From Fact to Fiction with a Very Real Backdrop; A New Saga of Working Class Life Was Launched Last Night in Northumberland, as David Whetstone Reports

Article excerpt

Byline: David Whetstone

HAVING mined the broad seam of his eventful life for a three-part autobiography, Corbridge writer and former prison officer Robert Douglas has turned to fiction.

Robert - Bob to his many friends - reminds us that his writing career began with an article The Journal published in its old Into Print supplement in the 1990s.

Then, having been encouraged by his tutor on a Workers' Educational Association writing course in Hexham, came book number one, Night Song of the Last Tram, recalling his working class childhood in Glasgow.

"It got me off to a good start," says Bob, who, despite having lived most of his life in England and at least the past 20 years in the North East, has never lost his Glaswegian accent. s

Trade magazine Publishing News made it their Book of the Month, as did bookseller Waterstone's; then WH Smith made it Book of the Month in Scotland. Since publication in 2005, it has sold more than 100,000 copies.

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Inevitably the publishers wanted more.

Somewhere to Lay My Head followed and then came At Her Majesty's Service, detailing Bob's years in the prison service, which first brought him to Durham.

Now, at the age of 70, he has used up his life's experiences, although he hasn't ruled out doing a Lauren Bacall.

Bob met the Hollywood legend at a publishing bash when she signed a dollar bill for him. "She wrote an autobiogrs aphy called By Myself and then later she added a bit and called it Lauren Bacall and Then Some," says Bob.

Any Bob Douglas 'and Then Some' would probably deal with the years he has spent writing, which have proved very fruitful.

For his first novel - called Whose Turn for the Stairs? - he has returned to the Glasgow of his early years after the War, when much of the population lived in tenements. He explains that each tenement "close" contained about 12 rudimentary flats with a single entry point.

Since three flats would share a single staircase, the women of the resident families would share the task of keeping the staircase scrubbed.

"Whose turn for the stairs? is a very familiar phrase in Glasgow," explains Bob. His story features the characters who occupy one tenement close - the fictional 18 Dalbeattie Street - in Maryhill, the very real Glasgow district where Bob grew up. …

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