I’m contacted by many people looking to promote their books, all with rich and varied backgrounds. But William Lobban’s background is a little more unusual than most; he was one of Glasgow’s most notorious criminals. Born in Exeter Prison to a violent, schizophrenic mother, his upbringing in the East End of Glasgow was just as bleak, and he ended up in care, destined for a life of violence and insecurity.
Aged only 15 he masterminded a daring break-in to a Glasgow pub, and many years of armed robberies, dealing class A drugs and gang fights followed. When he wasn’t causing mayhem on the streets, Lobban was serving terms in various young offenders’ institutions and prisons, where he was involved in some of the most serious prison riots of recent years.
In the course of his criminal career Lobban became closely associated with the infamous Paul Ferris, who was later to incriminate him as the murderer of fellow gangster Arthur Thompson Jr. Police also believed that Lobban was the man behind the brutal double killing of Bobby Glover and Joe ‘Bananas’ Hanlon, but none of these charges were made to stick. Despite having no formal education, Lobban felt he had a story to tell and a few wrongs to put right, and he put pen to paper to reveal the truth of the Glasgow underworld in his own words. I asked him what had inspired him to first start writing. He explained:
“There were a variety of different reasons, frankly. I’d been mentioned in that many publications about Glasgow’s underworld, and not all in a very positive way it has to be said, that I guess it was about time I wrote my own book so that I could set the record straight and get the truth out there. For over twenty years I have lived with the burden of certain individuals having written a lot of lies about me in their semi-autobiographies, even going as far as to tell lies under oath in the High Court, saying that I shot and killed a man. The person I’m referring to, a criminal by the name of Paul Ferris whom I met when we were both teenagers locked up together in a young offenders institution, actually walked free from court with a not guilty verdict! The police never ever came after me for this crime, and not once was I ever questioned about it. I’d been accused as the killer but only so that the real killer, my accuser, could walk free. This was a huge deal to me, and so I couldn’t allow this false incrimination to go unchallenged. It was imperative I told my side of what happened so that ultimately people could then make up their own minds about whose right and who’s wrong. I’d tried this with a News of the World interview back in 2005.
But that is not the only reasons. My daughter, Tamara, who is only 12 is now getting to an age where she is starting to ask questions. I don’t want my daughter growing up believing these malicious and derogatory stories that can be found in books, online and in newspaper articles. This is why I have dedicated The Glasgow Curse to her, and she’ll know I’ve written from the heart.”
“I had thought quite a lot about writing a book whilst in jail. People would often say to me ‘you ought to write a book’ or ‘why haven’t you written a book because you’ve been mentioned in that many of them’. Back in 2005 I was involved in a three-week exclusive interview with a young, raw crime reporter from the then News of the World, his name was Graham McKendry, an up-and-coming and very enthusiastic young chap who no one had ever heard of before. The editor of the newspaper was Bob Bird, husband to Jackie Bird who reads the Scottish news, and he had been after an interview with me for many years. I’d say it was round about this time when I really began focusing on writing a book about my life. Indeed Bob Bird himself would often say to me ‘you should write your life story William’ which was very encouraging at the time. He even went out of his way to set up a meeting with the owner of Mainstream publishing in Edinburgh, a man by the name of Bill Campbell, and I went along to talk about the prospects of signing a book deal. However, circumstances would dictate my path and any realistic opportunity of writing a book were put firmly on the back burner. The young crime reporter Graham McKendry went on to ghostwrite UDA terrorist Johhny ‘Mad Dog’ Adair’s book called Mad Dog.
“I picked up from where I’d left off in 2011 because it felt right. That’s really when I started concentrating , started getting my head down to write. When I first started writing The Glasgow Curse I never set out with a target readership in mind, although I appreciate this type of writing is more suited to readers of true crime. That said, I’d like to think that my book would appeal to a much broader readership, most certainly fellow Glaswegians from every walk of life. I hope that people who do read my book will be able to connect with me as the author as well as all the different characters therein. My heart and soul went into this project and I’m sure this will come across loud and clear. I believe we all have a story to tell and we should relate to each other accordingly. My book is dedicated to my daughter, but is a testament to all those who have lost their lives to The Glasgow Curse.”
Having already been impressed with Lobban’s professional approach to spreading the word about his book, I was surprised to discover the story of his childhood. I asked him how he’d found tackling writing when his education had been so patchy, but he assured me, “I didn’t find it hard at all. I was actually quite surprised at just how easily and fluently the book came together. I have always been good with words and I have always been fascinated with anagrams and lexigrams in particular. For instance, when King Henry VIII had a falling out with the Pope he went off and formed his own religion which he called The Episcopal Church. Contained, hidden if you like, in the word Episcopal lurks the words ‘I lose a pope’ and that’s exactly why he named it that. Very clever I think, and this is why I’m drawn to this type of thing. The English language is filled with this sort of stuff. I explain in my book how I self-educated myself whilst locked up in prison.”
Lobban recognises the need for reader’s to relate to a book, explaining that his favourite book “is a book called Moobli by highly acclaimed author Mike Tomkies aka The Wilderness Man. The author wrote this book while he lived secluded in the Scottish West Highlands for over 20 years and the only company he had, apart from the many different forms of wildlife he researched, was the Alsatian dog he owned from a pup and which he named Moobli. I read this book in one sitting while I was locked up in segregation in a windowless prison cell for seven mind-bending months and I couldn’t put it down. Profoundly entranced by this book, I suppose I could relate to the author and his solitary lifestyle. The book really drew at my emotions.”
I asked Lobban to tell me a little about his writing day and he revealed, “First thing early in the morning when everyone else is in bed and after that first coffee when I’m ready to take on the day I find particularly stimulating. I can write in just about any given situation whether this is with noise in the background or in total silence but I prefer a tranquil setting. I’ve found that when I’m in the zone, when that sudden burst of inspiration takes over, then it makes no difference where I’m writing, because I’m so immersed in what I’m writing about it doesn’t really matter.”
“I signed a book deal for 120,000 words but I remember handing in 200,000 words. Naturally the publisher asked me to perform surgery on such a huge manuscript so I had to cut it by 30/40% which was really frustrating because I felt it robbed the book of the bigger picture for the reader. That said, the bits I removed are ready and waiting to go into the sequel so all is not lost. During the course of writing the book there were days where I’d be totally caught up in what I was doing.”
In any memoir, getting key dates and event right in order to prompt your memory is essential – even then the brain can create false memories. Lobban explained, “I did all the research for my book myself. I spent days, weeks sitting at the computer researching this, that and the next thing. With a book like mine it’s very important to get your facts right. Everything had to be spot on otherwise there would have been people coming out of the woodwork solely to criticise and ridicule my work. There’s no way I wanted that to happen so I made sure I had every little detail precise. Obviously I had to chat to various family members in order to find out certain things that I couldn’t have written about if not. There was a tremendous amount of research that went into The Glasgow Curse.”
To help guide him, Lobban told me, “I was lucky. I had the support of Peter Urpeth who was the writing coordinator for an organisation in the Scottish Highlands called Hi-Arts. This outfit specialised in helping first-time writers, inexperienced writers, and people with little or no knowledge of how to go about putting a book together. Peter took an immediate shine to me and vice versa so it did help me considerably in the early stages. I found the place through my local library and their services were free. Hi-Arts no longer exists because of a lack of funding which is a real shame because it did help me there’s no doubt about it. Peter Urpeth runs his own organisation these days nurturing creative talent and careers in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. His website is www.emergents.co.uk.
“Peter Urpeth knew the owner at Birlinn publishing, Hugh Andrew, in Edinburgh so it was a straightforward case of handing in my synopsis, which Peter had also helped me prepare, and we were never in any doubt that I wouldn’t get a book deal. I believe Birlinn were a good choice as they have supported me throughout. This is always important and half the battle.”
“With so few opportunities in the past, it wasn’t easy trying to lead a normal life with a background like mine so even today I’m faced with difficult challenges and I’m always striving towards a clearer day. I’ve felt my life has improved dramatically since I started work on The Glasgow Curse project. Not just from a writing point of view, but from every aspect of my life. It’s amazing how quickly things have improved but it has taken a lot of hard graft and dedication, not least plenty of support from others including my publishers Birlinn who have been brilliant. I guess I now have to stay focused and build on that impetus but I’m very passionate about what I do and I’ve waited a long time for the tables to turn. I may have found my niche in writing and a sudden gush of inspiration is all it took.”
And Lobban’s advice for anyone thinking of starting a book? “I’d have to say believe in what you’re writing about and if you’re passionate enough in what you’re doing then that belief is enough to carry you forward. You don’t know what you can do until you put your mind to it. And never give up, that’s most important!”
The Glasgow Curse is available online here. On release it hit No.1 in the hot new releases and best selling top 100 chart on Amazon, and at the time of writing it’s still in the top 20 in Amazon’s true crime category.
(c) Vanessa Fox O’Loughlin