A FORMER homeless man has revealed how his time roaming the streets of Tonbridge inspired him to become an award-winning author.
Steve Laker, 46, spent three years without a place to call his own and eventually ended up in a squat in one of the buildings on Quarry Hill Road which has since been demolished to make way for a new care home.
Begging for money around the town centre, he bought exercise books and ‘stole’ bookies’ pens so he could write.
He now has three published books including The Perpetuity of Memory, a collection of tales from his homeless days, thematically ranging from psychological horror to humorous sci-fi.
“I had so much confusion and frustration in me that I just had to get it out somehow,” Steve explained to the Times.
“In Tonbridge I’d sit in McDonald’s, the library, the station, and later the squat and other temporary homes, and just write. A lot of it was diary entries, which started the blog I still write.
“Stories evolved, and I found it easy to turn my experiences into fiction. Writing short stories allowed me to exorcise frustration. It was therapeutic and it still is. With a notepad and a pen, I had a home,” he said.
Mr Laker originally grew up in Ightham, attending Tunbridge Wells Grammar School for Boys. He moved to Tonbridge in 1986, aged 16 with his family, where he started work in the print industry.
He worked his way up to director level before setting up his own company with his then wife. They married in 2003 and have two children (now aged ten and 12) and settled in Catford, south east London.
However, problems began to surface for Steve. “Having spent 25 years in the drink-fuelled print world, I had a propensity for alcohol. A combination of stress from running a business and supporting a young family made me drink more,” he said. The added drama of being robbed at knifepoint in Lewisham in 2011 acted as a catalyst to his alcohol addiction and the incident led to him being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD].
His dependence on alcohol as a ‘coping mechanism’ caused a downward spiral and he eventually lost his wife, his business and home.
In October 2013, Steve moved to his parents’ home in Tonbridge which was what he describes as his ‘last chance saloon’.
He said: “Eventually though, even my parents couldn’t help me and so I was evicted from the family home.
“I now realise this was an act of great bravery and love by my parents. No-one could deal with my drinking, least of all me. My parents couldn’t save me, but neither could they watch me die.”
While on the streets, he said his writing garnered the attention of the local community. Steve said: “People are naturally curious and a man who sits in McDonald’s from 7am to 11pm just writing, is going to attract some interest.
“A lot of those people who asked me what I was doing, wrote encouraging messages in my various notepads and I hope that some of them might read my books and see what happened to that homeless writer in McDonald’s.”
Now living in West Malling, he is registered as long term sick and disabled and is supported by Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council. His writing provides therapeutic relief for him. Any money he receives from his books, he donates to charity, predominantly Médecins Sans Frontières.
Reflecting on his time spent being homeless, he said: “I wouldn’t recommend life on the streets but it saw some kind of awakening in me.
“Once all was lost and there was nothing else, I could either die or do something else. I chose to write.”
* Steve Laker regularly updates his blog – to read more from him visit: stevelaker.blog
You can order The Perpetuity of Memory on Amazon or at most bookshops by quoting the ISBN number: 9781542528061 (£7.99)
Award-winning book gave family hope after pet died
THE tale told in Steve Laker’s book ‘A Girl, Frank Burnside and Haile Selassie’ won first prize in Writing Magazine’s ‘Life-changing’ short story competition in 2016.
Illustrated by his daughter, Lola, when she was aged the same as the main character (nine and three-quarters), it’s a story of hope after changes in family and life.
“I was staying with a family during my sofa-surfing period and while I was there, they had to have the family dog put down.
“I realised they’d lost not just a pet, but a family member. The daughter of the family was 17 at the time, with the same issues as many that age have.
“The book came about because I wanted to write something to give her and the family hope,” said Steve.