Sportswriting can be big business, but it can also be difficult to break into the market of sports books – no matter how good your story is. That proved to be the case in writing of Dave Langan’s autobiography Running Through Walls. Here’s the story behind the story.
By Trevor Keane
Al Pacino, in character as Tony Montana, famously said in Scarface: ‘in this country, you gotta make the money first. Then when you get the money, you get the power. Then when you get the power, then you get the women’.
Writing a book is nothing near as glamorous (maybe not the right word) nor as dangerous for that matter as being an international drug dealer, but using the above as a modus operandi for a book, the order would be: ‘first you get the idea, then you get the publisher, and then you get the book’. Oh, and then you need to sell the book.
For the Dave Langan book, Running Through Walls, the idea came simply. I had spoken with Dave, a former Republic of Ireland international and regarded as one of the best full-backs in England during his pomp, for my first book, Gaffers: 50 Years of Irish Football Managers, and he had left me fascinated.
I wanted to tell his incredible story. I spoke at length, firstly via text with a friend of Dave’s, Con Meehan – an avid Irish supporter – and then I got to speak with Dave. I definitely had my reservations, but none from a story-telling perspective. Previously, Dave almost had a deal agreed with a renowned Irish author and publisher, but it fell through. So that’s where I came in.
Not an established writer – in fact I was a novice – I had battle on my hands, especially with no publisher lined up. No one in Ireland wanted the story. They didn’t think it would sell. It would be ‘a poor man’s Paul McGrath’, one publisher told me. England, therefore, appeared to be the only option, so I started looking for publishers in Derby, where Dave started his career.
Scouting a list of independent sports publishers, I eventually struck gold, or at least at the time I thought I did. The publisher was DB Publishing, the owner’s mother was a big fan of Dave and we had a deal. That was the big breakthrough that I was looking for. Idea? Check. Publisher? Check. Story? Okay, now it was time to write it.
The only problem was that Dave took time to warm up and get going about his career and his life. However, once he felt comfortable, the ugly duckling of a shy, unassuming, and unwilling to talk former international transformed into a beautiful swan that unloaded the most extraordinary tales of these adventures that made up his life.
We spent time together. I travelled to his home in Peterborough, I met his wife, we went back and forth over email and spoke over the phone. Every week there was some form of contact. At times, it was quite intense. Dave always worried, no matter what I did, what I said, and even though he trusted me, he was still a bit nervous.
How would his family in Ireland react? Would the book sell? Would people remember who he was? And, most of all, how would his children take it? A reunion with an estranged daughter proved to be the ultimate vindication of putting his feelings on paper.
Sadly though in many ways, the book reflected Dave’s career. It didn’t reach the heights it should have. Signings were a great success and a sell-out on each occasion, but getting the books onto the shelves of Irish bookstores proved to be a problem. In the end, I had to put my hand in my own pocket to get 150 books into Easons.
The difficulties continued. Six months into the release of the book, the publisher went under. Royalties, now due to Dave, would never be recouped. For me, it was never a money-making project, because I write for the love of it and to capture the stories of interesting people. With my first book, I wanted to raise money for diabetes, but with this book, it was simply doing it for Dave.
The reaction from people on social media and just general comments made me feel like I have reached a wider audience than first anticipated. But I feel that it should have done a whole lot better, sold a lot more, hell, even to have an award. The scorecard would probably read C+ – good but could have done better.
Still, Dave’s story is out there now and I’m proud of that. Players like Dave, who gave so much during their careers – for club and country – should never be forgotten and I hope that he never is.