After rejection by 13 publishers ‘The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee’ is a winner
Paul Gibson’s book on the Belfast boxer has been named Eir Irish Sports Book of the Year
‘The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee with Paul D. Gibson was announced as the eir sport Sports Book of the Year 2018 winner. Photo: Morgan Treacy/Inpho
A book that was rejected by 13 different publishers – with many of them praising it to the hilt but passing on it nonetheless – has won the Eir Irish Sports Book of the Year award for 2018. The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee by Paul Gibson beat off competition from Fighter by Andy Lee and Niall Kelly and Tony 10 by Declan Lynch and Tony O’Reilly to take the fourth year of the awards.
The life story of Belfast boxer Eamonn Magee, the book chronicles an extraordinary life and career in the teeth of The Troubles, pockmarked by alcohol, drugs, punishment beatings and the murder of his son Eamonn Jr. It is the second major award the book has taken this year, having been the joint winner of the prestigious William Hill award in the UK a fortnight ago.
“The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee is not an easy read but it is a compelling read,” said Mark Duncan, chairman of the judging panel. “And it probably sets a new benchmark for books of this type in Ireland. Paul Gibson has done phenomenal work on this. It is a book that wears lightly the amount of work that went into it, the huge amount of effort that went into talking to the people in and around Eamonn to get clarity on events and to get different perspectives on events. And the book is all the better for it.”
Despite its obvious quality, the book has had a difficult birth. Gibson spoke afterwards of how widely it was dismissed in publishing circles before Cork publishers Mercier Press finally took a swing with it.
“It was rejected 13 times,” Gibson said. “It was as good as done before I sent it to any publisher and as the rejections came in, by the end it was the full book they were turning down. It’s depressing for the state of the publishing industry really because nobody was saying that the book was shit or that it wasn’t well-written or anything like that.
“A few said Eamonn was an unsympathetic character so it wouldn’t sell. One said I was too close to the subject and that hurt the writing, which you take on the chin. But the rest all said it was an unbelievable story, very well-written, all that stuff. Two or three put in the rejection letter that they expect to see it in shortlists next year (ie, in 2018) but even so, it’s not for us.
“I never really thought of it being an autobiography. Obviously if Eamonn was a Carl Frampton or a Tyson Fury or someone in their prime, it would make sense for it to be an autobiography. But because Eamonn’s career was so long in the past, I did think I would need to do it a bit differently to get it out there and I thought the story would be richer for it, being able to pull at different threads myself and making it a richer story than a straight autobiography.”
Magee was a collaborator on the book and opened his world up to Gibson to tell the full, unalloyed truth of his life. When Gibson gave him the manuscript, it took him three months to read it, so raw were some of the stories.
“The hardest memories to recall? There’s millions of them,” Magee said afterwards. “Which one would you like me to talk about? Guns in my mouth? Guns to my head? Kidnapped or shot in the leg or shot in the chest? Stabbed in the neck? Or coming out for Round 12? You know what I mean? There’s any amounts of it.
“It’s life. And my life had loads of good moments too. that’s the thing with The Troubles – there’s millions of really good memories. The bad times weren’t there all the time. My life was a beautiful life. I wouldn’t change a thing.”
The Lost Soul of Eamonn Magee by Paul D Gibson is published by Mercier Press.