I get asked a lot why I choose to write about difficult, often uncomfortable subjects.
What is the motivation, someone at a literary event will ask – often in pitying tones – for my building a career out of pain? And not fictional pain, either (although I’ve certainly done my share of writing about that) but real pain, both physical and emotional.
My non-fiction books have charted my experiences working with people in extremis, in various child protection and social care positions, and latterly as a journalist and consultant.
I am often informed that this person or that person finds my books difficult reads, or that they simply can’t face reading them at all. And I do understand that. I know some of the stories I’ve shared have shocked readers unused to the truths they contain, and I freely accept that my non-fiction isn’t for everyone.
But that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop writing it.
I think my books are important, you see, and for every person who has a problem with their contents, three times as many want to embrace them. I’ve had number one bestsellers and made the Top 5 non-fiction lists with most of my titles.
And sales aside, I think they’re stories that need to be told. The feedback I’ve received from survivors of abuse has been hugely positive, and I know the books have given strength to a lot of people who have been through hard times.
And, to be honest, my most recent book in my new audiobook series, has actually given me some strength, too. I’m talking about the second in my new series with Audible.
Stories From the Margins is an Audible Original True Crime audiobook series. It explores my work as a journalist and consultant and combines the tropes that made my previous non-fiction books a success with the immediacy and punchiness of the True Crime genre (at least, I hope it does!).
I narrate Stories From the Margins, and each book contains original folk music and songs composed and performed by me to create a unique and arresting soundscape. I want the experience of listening to these books to be immersive. Because I’m bringing you into a world that is familiar yet shockingly alien – in these books I deal with youth gangs, child abduction, white-supremacists and sociopathic confidence tricksters to name but a few.
But for all that, I strive to never let you forget that the worlds I describe are very close by. They exist on the outskirts, the peripheries of the places most of us inhabit. The towns, cities, villages, housing estates and apartment blocks we call home are often just yards away from an underworld where nightmarish things are happening.
These are the Margins of the title. They can be found in the shadows we all turn away from because we don’t want to see what lives there. In my books I help you to look closely, and to see the reality.
Stories From the Margins: The Bad Place tells of a case I encountered early in my career, one that brought me to a crumbling mansion in the Irish countryside, a residence a terrified girl whom I was working with in a children’s home called “The Bad Place”.
This girl spoke of being tormented by a terrifying figure, an individual I would later learn was believed to be only a myth, a nightmarish fairy-tale criminals told one another around their fires at night. To my detriment, however, I discovered that sometimes even bad dreams can come true.
When I visited The Bad Place to confront the wealthy businessman who lived there, I was met not just by him, but by his head of security, and in those terrible moments, I learned what the girl I was advocating for was so afraid of.
I barely escaped.
In the years that followed, I tried to forget I ever crossed paths with that presence, known as The Dark Man, until more than two decades later an old friend asked for my help researching a book he was writing about a series of missing children. During his interviews with friends and family of these lost kids they told him of a person the children claimed to have encountered in the days before they vanished: The Dark Man, a twisted creature who struck fear into all who saw him.
And with a sense of terror, I knew he had returned.
Refusing to help and advising my friend to walk away, I tried to bury my fear once more, but it would not remain interred. A few months after walking away from my friend, a mother approached me, begging me to find her son, who disappeared from a children’s home when he was only 5 years old. The police told her the boy had been sold on, illegally adopted by a family in the United States.
Thinking this should be a simple task, as even illegal adoptions leave a trail, I began to make inquiries, only to find the clues led me back to that shadowy figure yet again. And I knew it was time to face my demons.
Stories From the Margins: The Bad Place is about redemption, about how shame and guilt can weigh us down for so long, we become accustomed to their presence to the point we almost forget they are there at all. Writing about my experiences has often given me pause, forced me to re-examine the paths I have taken, the choices I have made, the good – and sometimes the bad – I have done along the way.
I felt that by running away, I had let that girl down. It took me more than two decades, but in the end, I stood my ground.
I’m glad to report the story ends with a poetic kind of justice. It would be disingenuous to suggest everything is wrapped up with a neat bow, but I look my personal demons in the eye, and I find a sort of peace in that. Sometimes, that’s as much as anyone can hope for.
(c) Shane Dunphy
About Stories From the Margins: The Bad Place
The house was like something out of a Jane Austen novel, but the truth of what lay in the shadows was more terrifying than any fictional imagining.
Shane Dunphy recalls the experience of his darkest nightmares: a young girl describing missing children as playthings at house parties, but no one was listening; a malevolent, threatening presence looming in the residence they called the Bad Place, and Shane was forced to flee.
And now, 20 years later, a mother pleads with him to find her son who vanished at age five.
Determined to redress his mistakes, Shane doggedly investigates and begins to uncover a vast international child-trafficking ring that goes to the very top of the establishment.
And behind it all there’s the Dark Man, a hideous exile from humanity who has decided Shane needs to be taught a final lesson. Recounting cases of historical child disappearances, unsolved abductions, collusion with the Catholic church and its culture of secrets, lies and cover up, Shane Dunphy builds a picture of a complex web of organised criminality.
And, in a powerful story of personal redemption, Shane attempts to confront his demons and bring the notorious ringleader to justice.
Order your copy online here.