The Fighter and the Writer: The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee
‘A book?’ the passive-aggressive voice on the other end of the phone answers me incredulously. ‘Listen, I’ve been beaten with baseball bats, I’ve had my throat slashed, I’ve been kidnapped and I’ve been exiled out of the country. My family’s been held captive in our home as well. I’ve been shot twice, I’ve been in prison and my son’s just been stabbed to death. Amongst all that, I was the welterweight champion of the world while drinking the bar dry and doing enough coke to kill a small horse every night. My life’s not a book. It’s a f***ing movie script.’
The blurb on the back of my book, The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee, is a direct quote from the man himself. Beyond a gruff Hello, they were the very first words Eamonn ever spoke to me and they confirmed what I had long expected – that telling Magee’s story would be a journey I would never forget.
Our first meeting was, fittingly, in a bar. Eamonn is an alcoholic and that fact would shape the entire process of writing his book. That first conversation only lasted a couple of ours but soon I was spending entire days with Eamonn, his family and his limited but close circle of friends as I worked to gain his trust. Without that there would have been no point continuing.
On one occasion I let the day end too late. As the amount of alcohol in Eamonn’s bloodstream rises, so too do his levels of paranoia. It was an intimidating scene to be a player in and from that night on I managed our sessions more carefully.
Eamonn’s life is one of extremes, the highs and lows far more pronounced than the averaged human being will ever experience. Simply listening was emotionally draining. I can’t imagine the toll it took on Eamonn but his tear-reddened eyes at the end of each day told their own story.
Commercial success was never a goal of mine. I write about sports in an era of click bait and sensationalist headlines so a subject like Eamonn Magee is not the type of subject to target if driven by financial gain.
But I did expect interest from publishers, nevertheless. The story is exceptional and people whose opinion I trust and value assured me I had handled and presented it well. I didn’t anticipate a large advance but I was hopeful someone would take a chance on us.
Instead, the rejections rolled in with alarming frequency and consistency. It was truly disheartening but I never considered not completing the book. Even if the end result was simply printing it off and handing it to Eamonn and no one else, I was going to write the book.
Only one rejection letter was critical. The author was too close to the subject, it suggested. The other thirteen were extremely complimentary. An incredible story brilliantly told, they said. Three or four went as far as to say they expected to see us on the William Hill Sports Book of the Year shortlist in November, before concluding that the project just wasn’t for them. I found such sentiments a bizarre and sad indictment of the publishing industry today, but they were at least a suggestion that critical, if not commercial, success was a real possibility.
I don’t think any author genuinely expects to win awards like the William Hill as they are writing a book. As a writer you are tormented by the perceived flaws in your work. There are doubts on each page. You’re hyper critical. There are regular moments of internal cringing as you fear that what you’ve produced has no merit, either commercial or critical, whatsoever.
Those doubts lingered right up until the moment I found myself sat in the front row of the auditorium in BAFTA, glancing across at the other 6 authors who I was convinced are immeasurably superior to myself, awaiting the announcement of the winner.
Eamonn cried when we won. Over a beer I later asked him if it had sunk in.
“What do you mean?” he fired back.
“The award”, I said. “Are you not surprised we’ve ended up here?”
“No,” he said firmly. “I knew we’d win”.
I guess that’s the difference in mindset between a fighter and a writer.
(c) Paul D. Gibson
Paul D. Gibson is a journalist whose work appears regularly in ‘The Guardian’, ‘The Belfast Telegraph’ and ‘Boxing Monthly’, amongst many others. His first book, an autobiography of the UFC fighter Dan Hardy, was released in March 2017. Eamonn Magee grew up in the Ardoyne area of Belfast and is a former professional boxer. He held the Commonwealth light-welterweight title twice, and challenged for the European light-welterweight and British welterweight titles. He is a veteran of the Irish and European professional fight scenes and fought out of the Breen Gym in Belfast, where he now works as an assistant trainer to John Breen.
About The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee:
WILLIAM HILL SPORTS BOOK OF THE YEAR & EIR SPORTS BOOK OF THE YEAR 2018
Eamonn Magee is widely regarded as one of the most gifted fighters to ever emerge from Ireland. Yet, despite becoming a world champion in 2003, such was his genius it will always be considered a career unfulfilled. Women, drink, drugs, gambling, depression and brushes with the law all took Eamonn away from his craft. Then there was the violence: a throat slashed, an IRA bullet in the calf, a savage, leg-shattering beating. Wherever Eamonn went, trouble was never too far behind. Upon his retirement, Eamonn turned his attention to training and oversaw the rise of his son s boxing career. However, the prospect of a Magee dynasty was cruelly halted in 2015 when Eamonn Jnr was brutally stabbed to death in West Belfast in a premeditated attack. The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee is a uniquely intimate telling of a barely believable life story. It is a compelling story filled with heartache and laughter, violence and love, unthinkable lows and fleeting, glorious highs. Eamonn s is a story for which the term brutally honest might have been coined.
Order your copy online here.