Sex and drugs - from the pen of an OAP!

You can't spot where Felixstowe becomes Ipswich, or vice-versa, but it's obvious the sprawling town has gone downhill. Welcome to the future. Ex-businessman Ivan Gooch tells Steven Russell about his debut novel and warns how life might turn out

Steven Russell

You can't spot where Felixstowe becomes Ipswich, or vice-versa, but it's obvious the sprawling town has gone downhill. Welcome to the future. Ex-businessman Ivan Gooch tells Steven Russell about his debut novel and warns how life might turn out

AND what, I ask with a mock-quizzical grin, is a 72-year-old former engineer and one-time captain of Ipswich Golf Club doing writing about sex, drugs and violence - his novel “a timely autopsy on the bleeding heart of Middle England”. Best let him explain. “I was very concerned, I suppose, about knife-crime,” says Ivan Gooch, who as the father of two young children took a big gamble four decades ago and started his own plastics business in Ipswich - a firm that 25 years later employed more than 100 people and enjoyed a turnover of about �12million.

His story The New Lords of Tomorrow features Simon Scott, aka The Viper, who's a smart cookie but is walking on the dark side. His army of educated foot soldiers, experts in violence, intimidation, extortion and drug-trafficking, prey on the old, infirm and dispossessed.

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Not everyone's willing to take it lying down. Retired electronics engineer John Watson puts together a vigilante squad of elderly neighbours and a victimised taxi driver; and with an arsenal of home-made weapons they prepare for battle.

And, by the way, quite a lot of the bad stuff is happening on our doorstep. Well, the fictional sprawl of Ipstowe: a futuristic planning failure following a 50% population rise in 20 years - the countryside scarred by low-cost housing and a lack of investment in hospitals, schools, roads, water supplies and policing.

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Sounds a bit . . . er . . . bleak - like a toned-down A Clockwork Orange set in Suffolk.

Well, yes, Ivan admits with a smile, it is a somewhat grim vision of the future. “But it's a novel. It's not meant to be taken too seriously.” And, in any case, his own outlook is far more optimistic. Ish. He's got a lot of faith in youth, though he recognises there are a fair number of bad apples among the good. He looks at some young people and admires their positive qualities; then looks at others and isn't quite so impressed. “The trouble is, they're breeding faster than the good ones! That's the thing that worries me.”

When he started writing the book, a couple of years ago or so, “there were a lot of people being killed with knives and I began to wonder how serious the problem was becoming. Every week there was a murder with a knife and they all seemed to be young people. I thought 'If they concentrate on their education and think about it, they could be a lot more than knife criminals.' The book is partly a warning about what could happen.

“So I developed this anti-hero. He's a young guy, who ages from six to 15. He's superbly fit, he's got a brilliant mind - an exceptional lad - and he quickly becomes a young leader.

“They're living 20 years in the future and European legislation has made life very easy for teenagers - free sex and drugs - and because of all the extremists, the police are busy seeking them and minor crimes are not investigated.

“It's set in East Anglia, mainly, and Ipswich has become known as Ipstowe, which is a combined town that has rapidly gone downhill. It's got some high-crime areas. This lad comes from a relatively good home, but he leads the people in a poorer area. He has a creed and makes sure they all concentrate on their education, their fitness, and trains them up to be good at fighting, knife-throwing and sport. They're like an elite gang.

“Eventually they go on to rob a big drug company peddling a soft drug which is non-addictive and replaces all the hard drugs, though it is still expensive. They then get involved in higher crime.

“There's crime on the high seas, murder, sex, violence. I tried to write the book so it would have universal appeal,” Ivan smiles. “At 72, can you write a book that has universal appeal? I don't know . . .”

Engineer to author is not a natural leap, he acknowledges. “But I like writing novels; it helps you use your imagination.” He's well aware the book won't earn him a fortune, but that's not the point. “It's just the fun of doing it.”

Having retired in 1994 at the age of 57, Ivan sadly lost his first wife the following year. “I felt a bit bleak and decided to write a story then. I thought it was a good story: about a young entrepreneur who goes off the rails. His wife double-crosses him and goes off with a richer businessman. It didn't get published, but I found it was restful, creative, and I enjoyed doing it.

“You sit there and think 'Well, I'll start with this bit' - and then, whilst you're thinking about the next part, it just takes you off on a track; and by the time you've finished, you've not written about what you thought you were going to write about: you've written something entirely different. It's your imagination taking over, and I enjoy that.”

An engineer at heart, he's included in The New Lords of Tomorrow a few technical developments that could well come to pass, such as trains operating by magnetic levitation and cars whose speeds are controlled by satellite.

He did initially put some made-up words in the mouths of the futuristic characters, with a reference panel to guide readers, but the publishers wanted it taken out and real words substituted. “I think they thought it was too much like an engineer's report,” he says of the glossary, “and it got taken out!”

Ivan didn't much like having to include authentic cussing. He warned his daughter the book wasn't something the grandchildren should be reading just yet!

Was it easy to write about things like sex, drugs and violence?

“Erm . . . The sex bit was not easy, but I thought I've got to make it a bit realistic.”

Nearly time to go. Ivan signs a book for me. He searches for something apposite. Seeing as we went to the same school, how about “From one Northgate boy to another”?

“No,” he says. “I've got it.” His pen moves across the page. “Don't judge me by the book!”

The New Lords of Tomorrow can be bought online for �15.29 via the EADT Shop:

Ivan Gooch is having an “at home”, including a glass of wine and nibbles, to launch the book. It's on Saturday, July 18, between noon and 3pm at 223 Rushmere Road, Ipswich. It would be helpful if people let him know they're coming: 01473 274213 or

NEVER mind fiction - you'd imagine Ivan Gooch could put together a pretty fascinating autobiography. Born in a struggling pub in one of Ipswich's less wealthy neighbourhoods, he went on to grammar school and built up a successful business.

He was born in the long-gone Boar's Head pub, a stroll from Stoke Bridge, in the summer of 1936. “Mum and dad had it tough. There were seven of us, the pub wasn't paying, and dad went back to his trade as a carpenter. He worked from six until six and then came home and ran the pub. Bed at midnight and then it started all over again.”

Young Ivan went to Northgate Grammar School - even cycling more than two-and-a-half miles home during the lunch break because he didn't fancy the school dinners! - and then took an apprenticeship in mechanical engineering.

He spent much of the 1950s as a student engineer at Ransomes & Rapier in Ipswich, trained as a technician on radar and electrical equipment during national service at the end of the decade, and then joined BX Plastics, near Manningtree, as a plant development engineer.

In the mid-1960s he went to work for Dixopak Ltd in Lincolnshire as works manager. The firm made polyethylene packaging.

It was an enjoyable five years or so, including playing cricket for Louth - though living in a company bungalow opposite the plant meant it wasn't unheard of for Ivan to trot across in his pyjamas to sort out a production problem!

When the firm upped sticks to Cumberland, Ivan, then 33 and with two children aged about three and five, didn't fancy going. His heart was set on starting his own business, and returning to Suffolk seemed a good idea. He sold his car, pumped in the money earmarked for a house, and rented a bungalow. He found a backer, took out a loan for machinery, and set up in a former jam factory at Hasketon, near Woodbridge. It was 1969 and Gooch Plastics was born, making “blown” film and converting it into packaging.

“When I look back, in today's terms I'd signed away �400,000 or �500,000 on a personal risk,” he reflects. A colleague came with him from Louth and they worked 12-hour shifts - staying on afterwards to deal with other essential tasks.

It was a bit too frenetic at times, and Ivan suffered with a gallstone at one stage.

The business expanded rapidly and moved to premises in Farthing Road, Ipswich. By 1994 it was producing 12,000 tonnes of plastic film a year and employing more than 100 people. Its products over the years included shrink films, industrial and domestic cling bags, carrier-bags, sacks for building and coal products, counter bags, silage bale, stretch wrap, and horticultural and agricultural films.

By the 1990s, though he still loved the development of ideas and products, Ivan felt things were repeating themselves, business-wise, and he opted to sell the company - retiring in 1994.

There had been some interesting additions along the way, including a major investment in the advertising and marketing company Grigsmore Ltd. “An engineer chairing an advertising business!” he chuckles. “But it worked and they” - the creative team running things day to day - “were very successful.” Clients included BASF, Notcutts and Smith Kline. Grigsmore was sold in 1987.

Looking back, Ivan says the first few years with Gooch Plastics were the highlights - “the hardest but the most fun” - as he and the staff worked to fulfil the dream. The only downside is that for a while he was able to spend less time with his children than he'd been used to.

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