Friday, 6 April 2012

Bourne Free Revisited

I recently found a copy of this magazine I was featured in eleven years ago today. Bourne Free was a freebie magazine that was distributed throughout Sussex - and was even available at places like Tescos, Asdas and Sainsburys. It was more like picking up a copy of Vogue than a giveaway magazine as it had the same sort of glossiness, binding and features! The April 2001 issue was the one for which I did an exclusive interview and a photo shoot at a local art house cinema! It was a very exciting project for me at the time, and produced one of my favourite author photos, which to this day remains very Hollywood and iconic looking!

Everyone at some point in their life has talked about their battle against the system, the struggle to realise ambitions in an unforgiving society. Anyone with a creative bone in their body will know exactly what I am talking about, and will easily be able to relate to the travails of this month’s interviewee, biographer Nigel Goodall.

For despite a ten year writing career which as included music biographies of such alumni as Cliff Richard, Elton John, The Rolling Stones and Queen, and more latterly, unauthorised biographies of Winona Ryder (for whom he retains a deep seated sense of admiration), Johnny Depp and Demi Moore, Nigel is scarcely living the life that many might reasonably assume.

Not that I needed to be told but, Nigel, a former graphic designer, is quick to point out the perils of a career in writing. ‘It’s a very frustrating profession and it can be a very lonely one because once you write a biography about someone they become your life for six months to a year. I remember when I was talking to the literary editor of the Daily Mail about doing a serialisation of Winona and being told basically that my book was too nice. She also reiterated that publishing was a totally miserable profession. You work twice as hard for half the money.’

That may be the case but his unceasing dedication to his profession has had many happy moments. The highlights of his career have been his nomination for The Samuel Johnson Prize for Non- Fiction two years ago with the Winona Ryder biography (Anthony Beevor won the prize with Stalingrad) and the contribution of his Johnny and Winona Page to the Johnny Depp website for which he won critical acclaim. He also takes a great deal of pride in receiving praise for helping to raise public awareness of the American Indian College Fund for whom Winona Ryder herself is a representative on the Board of Trustees.

It’s now I realise that here is a man who is clearly driven by a passion to write, regardless of his humble existence and his continued battle of wits with publishers. A great example of this comes in the shape of a libel report, Nigel received from lawyers acting on behalf of Blake Publishing prior to the publication of the Winona biography – as he recalls with some amusement. ‘In a story she told to a journalist, Winona said that, as a child, she had been arrested for allegedly stealing a comic from a shop. She was put under citizen’s arrest because she was basically one of the hippy kids on the block. She was handcuffed, thrown into the back of a police car and taken home to her parents who tried to beat up the cops. Unfortunately we had to drop this from the text, because the libel reading actually said: "It is illegal to beat up the cops."

‘Simarly following the emotional time towards the end of her relationship with Johnny Depp Winona was quoted as saying: "I tried be an alcoholic for two weeks." On this occasion the libel reading came back saying that the statement was defamatory to alcoholics!’

This must prove immensely frustrating I put to him, the continued drain of effectively seeing the most interesting snippets of information being left on the dressing room floor. ‘Without a doubt, but it’s not worth trying to argue with publishers. They are the people with the power. I think it’s a great shame though because I try to avoid writing what I would call a book with the sleaze factor. My books tend to be far more affectionate.

‘It always amazes me that some of the books which are serialised and sensationalised like Andrew Morton’s Posh & Becks get away with so much which, although I am sure he has done his research, and that what he says is accurate, still leads me to feel that if I had done the same, the publisher would say: "Nigel, you have to cut that out."’

Ironically almost, it was the sleaze factor of journalism which denied Nigel the opportunity of making his biography of Johnny Depp authorised. ‘We were very close to getting the co-operation of Johnny Depp or so I was told. His publicist asked us to hold off for a year and we agreed to do that, but then he got arrested in London for the legendary incident where, having been harassed by the paparazzi, he chased them down Mayfair with a large plank of wood.’

Marvellous stuff, unless of course, you were intending to write a biography on the accused and could well have done with his trust in the media. Nevertheless, Nigel, despite countless rebuffs, remains remarkably upbeat about the future and still pledges to keep writing. ‘Being asked to be the subject for a main feature in your magazine, as well as being invited to introduce Winona’s Girl, Interrupted at the Hailsham Pavilion last year, shows that, my work has been appreciated. I heard that 85% of people in employment hate their jobs. What sort of situation must that be? I am one of the lucky few who love the job that I do. The money side of things is a problem in that I have very little of it, but writing is what drives me.’

I asked Nigel for his advice to wannabe writers contemplating entering this potentail minefield as a career. ‘Don’t let your talent go to waste, and if you feel you’re creative enough to make it work for you as a living just do it.’ It is very difficult, to describe with words alone just how it feels when you find that passion for something but when it happens, you do everything within your powers to keep the dream alive. Nigel Goodall would appear to be a long way from relinquihsing the drive for his passion just yet.

Interview by Chris Gibbs. Photography by Guy Buckland.

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