A Belfast Child cover #2This week marks the end of a long journey (and hopefully the beginning of a new one) for Belfast-born author John Chambers, whose book ‘A Belfast Child’ is out on Wednesday September 3.

John’s story is truly extraordinary. Brought up on an ultra-Loyalist estate in west Belfast at the height of the Troubles, for many years John had no idea that his absentee mother was a Roman Catholic from the ‘other side of the fence’. The book explores the tribalism that has divided this city for many, many years, but it’s also about love, loss, family, humour and reconciliation. There’s even a dash of the ‘80s Mod movement thrown in for good measure.

It’s been a privilege and a pleasure to work on this story with John, despite it being far from an easy ride. He contacted me a good five years ago and immediately I was intrigued; not only because his was a great story but also that it hadn’t yet found a home. John had been trying to tell his tale for years but it seemed very few publishers were interested in Northern Ireland and the Troubles. Even when we worked on a  great submission and tried all the big names, we failed miserably to get a bite.

It was hard to know what to think, other than ‘Let’s keep going.’ We both knew this was a great story, full of drama and character, and that someone, somewhere must surely take an interest. At times we both wondered whether it was worth the bother, but we persisted nonetheless.

Then two things happened. The first was Brexit. In the wake of the 2016 vote there seemed to be an upsurge of interest in ‘backstops’, ‘hard and soft borders’ and lines down the middle of the Irish Sea. What was all this about, and why was Northern Ireland in this strange position? For those who didn’t know the story (or had simply forgotten) the dark history of the province was aired once again and now, publishers were taking an interest.

The second stroke of luck was that I contacted Maggie Hanbury, the redoubtable London-based literary agent, about John’s book. Immediately, Maggie saw for herself what John and I always knew – that this was a cracking story which deserved publication. Maggie got to work (and got me to work, writing two more sample chapters) and within weeks found us a publishing deal with Bonnier/John Blake.

Finally, we had a home and a few quid with which to fund the writing. Luckily, John doesn’t live far from my home town in Lancashire, so I was able to combine visits to family with interviewing sessions. John is a great storyteller, relating tales with native wit and humour, even in the story’s darkest moments, so right through the process he was a great interviewee.

Still, I wanted more, so I proposed a joint visit to Belfast for research purposes. Of course, it’s changed a lot (for the better) since John lived there; even so, there was plenty to see that related directly to the tough times he lived through during his childhood and teenage years. We had a great few days exploring the area he grew up in and meeting the people he knew back then. We even ended up in a holding cell in the former Crumlin Road jail, in which he’d carved ‘Up The Mods’ on the wall in the 1980s (unbelievably, the graffiti was still there). We had a few pints here and there too, soaked up the following day by the classic ‘Ulster Fry’ breakfast or pastie supper along the legendary Shankill Road.

Then it was back to the writing and by autumn 2019 we had a hard-hitting, heart-warming story to deliver to our publisher, ready for release in Spring 2020. Then Covid-19 struck, everything went skywards, and here we are in September, a few months late but still raring to go.

The story of this book’s journey to publication kind-of proves that you shouldn’t give up easily. Sometimes you really do know when to quit; other times you have an inkling that somewhere along the line you’ll get lucky. I wish John every success with ‘A Belfast Child’. He deserves it, not only because of what he went through but also because he had persistence, patience and humour. And my god, don’t you need that latter trio in the publishing game!

For more info about me and my work, visit www.ukghostwriter.co.uk

To buy A Belfast Child via Amazon visit www.tinyurl.com/wzpp5ra

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Typewriter with Story button, vintage

Below is a blog I’ve just written for my friend Anita Turner’s website: www.mindaloud.org

 

For the person who is anxious (and let’s face it, that includes pretty much all of us at one time or another) the current Coronavirus crisis is a rollercoaster ride unlike any other we’ve ever experienced.

 For example, last night I played a series of silly card games with the people I’m locked down with, before going to bed knowing that I’m safe and secure among those I love. But at 4am I was wide awake, worrying if my days as a writer are over and if they are, what lies in store for me beyond this traumatic period? At 8am, however, I was up and out with the dog, drinking in the spring sunshine and listening to the birds at their joyful best, while walking on roads largely free of traffic.

An overnight shower has made the morning air even cleaner, clearer, than it has been these last few weeks. The stream by the field gently burbles, seemingly taking pleasure in the fact that it can finally be heard above the day-to-day noise of human activity. To misquote Dylan Thomas, the very houses themselves seem to be sleeping now. And I realise that in the midst of fear and tragedy, there is so, so much to be grateful for.

These simple responses to nature are, in fact, hugely powerful; so much so that I don’t really want to go back to how life was ‘before’. Sure, I want to meet friends and relatives, visit places, get on with my life. But do I really want a return to the inevitable stresses and strains of 21st century living? Does anyone? Despite everything – loss of income, fears for health, the looming shadow of death – I can’t remember a time when I felt calmer and ‘in the flow’. I look beyond these current troubles to a world in which there is most definitely such thing as ‘society’, and I hope and pray for a complete re-evaluation of the rights and responsibilities for every one of us in this post-pandemic society.

The lockdown period is providing us all with golden opportunities to assess our place in the world, and to create something new from confusion, chaos and fear. People are re-discovering old skills or having a go at new things. Many are getting used to working from home, and are wondering why they bothered to sit in endless traffic jams for so many years. Shopping as a participatory sport is dead, temporarily, and we’re being guided towards simpler, less expensive pursuits. We’re re-connecting with nature in a big way, and we’re learning to appreciate the people closest to us whom we previously took for granted.

There’s a strange feeling of utopia generated by this crisis that we shouldn’t ignore, even when the bells eventually ring out and the post-virus parties begin. For better or worse we will never forget this experience, and maybe we will begin to understand why our grandparents and great-grandparents often spoke of the Second World War as the best time of their lives. I used to think, given all the death and destruction of the era, that it was a strange thing to say. Now I get it, and I wait with anticipation to see what we will all do with the lessons we’ve learned during this extraordinary period.

Tom Henry is an author, ghostwriter and journalist. More about him can be found here.

 

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Typewriter with Story button, vintageI should’ve done this before. I could’ve done this before. I would’ve done this before…shudda, cudda, wudda, eh? Never mind. It’s not quite the end of January yet so I can just about get away with this round-up of my adventures last year before lambs gamble in pastures green, buds burst forth from the trees, etc.

Right after New year’s Day I travelled to Manchester to begin work on a book with Maggie Oliver, the former police detective who blew the whistle on the Rochdale child abuse scandal after she witnessed a huge cover-up by police and social services. She resigned her job because of it, but has since been vindicated. Read the BBC news story here to find out more.

When I met her, Maggie had already been working with another ghostwriter but the results weren’t to her liking. So we started again, specifically on the complicated, controversial chapters that dealt with her growing recognition of the situation in Rochdale and her increasing discomfort at what she was seeing. However, Maggie speaks right from the heart and, armed with her account and a mountain of files and paperwork which evidenced her account, I was able to construct a path through the story to produce a clear and compelling narrative that has been critically very well received. Here it is on Amazon…

Maggie Oliver book pic

 

Maggie and I worked to a very tight deadline indeed but there was no cutting corners – she wanted this important story told in as much detail as possible, which included the coverage many aspects of her career and family life before the Rochdale scandal began to reveal itself. Not every reviewer appreciated this – wanting to get to the heart of the story, understandably – but I thought it was important to give background and context to why Maggie acted as she did. It made her human – a very important consideration in this story.

Anyway, Maggie was very pleased with the results and she wrote this about our experience of working together…

“I began writing my book ‘Survivors…. Maggie Oliver Fighting for Justice’ in 2018, and by late in the year it was clear I needed some help.

 

I was introduced to Tom and almost immediately I knew that I could trust him to write this really important story that needed to be told. My book was not only about my own personal life and the challenges that have been thrown my way, but it was also the story of how the police, social service, CPS and the establishment failed generations of vulnerable children who were groomed and sexually abused by organised gangs of predatory paedophiles.

Under incredible pressure to meet a looming deadline, Tom immersed himself in the detail of my story and studied the issues surrounding the Rochdale Grooming Scandal. I am personally very proud of the published book, and I know without a shadow of a doubt that without Tom’s professional expertise, guidance and encouragement the final product would have fallen far short of what I hoped to achieve.

Tom was kind, encouraging, professional and dedicated, working long hours to ensure a great outcome and I would now consider him a friend too. Should I ever decide to write a second book, I would definitely be seeking Tom’s help from the start next time!!

My heartfelt thanks and gratitude go to Tom…. and my book became an Amazon best seller too, which was the icing on the cake!!!”

Thanks, Maggie! We’ve stayed in touch since, and after publication I was invited to the launch of her charitable foundation at a swanky venue in Cheshire. Icing on the cake for me – quite literally!

Following that work I was contacted by a man called Nigel Roberts, who was keen to have his mother’s memories distilled into a book. He suggested afternoon tea at a hotel in Tetbury so I went along, met Nigel, his wife Bella, and his 92-year-old mother, Olive. From the start, I could see she had a twinkle in her eye and that she’d be a good storyteller – and I wasn’t wrong! Olive has had a fascinating life, from a very difficult start in the North East of England to her experiences in the Blitz and her subsequent meeting of the man she would marry. After the war he was drafted into the fledgling GCHQ and the couple spent many years posted abroad, mainly to the Far East. Olive’s account of her life is warm, engaging, insightful and funny, and she was an absolute pleasure to work with. Her book, ‘Stepping Stones’ is due to be published later this year and I’ll post on this again when the time comes.

In the midst of that I made contact with the literary agent Maggie Hanbury – a genuine legend in the publishing industry. She’s represented everyone from JG Ballard to Katie Price and she’s a forthright, insightful and very entertaining person. I wanted to talk to her about a project I’ve been working on – the story of a guy called John Chambers and his extraordinary upbringing in Belfast during the Troubles. John contacted me about four years ago with his story and straight away I was interested. Not only does it have a fast-paced narrative and an incredible twist, the man himself is a great storyteller, with more than a dash of the blackest Belfast humour. Back then we worked on a proposal but couldn’t attract any attention from the publishing world. Northern Ireland as the subject for a book was ‘over and done’, it seemed. Yet something really nagged me about this and whenever I met someone new, I told them about it. Luckily, I met Maggie Hanbury, who was immediately interested. She read the proposal, asked me to do more work on it (I was happy to oblige) and once that was completed, she said it out on submission. And we got a deal! Thank you, Bonnier Books for seeing what I always saw in John’s story.

I spent time at John’s home in the North of England, and we also travelled to Belfast to get a first-hand look at the places he grew up in. We had a terrific few days in what is surely one of the most interesting cities in the world, and I was definitely richer for the experience. What I saw and learned really helped with the narrative, particularly the Belfast accent and the complexity of the tribal divisions in the city, and from it John and I were able to craft a really excellent story. It’s out in May this year, and it will be called ‘A Belfast Child’.

All that took me up to late autumn, and with Christmas looming the pace slackened a bit – thank God! Now it’s January and again I’m on the lookout for a diamond of a story that might turn into a bestseller later this year or in 2021. So if you’re holding that diamond – whether you’re a publisher, commissioning editor or someone with an extraordinary experience to share – let me make it shine!!

 

 

 

 

 

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Stephen Hendry “When I decided to write my autobiography I met with 7 or 8 ghost writers before I met with Tom. I didn’t want to go down the route of a snooker writer or even a sports writer – I just wanted to tell my story and when I started speaking to Tom he told me that’s what he was interested in doing.

I immediately felt comfortable talking with him as he was so normal and easy going.

When we started working it was very relaxed and it was very easy to open up to him as it was just like chatting to a friend.

Writing an autobiography is obviously a long process but it never felt like a chore as we didn’t do 5/6 hour slogs. Tom felt it would be more productive to do shorter sessions to keep it fresh, and this appealed to me.

I think it was quite brave of Tom to take on a subject which he admitted he knew nothing about, but it’s exactly how I hoped it would turn out and for that I’m very grateful.”

Stephen Hendry. Professional snooker player and author of ‘Me And The Table’.

 

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Stephen Hendry

This week sees the publication of snooker legend Stephen Hendry’s autobiography, ‘Me and the Table’, which I’ve ghosted for him. Stephen dominated the game right through the 1990s and won everything in sight, setting records that still haven’t been broken.

Deservedly, he’s had a lot of coverage this week across all media, including radio, TV (https://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/snooker/45423898) and in print (https://www.mirror.co.uk/sport/other-sports/snooker/stephen-hendry-opens-up-epic-13195462)

Stephen’s story was fascinating, and had a much more psychological aspect to it than I realised. In an individual sport like snooker, so much depends upon what’s going on ‘upstairs’ and the level of mental effort and concentration needed to be a consistent winer, as Stephen was, is phenomenal. And when this slips, as it did in Stephen’s case, due to a cueing problem, it drags everything with it…

Personally, I found Stephen a very pleasant and cooperative person to work with. He was incredibly professional too, perhaps not surprising since he’s been in the public eye from the age of 14. He was always on time, always willing to answer questions and he always made me a welcome cup of tea with exactly the right amount of milk and sugar!

It’s always a pleasure to work with people like Stephen and I hope this book opens new pathways in what has already been a fascinating career.

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