Interview with Paul Ferris
The Boy in the Shed is a story of a life less than ordinary. Born in Ireland in 1965, Ferris and his family faced the violence and unpredictability of life as a Catholic minority in a Protestant community. At 16 he became the youngest ever player for Newcastle United’s first team, a career cut short by a knee injury. In this heartbreaking tale the tragedy is balanced with the triumph of defying the odds, the love of childhood sweethearts and Curly Wurlys.
Writing an autobiography can be a huge undertaking. What was it that motivated you to write The Boy on the Shed and at this specific point in time?
It was very simple really. I suffered an unexpected heat attack aged 48. That tends the focus the mind somewhat! It was just one of those ‘stop the clocks’ moments in life where everything changes in that instant. I wrote the memoir really so that my children and their children would have a greater understanding of who their parents and grandparents were. I realised how hard it was to get published, so I really didn’t write it for anyone else but my family.
A lot of the people mentioned in your book are well known figures in Newcastle and the UK. When writing, was there a conscious thought about how you were portraying them, knowing that you were not forming new fictional characters but shaping ones very much in the public eye already?
Very much so. I didn’t set out to write a book about football or famous individuals I’d met in my 18 years working within it. I hope that comes across in the writing. It was unavoidable that I would have to write about well-known figures. When doing so, I tried very hard to just give an accurate reflection of my life at that time and my interactions with the individuals I met. I didn’t ever want the book to come across as anything other than an honest account of my life and experiences.
During your studies, writing will have no doubt been second nature for you. But with regards to your own writing, personal as opposed to academic, has that always been a part of your life? Was writing ever something you found yourself doing in times of need or celebration?
Writing for pleasure is something I’ve come across quite late in life. I wrote a novel An Irish Heartbeat a little while ago now. It just felt like something I needed to do. I was a little taken aback by how much I enjoyed the whole process. I could lose myself for hours in the writing. The sense of achievement when I was doing it and when it was complete meant that I knew I would have to do it again. I find great comfort in writing and only wish I had realised that a little earlier in my life. But regardless, I’m really glad it is a part of my life now.
After such a heart-breaking exit from a promising football career, what was it that motivated you not only to work in the football world again but also at the same club you had played for, Newcastle United?
After I left I thought I would never go back into football. My experience had been so painful. I intended to work in the NHS. That’s what I did for a short period after graduating as a Physiotherapist. Then from nowhere, and having had no contact with the football club for several years, I was offered the opportunity to have an interview at the club again. After that interview it was clear to me that I very much wanted to go back. Perhaps just to prove myself there in some capacity.
Now that your story is out there and being received so well, do you think you will turn your hand to fiction? Or is there perhaps a The Boy on the Shed 2: Previously unseen footage on the horizon?
I was diagnosed with Prostate Cancer between writing the manuscript of The Boy on the Shed and Hodder and Stoughton publishing it. There is another story in that journey I think?
A production company has taken the film rights option for An Irish Heartbeat the work of fiction that I wrote. That has encouraged me greatly.
I have a couple of what I think are very strong fictional stories floating around in my head. I will undoubtedly write further. I almost feel a bit compelled to do it. Whether anyone reads or likes what I chose to write is another matter and out of my control. It has been one of the great joys in my life to see The Boy on the Shed come to life. For it to have been so well received has been an added bonus.