Could you may be tell us a bit more about them than was in the book?

I like the ones who are slightly crackers, which is most of them.

4. Do you have a shed? What do you use it for? Could we have a picture of it?

I have two, but no garage.

men and sheds

The 18th century shed pictured is therefore used as a garage, that is to say, to store tools, wood, workbench etc, plus a load of stuff that should be chucked out. The other is an orthodox garden shed.

My wife wants me to convert the old shed into an office to get me out of the house, but I want to convert the attic. So I'll probably stay where I am, in a corner of the dining room.

5. As a professional writer tell us more about your latest projects that could be of interest to readers of this site?

Just out is a book about a rather special police dog called Cassius.

In July, the next one is about Americans who flew with RAF Bomber Command in WW2, called 'No Need to Die'.

I've recently finished one on vegetable gardening, 'Classic Allotments' which will be out for Christmas I think.

Currently I'm working on a book about herbs and herb gardening. Other projects are lined up but not finalised.

Full details are on Amazon, Waterstone's etc.

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