by Joyce Sandilands-Whittle
(yes, it’s authorized!)
An Unplanned Career
In mid-1995, for the umpteenth time finding himself on crutches and unable to move around a great deal, my husband sat in front of his computer … typing with 1-finger! (He says he can keep up to his thoughts this way.) Over the next few years, a wonderful new hobby took shape due to having nothing else to do for the first time in his 62 years. Robert surprised us all by writing fiction and enjoying it! After that, a little voice in my head nagged so hard at me, that in August 1998, I decided it was time to publish this 3rd book he had written and it became … Lizzie: Lethal Innocence.
Fast forward to 2010, Robert was now selling 10 novels on his market stand in Bastion Square, Victoria, BC … 3 of which were Canadian (BC) bestsellers and we had together won 2 Gold Independent Publisher Awards (IPPY).
Each year he meets thousands of tourists and locals. This has been his position and passion for the past 13 years (now May-Oct), and yes, some of these days are mighty cold and/or wet! Some of the comments he hears are: “You are always so happy” or “friendly” or “good looking” or “what a wonderful voice you have” – the latter prompting us to produce an audio book of his bestselling book Lizzie and, in 2005, a partial autobiography on CD entitled Laughing Through Life, Tales of a Yorkshireman.
We sell our books right here on this website or, if you live near Southern Vancouver Island, BC, you can phone us and pick up your order. We also have ebooks and Print on Demand books now, to make it as simple and inexpensive for our readers.
Listen to Robert’s bio via download
When you meet J(ohn) Robert Whittle you are instantly impressed with his wonderful voice, ready smile and his ‘largeness’. At 6’2″ this broad-shouldered Yorkshireman is a gentle and sensitive, family man known for being a helpful friend to scores of young people who have been lucky enough to meet him. His lifetime of fascinating and unusual, often dangerous, accomplishments has taken this raconteur and entrepreneur to the four corners of the globe and blessed him with a remarkable life.
Despite the normal family hardships of a poor working-class farm lad born pre-WW2 and the fact that he spent many, many months nursing serious work injuries in the early and middle years of his working life (due to his job as a mining engineer/disaster team leader and later, in construction), he remains the consummate happy-go-lucky fella. Bob enjoys people and, kids in particular, thus reflected in his family style writing.
This ‘crazy Yorkshireman’ or simply ‘Uncle Bob’, as many young people have called him over the years, was the eldest son and second-born in a family of ten children. His parents were hardworking, happy, farming stock who taught him that hard work never hurt anyone. His father often said, “I got me a hard-working horse when you were born, Bobby lad!”
Bobby Whittle, well-known in his village for an outgoing personality, was a scrapper even as a scrawny kid. Armed with secrets of defense gained from his pro wrestler grandfather, he often took on bigger lad(s) in defense of others … he didn’t always win. His hardworking ethic began early in life getting up each morning at 4:30 am to milk the family’s cows and then deliver the milk even before beginning school … later, a 3-mile journey to school with his younger sister. He was also a seasoned business-kid from the ripe-old-age of six thanks to his step-grandfather Mark Appleyard!!
But despite his full schedule, he somehow found the time to allow the love of sport to invade his young life playing soccer and County Cricket in which he particularly excelled, representing England at 13 years-of-age. He was notorious for his skills as a wicket keeper beginning before he was 12 (trained by his mother throwing eggs at him through the kitchen window!). At 16, he began a 10-year career as a highly sought after professional wicketkeeper around England, at the same time studying, working the mines and graduating from Leeds University as a Mining Engineer and having his own trucking business on the side (which began with a horse and cart at about age 7).
After graduating from Mining College at 19 and ready to accept his Degree of Mining Engineering, he was told that by British law he was too young to receive it and would have to rewrite the exams when he was 25! Thus, he was hired by the British Coal Board, who had given him the scholarship to university, and had other plans for him. Recognizing his speed of wit and mining skills underground, as those needed desperately in the dangerous field of underground coal mines. They continued to train him and to wait until the time was right … at 25, offering him the deadly job as the leader of a First Response to Disaster Team.
For his efforts saving people, he often suffered the consequences of what must have been the most extreme job of the era, spending about 50% of his working life in hospital beds and recuperating to go back and do it all again. On the upside however, he gained the respect and gratitude of the many men and their families whose lives he saved. Local hospital staff was often heard to comment that it was nice to have his pleasant personality around but they were sure glad to get back to normal when the fun-loving miner returned to work.
In the mid-60s, recognizing that his reaction time was waning, he packed his family off to Australia seeking a less dangerous life and worked in the Australian desert for a few years trying to keep his work experience a secret. In 1970, the Canadian gov’t discovered who he was and lured him to Baffin Island and again found himself working the extremes … in Canada’s Far North at Pond Inlet, Baffin Island, (now Nunavit) building a school and making friends of the Eskimos. He gained his Canadian citizenship in 1971, soon after arriving in Victoria, BC. It was in Victoria that Robert and I met in 1977. By the mid-80s we had formed a personal and business partnership, marrying some years later.
But let’s move forward a wee bit … to the time of his first knee surgery in Feb 1994 when his life nearly ended and our lives were changed forever. Knowing he would be out-of-commission for 6 weeks for that surgery, I persuaded him to use our old XT (80s computer) to try his hand at writing. He had always entertained us by telling wonderful stories of his youth and I wanted him to start writing his memoirs for his grandchildren. No one else would be able to tell Robert’s story quite like he could!
However, true stories were not in the cards for the moment and to fill his recuperation period he began writing an adventure story of 18th C Yorkshire, a time he often said he wished he could have lived. His mother must have fed him history from an early age when they lived in their Yorkshire farmhouse with its 18″ stone walls because he remembers always having a thirst for the subject. He had also developed a wonderful ability to conjur up wonderful bedtime stories for his many siblings. As he wrote that first book, history and storytelling quickly became intertwined. What happened next, however, was the beginning of a horrific health challenge with a staph infection that over the next couple of years almost cost him his leg and potentially his life. It laid him up for 4 years. A miracle, however, was also beginning to develop in the guise of three full-length novels!
An Unexpected Talent!
In his first book (unpublished to date), a historical novel about a lad named Josh, a storyline began to emerge of his beloved moors and some fascinating characters quite possibly drawn from people he had met in his youth. He read me bits and pieces and we were both amazed at his incredible ability to weave a story without any thought or planning. We had definitely found his hidden talent and with nothing but time on his hands he soon completed his first full-length novel. By the time his R&R ended after a major knee-replacement surgery almost four years later, he had completed his third title!
It was this third novel that we found ourselves self-publishing in the Fall of ’98. As Robert was now a Senior Citizen, we decided not to dally around waiting for a publisher to accept his manuscript and give him his big break! So when Deborah Wright offered to give her assistance, especially with proofreading, we jumped at the opportunity.
As a result, Lizzie: Lethal Innocence, a novel set in early 1800s England about a young girl much like Robert himself had been as a youngster, was born. We formed our own publishing company (Whitlands Publishing) and began learning the ropes … but we had no idea what we were in for! However, 2,000 copies (of one-to-one sales) and 16 months later, we launched our first sequel, Lizzie’s Secret Angels. We figured we must be doing something right with readers demanding a sequel and, as he had already written it, we obliged!
On April 1st, 2000, Lizzie’s Secret Angels was introduced to eager fans at the Victoria Art Gallery, our first and only official Book Launch as from here on we usually launched each new book at whatever show we were attending. Lizzie sales reached Canadian Best Seller status by late 2000. Today, we are into our 3rd printing – a magnificent feat for a self-published book of fiction, we were told! Over the next five years, we released the Victoria Chronicles Trilogy and the last two books of the Lizzie Series. The trilogy became hot sellers at local markets and shows due to their factual content and his already well-loved Whittlesque Style (akafamily friendly). The first two books of the Trilogy became Robert’s next two bestsellers and the third book won our 2nd Gold Medal in the 2008 IPPY Awards.
To purchase our books, if you can’t get to our local BC markets/shows they’re mainly only available through this website now. We have been literally blown away by the success of these books. By 2008, having collected addresses for many years, we realized we had sold books to visitors from approx. 65 countries, every US State, and all over Canada. Thousands of local readers had also supported us over the years for which we’ll be eternally grateful.
Our Marketing Efforts
Over the past 15 years we’ve attended over two thousand market/show days selling our books in all kinds of weather and often frigid cold. We’ve met thousands upon thousands of wonderful, supportive people and always many who are shocked to hear we’ve done all of this by ourselves, assisted only by Joyce’s one-day-a-week OA, Tara. Initially, we mainly sold our books at the small James Bay Farmer’s Market (2 summers) and then the BC Ferry Terminal Crafters Market at Swartz Bay (mainly Joyce for 3 summers). Robert has been in Bastion Square for 13 years. The Sidney Street Market is now Joyce’s main summer project and Robert assisted for 9 of the 13 years.
In 2003, Robert turned 70 (picture to left) and family, friends and fans feted him at a local restaurant where he gave an impromptu talk telling some of the hilarious tales of his young life in Yorkshire. At last my desire for him to share his memoirs was coming to fruition. In March 2004, he told even more of his stories at another event attended by fans. Then, armed with close to 50 stories on tape, Joyce met with Corrie of the Majestic Recording Studio editing and producing a much-anticipated new CD. We introduced Laughing Through Life, a compilation of many of Robert’s wonderful life stories in the Fall of 2005. People say our CD is a hidden gem and we heard that one senior’s home in Victoria played a new story each morning over their speakers to give their lodgers an upbeat start to their day.
It’s now 2014 and for well over a decade we have attended 6 Christmas Craft Shows during November and December, but now limited toVancouver Island. Yes, we’re now trying to slow down, but Robert only seems to know about high gear! He says he’s been working hard all his life and he still loves it! So our books have become a labour of love that just keeps rolling on and as long as enough people continue to buy our books and he can find the energy to set up at a market, you’ll find him there!
In recent years Tara and I succeeded to complete two very necessary projects: (1) to format all the books onto eBooks and (2) to reorganize our two websites.
We very much appreciate our readers and the people who purchase our books as gifts for others. Your support is what keeps us going. We hope you’ll visit here often especially to check our latest blog news, sign up on our mailing list and/or visit Robert’s and Joyce’s Facebook Pages to stay abreast of everything! (Did you know you can see our facebook pages without being a facebook member? Check it out!)
Now, go and do something nice for yourself or someone you care about . . . visit our book pages and buy a bestselling novel by J. Robert Whittle!!
Locals: Please contact us by phone (instead of ordering on the website.) You’ll save shipping charges!!
Joyce and Robert