I was twenty-five before it even occurred to me that I might want to be a writer, and gone thirty before I sold twelve-hundred turgid words to a computer magazine published out of Hongkong. Never was so much work put into a writing task for so little financial reward. A true taste of things to come.
Growing up in Central Scotland in the sixties and seventies made for a formative experience I wouldn’t swap with anyone -except maybe a kid whose parents could afford a Chopper bicycle. My Dad was the first McMillan to go to university, a tradition I maintained, if only for a year. Self-elected minors in beer, motorcycles and snooker played a major role in that short spell.
My biggest regret is easy. Three years squandered studying accountancy, an unfathomable move inspired by my parents’ only rich friend being an accountant. That he was a vainglorious arsehole took a lot longer to sink in, by which time it was too late. I closed the books a few minutes before my final examination, and never once considered re-opening them. No regrets about that last bit, then.
I went abroad after college. It was 1979, and ever since, even when set up in one place for a few years, I have successfully maintained a selfishly peripatetic state. This, as well as being entirely self-serving, is a narcotic whose limits are, like horizons and waistlines, forever expanding.
I was only ever shot at once. The South Korean riot cop wielded a shotgun that fired a heavy, explosive teargas canister. He took umbrage at the foreign photographer’s flashgun, lowered the barrel – and fired directly at me from about twenty metres. I arched my back, felt the heavy projectile whistle past my kidneys, put the cameras away – and reset my sights on inebriation.
A future world champion was the only man ever to beat me in a full-contact Tae Kwon-do bout. Standing toe to toe with a vastly superior fighter while he whipped me like a dog taught this combatant a valuable lesson. That I was not cut out for this shit. I retired with a hundred percent record. Fought one, lost one.
For nearly fifteen years, I relished what was surely a golden age of photojournalism. Nearly fifty assignments in China, five journeys into the haunting hell that is North Korea, and jobs everywhere from Afghanistan to Japan made for exciting times. Working for magazines like TIME, Newsweek, Businessweek and L’Express – and seeing my photographs on the covers of them all – was icing on the cake.
My second-biggest regret came in 1989, when I left Tiananmen Square a few days before the tanks rolled in. A week earlier, I was the only journalist foolish enough to go looking for the tanks, which were parked up in a western Beijing suburb. Linguistically and otherwise unarmed, I persuaded a taxi driver to find them for me, which he did, dozens of armoured cars draped with soldiers dozing in the Spring sunshine. I fired off a few frames before a young student put his arm around me and walked me out of the lane with the admonishment that ‘these men are Chinese, too.’ It was time to get my taxi driver out of there before the officer with the pistol on his belt caught up with us. He bellowed at us, and we ignored him. Those were heady days for China.
In 2005, despite failing to elicit interest from publishers, I hitch-hiked around the Shetland Islands for five weeks to research a travel book. Three years later, BETWEEN WEATHERS, Travels in 21st Century Shetland was published by Sandstone Press, and immediately nominated for a Saltire Society literary award. My love affair with Shetland continues with work on the B4 Films feature Between Weathers, whose original storyline I wrote along with Director Jim Brown.
In 2014, I co-wrote a four-part documentary series for PBS called Great Estates Scotland which was a hit, with the DVD of the series selling out faster than they could be produced.
My first novel, a crime thriller set in present-day South Korea called Yin Yang Tattoo, was published in 2010 by Sandstone Press. My second novel, Bangkok Cowboy, the first in a new series of Mason & Dixie crime thrillers, was published for Amazon download in December 2013. The next in the series, working title Bangkok Belle, is now available on Amazon.