Loving the sport 
of writing

Becoming a journalist on the way to eventually living it up in the Caribbean as a millionaire novelist was always the intention in my childhood. Well I’m a journo in the Caribbean so two out of three is not bad – but the riches I’m still working on 30 years after starting out in the United Kingdom. Ah well, there’s always the lottery.  

The only teachers I really remember with any affection from high school in west London were the English masters. English was the only subject I truly enjoyed and was exceptional at. My essays were read out regularly and being a sports nut I thought I could be a champ as a renowned reporter. I tried various sports including boxing but being small and light with zero punch resistance, soon realised that emulating Muhammad Ali as a world champ would never happen. Anyway, writing about the sweet science was far less painful with a longer career span.  

On leaving school, not convinced I had what it took to be a journalist, for some weird reason I trained in civil engineering for a few years and worked as a draughtsman, which paid well but was so tedious I took the plunge and left to be a freelance journo for scraps.  

Through working 24/7 I survived the initial years and even got highly paid commissions with national British newspapers, radio and TV. I travelled all over Europe, the Caribbean, America and Africa on assignment. Great times although often stressful and exhausting. Highlights included interviewing Muhammad Ali several times, seeing Mike Tyson fight in Las Vegas, covering the Winter Olympics in Vancouver last year, spending a few days with Barry Sanders when he first joined the Detroit Lions, attending Reggae Sunplash in Montego Bay and covering winter sports in St Moritz, Switzerland for a TV company. I’ve met some fantastic people along the way too, which is precious. 

Journalists write books more hoping to make money than through love of the process. It is a long, hard, often frustrating journey. My first one, a boxing novel, No Glove No Love, was critically acclaimed, which means most liked it but it did not sell. Sending a copy to the producer of Fight Club did not result in a zillion-dollar movie deal. Then I wrote Elite Forces Handbook of Martial Arts, which sold in several languages and is still in print but only paid a flat modest fee. No royalties. The third one, ghost writing a footballer’s life, was another critically acclaimed effort. Still broke! 

That was in 2006 when the paper I worked for in London – the Caribbean Times – folded. Jobs for print journalists are decreasing by the day as advertising revenues drop and Internet presence dominates. It was impossible to get work in London, so in desperation, I contacted many newspaper publishers in the Caribbean and eventually landed in the Cayman Islands, thanks to CFP’s publisher Brian Uzzell.  

Journalists today have to be prepared to adapt to technology and market trend. It’s mostly going online. Bad news for print hacks, but at least the emerging ebook and Kindle market is offering aspiring writers opportunities and income, which the traditional publishing route only allowed a few. Maybe that’s where I’ll make my elusive first million! 

Ron Shillingford

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