The making of Pass and Move: part 2

Cod Almighty | Article

by Paul Thundercliffe

20 April 2014

In part 1 of The making of Pass and Move, novice author Paul Thundercliffe found himself ghostwriting the autobiography of his hero almost by chance. Once his sessions with Alan Buckley were under way, how did he get the book published, launched and sold?

Alan and Paul hard at work on the book

Mid-November 2012. The book, at this point entitled Bucko, was finished skeletally. My sessions with Alan, lasting at least two hours a week, had produced some fantastic copy. The outline of how it would read, as a complete book, was done. There were now two sample chapters and a synopsis, which I had been sending to publishers since early September.

The early rejections were hard to take despite my lack of publishing experience – not to mention a literary agent. I had no idea what I was doing, or of how to word submissions. I trawled the internet looking for publishers who would accept this cold-calling approach. Most of the big publishers you may have heard of simply do not take unsolicited submissions, and most won't go near a novice.

I thought carefully about the type of reader who may be interested and got in touch with the likes of Vertical Editions and Pitch Publishing. They were polite in their rejections. Some said their portfolio was full. One stated that, although an interesting project, they were perhaps a little unsure as to Buckley's relevance in the world of football today.

Undeterred, we continued to meet, to chat, and our relationship was getting stronger. Alan had grown to trust me and was very open in what he talked about. In particular his honesty about his gruffness at Town and the sacking at West Brom made me feel that if we could get a publisher then people would be able to read a really good book.

Then came the first email. DB Publishing in Derby, who had put together an Andy Ritchie biog recently, quickly followed by the History Press, based in Gloucester. I cannot tell you what a fillip this gave us both. The fact that there was interest, the fact that this idea, concept – two blokes chatting every week over a cup of tea – was actually going to be made into a book gave us a boost and the manuscript a real purpose.

I wasn't prepared to put all this work and effort in just to get a paperback

And then you read the small print of these offers. First, the deal was for paperback only, which I wasn't happy about. In my mind the Alan Buckley book was always going to be a hardback – that's what people want and it would just look and feel better, like a 'real' book.

DB Publishing said that people didn't worry about format and if they were interested in the book they would buy it. But I wasn't prepared to put all this work and effort in just to get a paperback.

The second issue was the terms of the deal. Essentially you had to commit to buying a certain amount of copies up front at a set price. This was obviously more of a risk and ultimately amounted to self-publishing, which I had looked at but dismissed as being amateurish. But then came Troubadour, a small company from Leicester. Essentially they would create whatever we desired, market it, and get it on the internet – all for a fee.

The numbers meant that it was only really worth doing if we got 2,000 copies. So in early 2013, with the book close to being finished, we signed the deal that would put 2,000 books in my garage, unless we sold them. We set about making the book into something really special, a piece of work that people would want and that Alan could be proud of.

Perfect title

Bucko had become Pass and Move thanks to John Tondeur's intervention. It was a perfect title, epitomising not only Alan's style of play but a lot of what was in the book: his time at Walsall and the dark days of successive sackings.

By this time, ten months in, we were getting the meat on the bones, the detail on each of the chapters. Again, Alan's memory came to the fore as he remembered small details and conversations that added real depth to the stories. This made the process easier as the book was essentially written.

I would rewrite chapters, Alan would read them and change some aspects, and then John would also read through and feed back. It was a fairly fluid process and the book was in its last stages when the litmus test was taken.

With one chapter left to be written, Alan's wife read the manuscript. I was probably more nervous at this stage than at any other

Amanda, Alan's wife through his entire footballing career, had been on the periphery of the project, showing an interest, sometimes backing up Alan's facts, but mostly taking a back seat. With one chapter left to write, she read the manuscript.

I was probably more nervous at this stage than at any other. Ultimately I was writing the book as if I were Alan. If his wife of over 40 years didn't think the book sounded like him it was going to be a bit of a problem.

Rather fantastically, Amanda loved the book and was almost convinced Alan himself had written it. This was (and still is) the best compliment that anyone who has read the book could possibly give me.

With the book almost finished it was time to create that final, difficult chapter. Because it was a chronological story, the last few chapters discussed darker days for Alan. Indeed, one of the abiding memories of his electric Mariners Trust event was that it ended on a downer, with him talking about the sacking of 2008 rather than, say, the Wembley season ten years earlier.

I wanted the final words to be about my greatest discovery: Alan's honesty and humility. He pulled no punches about his life and career (only when I really pressed him about his son Adam did he draw a line). I felt that I wanted the book's conclusion to reflect that. It would hopefully leave the reader more satisfied and totally understanding this guy who had done so well, or otherwise, at their football clubs.

No going back

April 2013, a year on from that initial, palm-sweatingly difficult meeting, the book was finished. Nigel Lowther, who had spent many an hour in Alan's company in the 90s and who wrote John Cockerill's Sports Telegraph column, re-read the whole book, editing out mistakes and giving it a spring clean. Once that was done and I had signed a piece of paper saying it was finished, the book, in May, went to the publishers. Ready for printing. There was literally no going back.

By his own admission, Alan is not much of a night owl and certainly not a drinker. One Saturday evening in May he made an exception to meet me, Nigel, John Tondeur and my old friend Christian, as we planned how we were going to sell 2,000 copies of the book.

We had already arranged a night with the Mariners Trust. But Christian and I felt a big Saturday launch event – black tie and all the trimmings – would be a better way not to sell the book but to build awareness, and to create an occasion that would mark the achievements of GTFCs greatest boss.

John and Nigel were against it, Alan more ambivalent. In fact he had got to the point where he trusted us with every decision we wanted to make. His only concern at this point was that he didn't want the book sold short. He felt it was a decent product and one that deserved to be championed accordingly. We heavily pencilled in a gala launch event.

I had spent 18 months in the company of a hero and at the end of it was the book. We had passed and moved

We wanted a Walsall launch night too but despite a positive meeting at the Bescot, the club pulled out of a planned 'Evening With' event. This was a serious blow to our chances of getting the book into a crucial market but, undeterred, we ploughed on. Through writing the book I had established a few contacts in the midlands, in particular Dave Evans and Steve Davies. Massive fans of Buckley as a prolific goalscorer and great manager, they were only too pleased to assist their hero and a book signing was arranged for the autumn.

So, 2,000 books, three launch events. Could we make Pass and Move the successful book we dared dream of?

As the planning of these events took over, so did finishing off the book. I had spent a wonderful evening going through Alan's scrapbooks to find some photos. Once these were narrowed down and acknowledgements written, we were almost set to go. It was a strange process at this point because our weekly meetings had finished. There was a bit of a gap that was occasionally filled by showing Alan a design of the front cover or making sure he was free for certain events, but the intensity had gone.

Alan felt at this point that he hadn't really done much, just sit and chat, but I pointed out that his hard work was still to come. Any book signings or events that we did would need Alan on fine form. As we signed off the whole thing and the printing presses rolled, it was his turn to step up.

On 19 September a lorry turned up at my place of work with a delivery of 76 boxes on two massive pallets. It was a moment I had been waiting for and dreading in equal measure. The boxes were safely stored away and I took a breath. Any mistakes, any extra punctuation, any wrong captions would all be here multiplied by 1,500 (the publishers had the other 500 to sell to shops).

The rush I got when I held the book for the first time was amazing. Everything we had worked for, planned and re-planned had borne fruit. It looked like a book, a silly thing to say but I hope you get my drift. I had spent 18 months in the company of a hero and at the end of it was the book. We had passed and moved.

"Bloody brilliant"

My only regret was that I didn't see Alan's reaction when he got his copy. Unannounced, I had gone round with his book, but he wasn't in so I posted it. The message I received later that evening was one to cherish as he stated, almost astounded, that it looked "absolutely bloody brilliant".

In fact most of the early reaction was the same. John and Christian were delighted to get theirs, an emotional Nigel Lowther as pleased as Punch, and my brother's review after reading it all in half a day pretty special. There was still a job to be done but we had done something really great and whatever happened now to those 2,000 copies, nobody could take that away from us.

We designed a basic website and got a Twitter account, which quoted bits from the book. This was initially uplifting but the account was soon hijacked by some West Brom fans who didn't take too fondly to Alan back in the mid-1990s. I found this hard at first but the fact that the book didn't hide from the truth at the Hawthorns, that Alan says he made mistakes, helped me deal with the barbed comments. I think in the end we managed to convince a few Baggies to buy it.

We serialised in the press and on one day in October featured in the Grimsby Telegraph, Cleethorpes Chronicle, Birmingham Mail and the Express & Star. Alan also appeared on Calendar and on Dave Burns's morning show on Radio Humberside as momentum built and people were ready for it.

At Walsall they absolutely worship him. These characters with Buckley tattoos were crying as they met him

The launch night was incredible. Raising money for the Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research charity added to the occasion, but the sight of so many people dressed to the nines and the standing ovation Alan received will live long in the memory. Although meticulously planned, nothing could prepare me for the sight of Paul Groves when he entered the room that night. We had no idea he was coming from Poole especially for the launch and it certainly made Alan's evening.

Six days later and the trust launch was just as successful. The next day we travelled to Walsall and the supporters club for the book signing. Alan is obviously held in high esteem by most Town fans – but at Walsall? They absolutely worship him. These characters who queued and had Buckley tattoos and loads of cuttings were not Walsall fans: they were Alan Buckley fans. Some were crying as they met their absolute hero during a three-hour signing around a match.

The Saddlers won 2-1 over Stevenage that day. The game wasn't a classic but it was fast and skilful, a stark reminder of how far Town had fallen, with our stodgy, unimaginative approach to targeting promotion. Alan was the guest of honour and got his third ovation of the week on the pitch at half time.

It was a remarkable week, and within two months we had sold every single copy. The reaction was nothing short of sensational, with book signings at the GTFC club shop and Waterstones and a lot of online sales. Alan made sure he had a word for anybody who bought the book, signing with any message they wanted.

The reviews have all been good, which has made the whole experience even better. I knew the content was there. I knew the fans were there to buy it. But from a purely personal point of view I wanted it to read well, to be enjoyed and discussed. I think it has been. (Thank you if you have bought it and enjoyed it.)

Although I wrote every one of the 83,752 words and read and re-read every chapter, I still haven't read the book. For one, I don't want to see any mistakes – of which I know there are a couple. For another, I don't want to read it and think I should have written that or added that.

But the main reason is that if I read it, that will mean the whole thing is over, finished, and I don't want that. Silly, I know. But the past two years have been amazing. I've written a book and befriended a hero and I don't want that story to end. I want it to last forever.