Celtic Illumination, part 328, The Church of the Quivering Brethren.
I suppose the one lesson we all learn is that no matter what happens life, as Paul Robeson once sang about Old Man River, It just keeps rolling along. So I found myself back in England, a little bit confused, but aware that my life had to keep rolling along. There was no point in lying around dreaming about what might have happened, although I have to admit Irene and I were looking forward to the great adventure we might have had meeting all my brothers and sisters. Jeffrey had been working hard on my behalf so I had to clear my mind and get back to some serious work. I had completed the second book for O Grady and had sent it to Jeffrey. Jeffrey would read and edit my work and then return it to me. Normally he might suggest one or two punctuation corrections but usually nothing more.
He told me that he had found a decent publisher for the Lily Savage books and that the moment we could get Murphy to sign an agreement there was a cheque for ten thousand pounds sitting waiting for me. It was nice to learn that some decent money was about to start coming in. Jeffrey complained that he was finding it very difficult to catch Murphy or O Grady so I, possibly egged on by the promise of the cheque, agreed to try and nail the pair of them down. I do remember one day Jeffrey telephoning me and saying, ‘I’ve managed to find O Grady and Murphy, if you would like me to go and meet them I will, but you will have to pay my fare.’ I thought it strange that Jeffrey would ask me for a taxi fare across London until he told me that he had found them on the Orient Express. This was Jeffrey’s attempt at a joke.
Jeffrey and I had a standard agreement where he took ten percent of whatever I earned, so it was always in his interest to get the best deal possible for me and he too would benefit. One day he telephoned and asked me if I had fifty five thousand pounds to spare. I laughed at him and asked why. Jeffrey like myself knew nothing about football or footballers but he had been contacted by a footballers agent. The footballer was Ryan Giggs and his agent had caught wind of the book deal I was setting up. In order to try and keep things simple I had decided to always go for a fifty, fifty, split and this time I would split fifty, fifty, with Manchester United, the club. What I hadn’t realised or even thought about, was that the individual player owned the rights to their name, so in effect we would have to have a three way split.
I’m sure that it wasn’t the actual player who was demanding an upfront payment of fifty five thousand but his agent, who like mine would be out to get the best possible deal for those he represents. My heart sank as Jeffrey explained that if Giggs wanted fifty five thousand then so would all the others so as I computed eleven times, fifty five, I realised that I was a long way off having six hundred and five thousand pounds lying about and I doubted if the publisher would start forking out large sums like that. Jeffrey asked that I keep the faith, for stranger things have happened in the literary world. I wasn’t convinced and was sad that such a huge project could crash. I couldn’t think of any other club that I could move the project to, so mentally put the project on the back burner.
The Emmerdale project had moved on a pace. Here the fifty, fifty, split was with Yorkshire television who owned Emmerdale and the rights to the character names they used on the programme. As a writer you are always hoping to hear good things about your work, but even if someone says, ‘’Oh I liked that, that was good,’ that sometimes cannot be enough. I suppose we want a more comprehensive review of our work. If someone reads something of mine and says, ‘Oh I liked that,’ I will be saying what bit did you like, which of course allows for the other question of, which bit did you not like? The guy we were dealing with at Yorkshire television said that he had read my manuscript and that he really liked it. Standard sort of praise, that to the writer means nothing. But then he said he would compare it to Cold Comfort Farm, a novel by Stella Gibbons, published in the thirties in England. that was regarded as a ‘Classic’ novel. In fact the Sunday Times had reviewed Cold Comfort Farm as, ‘Possibly the funniest book ever written.’ For me this was so fantastic to have my work compared to a classic novel, for me it was praise indeed.
So, the Savage deal was moving forward albeit slowly, the Manchester United deal was looking suspect while the Emmerdale deal looked promising. It was time for me to fire up my next project which was to approach Frank Bruno, the former heavyweight boxing champion of the world. I spoke to Jeffrey about it and he wasn’t convinced, so I explained that as I was the one with the enthusiasm for the project I would approach Bruno and if I could get him to agree I would then bring the project to Jeffrey so that he could finalise and formalise the deal. I don’t really hold celebrities in very high esteem; I do recognise their earning potential however, so my approach as with most of my life was a simple one, I just telephoned them.
Frank Bruno was a much loved and popular entertainer, he was always trying to be funny and seemed to be a happy jolly fellow. Physically he was a giant of a man so my idea was to picture Frank reading ghost stories to children, a sort of big uncle who would scare the children for a laugh but always protect them. At the time his wife was his manager so I telephoned and spoke to her. She said she liked the idea but would like to think about it and speak to Frank about it. I telephoned her the following week and she explained that she hadn’t managed to sit down and talk to Frank about it, but assured me she was going to talk to him about it. The following week Frank Bruno telephoned me. It was a bit of a shock and I was glad that the tape recorder was going.
I remember calling him ‘Mister Bruno’ as we began to dance around the subject. Frank asked me not to call him Mister Bruno, but suggested that I should call him Frank or The Reverend, I think at the time he was performing as a sort of disc jockey, in night clubs, and The Reverend was his performing name. I said that as he was the former world champion respect was due so I would call him Mister Bruno, his retort was that he should be showing me respect Mister Irish writer, as I had shown courage calling him and speaking to him so directly. It was a pretty mad conversation but then we came to the nitty gritty business end of the call. I pitched the idea to him and couldn’t detect any feeling from him whatsoever so, as a sweetener, suggested that perhaps we could split the proceeds three ways giving one third to Frank, one third to me, and one third to a charity of his choice.
Frank then said that he was a charity, that he had a wife and children to support so how about we forget the charity aspect and split the deal fifty, fifty, between ourselves. Frank Bruno was turning in to my sort of celebrity. Frank agreed to the deal and I gave him Jeffrey’s contact details and I can assure you it really did feel good saying to Frank Bruno, ‘My agent will be in touch to formalise the deal.’ Jeffrey was pleased with the deal and took Bruno’s contact details assuring me that he would set the deal up and find a publisher, but then he started to question whether or not I could write a children’s ghost story. Jeffrey suggested that he could find an established children’s writer and have them write the book which would require an adjustment in the split of the money, but would keep the publishers happy. I think this was the first time Jeffrey heard me swear, but although he eventually agreed that it was my project and I would be doing the writing, he needed to know if I could write a children’s ghost story.
Jeffrey said that he had a colleague who taught English at Oxford University and who was an expert in children’s literature. Would I write a standard ghost story, which Jeffrey would send to his colleague and if the colleague, the children’s literary expert, thought I could produce ghost stories for children, it would give Jeffrey and prospective publishers the confidence to proceed. It was quite strange but I sat myself down and wrote a ghost story for children then sent it off to Jeffrey. It didn’t take long for the expert to reply, they said that the story was very good and that I was a beautiful writer. All very nice but they hadn’t answered the bloody question of could I write children’s ghost stories. Even Jeffrey questioned the reply but eventually agreed that I would be writing the project and he would go off and find a publisher for it. So now you know the best thing to do when a writer asks you what you think of their work, that’s right, run.