Interview: Working with the Mob; Laura Davis Meets the Liverpool-Born Author Teaching Mafia Criminals How to Write

Article excerpt

Byline: Laura Davis

WRITE about what you know, the experienced author advises the novice.

Except, on this occasion, what they knew came from the darkest edges of humanity, where nightmares roam unshackled to a violent soundtrack.

Yet, believing in truth above all, the writer pressed home his point.

"If you're going to write, you have to be honest, and they're very nervous about the real truth about what they've done.

"It's known within the prison who they are, but when they meet people from outside they're very protective of their own history," reveals Michael Jacob, an ex-pat Liverpudlian who is teaching jailed Mafiosi the art of creative writing.

"We discovered that there was a group of people in the local maximum security prison and they were all writing fables for kids and we said to them, 'Look, boys, you have such a vast experience in murder, death and conspiracy, let's get serious and write some real crime stories'."

Listening to Michael's description of these "delightful characters" who are studying philosophy and law degrees in their jail cells, it is easy to imagine him teaching a prison library full of charming Robert de Niros, but don't be fooled.

These men are so dangerous that their life sentences truly mean life - one of them was convicted of 28 murders, and many of them are under a "41 bis" restriction - no contact with the outside world.

One of their short stories is about how you test a gun that you plan to use to kill somebody.

The solution is simple - shoot someone else, anyone else. Just pick a person at random and fire.

That way, you can tell whether the bullet's trajectory is straight.

"Some of them are actually very nice people and they are all very intelligent," continues Michael, 60, who grew up in Toxteth.

"There's really nothing to be frightened about because they want to impress us because they know we're professional writers. They try very hard and we get on very well with them."

This all came about when Michael and his wife, Daniella De Gregorio, 58, were invited to give a talk at the jail, near the Italian town of Spoleto where they live.

The prisoners had read the couple's first joint novel, Critique of Criminal Reason, and were big fans.

They are now holding a crime literature festival close to their home, which one of the inmates will attend, and are hoping to entice a publisher to produce a book of the Mafiosi's short stories.

Their second joint novel, Days of Atonement, has just been published and the couple - together named Michael Gregorio, as if they were one individual - will be visiting Liverpool on Tuesday, where they will be signing copies of their books at Waterstones, Bold Street, from 12. …