Peter Taylor-Whiffen 7 Sep 2017 01:08pm

Life after work: Ian Townsend

Ian Townsend tells Peter Taylor-Whiffen how he found 150-year-old inspiration for a new historical novel, and discovered the joys of writing
Caption: Photography: Richard Ansett

Ian Townsend is a time-traveller. Whenever the fancy takes him, he steps back 150 years into the sights, sounds and smells of Victorian Yorkshire. That’s the delight, he says, of being an author of historical novels. “I find writing an incredibly immersive experience,” he reveals. “The amount of research I do – I live my characters’ lives, I see their world as they do. Yes, it truly is time-travelling.”

Townsend’s first novel, Precarious Fortunes, describes an imagined version of a real-life visit to Harrogate in 1838 by Angela Coutts, then the richest woman in England, who had fled to Yorkshire to escape unsavoury gold-digging suitors in London.

“It began when my wife Mandy and I were renovating an 1850s property in Harrogate,” he says. “Mandy started researching its history. She uncovered this story of Angela’s visit.

“It really appealed to me, so I started doing more research, delving deeper into real-life events. As a result the characters reference everything from local Chartist meetings to the real results of horse races. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.”

Townsend, 62, clearly relishes the luxury of having time to write – which wasn’t the case when he first began his accountancy career as a 16-year-old. “I was articled to Windsor Stead & Partners in Leeds, a small practice in which everyone did everything. I studied for my exams during evenings and weekends. I was determined to qualify as quickly as possible.”

Having done just that at 21, he got a job with KPMG – in the Bahamas. “It was 1976, there were no tax laws or banking regulations and, as they’d just gained independence, everyone was training as accountants. There was a lot of work for qualified ex-pats.”

When he returned to England, Townsend started his own practice combining accountancy and management consultancy, specialising in medical firms and ultimately launching his own, Medical House. “We pioneered drug-delivery injection systems for patients who regularly use needles, such as diabetics,” he says. “Ours was the first needle-free system used by the NHS.”

He sold that business in 2009 and used the cash to back fledgling firms that were being refused loans by a nervous post-crash banking sector. Townsend Investments is now largely run by his three grown-up children, so he has more time for his hobbies. “Cricket is a passion,” he says. “I was on the Yorkshire CCC board for seven years.” His CV also includes briefly being temporary chairman of Sheffield United Football Club. And he and youngest son Peter have just planted a vineyard at that renovated family home where he and Mandy still live.

But he’s smitten with writing, and is planning a sequel to Precarious Fortunes. “It’s wonderful,” he says. “In business you get moments of satisfaction along the way, which are great, but you never know where the next is coming from. With writing, you get constant pleasure regardless.”