Thursday 14 December 2017

Paul Kimmage: 'I just felt that I wasn't asking too much of him'

'I actually managed to write a block of 20,000 words that I was really, really happy with'
'I actually managed to write a block of 20,000 words that I was really, really happy with'

On Wednesday afternoon, just after 3 o'clock, Penguin Ireland announced that it had accepted the resignation of Paul Kimmage as ghost writer of Brian O'Driscoll's autobiography. The pair had been working on the project for over two years and O'Driscoll's status as a national icon, along with Kimmage's status as a truly great writer, meant the collaboration had caught the public imagination like few others.

Within minutes of the announcement, the news was being described as a 'sensation'. In the absence of any explanation for Kimmage's resignation, questions came thick and fast on social media, and in newsrooms. This, it seems, was a big story.

A little over four hours later, Kimmage took his seat along with Neil Francis, Colm O'Rourke, Gary O'Toole and John Greene at the Sunday Independent's Off The Page event in Dundrum and told those who had gathered that he would like to make a statement on the story, a story which had began for him seven days earlier. "I'm making this statement," he said, "because a lot of you people have come out of your homes tonight and we appreciate you being here".

For the next seven minutes Kimmage talked with brutal honesty about what had happened between himself and O'Driscoll. Neil Francis, perhaps speaking for everybody, later commented that it was a great pity. This is what Kimmage said on Wednesday night . . .

* * * * *

I've just seen some of the reaction [on Twitter] to this story which seems a bit crazy.

'Really enjoyed Rough Ride but I get the impression Paul Kimmage is a nightmare to work with'

'You would have to say Kimmage is the difficult one in this relationship.'

'I'd say Kimmage couldn't get on with himself.'

Now as John [Greene] knows, and my children know, and my great friend Michael Brennan knows, that is all true. All of the above is true. I am really difficult to work with and don't claim anything otherwise.

But at this moment in time, as I sit here – and it has eased considerably in the last two days – I am enduring a lot of pain and the pain is due to what in some ways is the break-up of a relationship, similar to the break-up of a loving relationship, which is what I kind of had with Brian for the last three years. And anytime that love breaks it's never easy and it is never fun.

I've got a deep hole in myself now that's going to take a while to fill because of how this has come about and there is nothing sensational about it. It just makes me very, very sad and disappointed that this has happened.

I had made up my mind after I wrote Matt Hampson's book Engage that I was never going to write another book again, or ghost another book again. It is a very difficult process and one that I have never managed to do easily. When I take it on board I give every inch of myself, every part of my being to it. I can't just thrash it out. It has to be 100 per cent the best that I can do. And having given that to Matt Hampson – who was someone nobody ever heard off, a young England rugby player who had a catastrophic accident – I decided that after giving Matt my best shot that I really wasn't going to do it again for a variety of reasons. One [of the reasons] was because it took so much out of me it was taking away from my work as a sports writer, my work at my newspaper and I didn't think that was fair to them, or my family for that matter. So I made a decision that I wasn't going to do it again.

Unfortunately, in December 2011, I was let go by the Sunday Times and found myself in a difficult position. But within a couple of days I got a call from Brian asking me would I ghost-write his book. He was and is a great subject and it was a boost to my ego really at a time when I needed it most, so I agreed that I would do it. He had just had a serious neck operation and I suspected at that time he wasn't going to come back and I suspected that was the reason he wanted to do this book.

It was going to be a one-year project but he has remarkable powers of recovery and within two or three months it was very obvious that he was going to come back and obvious that he didn't want the book done until he retired. Now I was on board at this stage and we started working on it and he needed to step aside and take some time to be a rugby player. So I said ok, that's fine, I'll try and get on and do something else while you are doing what you've got to do to be a great player and he did and he came back and we resumed the project after two or three months and everything was going fine.

Now, he is the greatest sportsman or certainly one of the greatest sportsmen – I'd put Harrington up there with him – we've ever had. He is god, he is a sporting god and I can't express more admiration. I don't know if I admire any sportsman more in terms of his toughness and what he has given us as sports fans and it's not easy to capture god or even BOD. It's quite difficult to actually capture him and present a portrait of him that does him justice and if you offered me any excuse six months ago to get out of it I would have taken it. I would have quit then because I was overawed by how daunting a prospect it was to try and do this person justice, this great sportsman justice.

But over the six months having done, I don't know, countless hours of thinking about it, having transcribed almost 600,000 words (my son did that), having put incredible effort into it, I actually managed to write a block of 20,000 words that I was really, really happy with, happy because they were innovative, interesting and true to him, true to the person that I had met and true to the person no body else had seen. I had arranged to meet with him [last] Saturday to show him this block of what I had made of him.

I got word on Thursday night that there was a possibility that he was going to give an interview for this Sunday coming. He becomes the all-time Irish record holder; he is the most capped player – a record that will never be broken. It is a big Sunday for Brian and it would be a big Sunday for me as a newspaper writer to write about him. So I heard that there was a possibility that he might be talking to someone so I called him and I said if you are not giving any interviews to any newspaper then that is absolutely fine. If you are going to give an interview it would really help if you gave it to the Sunday Independent. They have been very generous in allowing me the time to do this and it would be a great help to me if you could do that and a great grievance to me and a bullet in my head if [an interview] were to appear anywhere else. So again the option was don't talk to anyone or talk to me and then talk to anyone you want after you have given the Sunday independent the shot at doing this interview.

It wasn't going to compromise the book in any way, nor was it going to compromise the newspaper. I was certainly going to give them value as well. That wasn't a concession that Brian could make. He said he couldn't do that, he said he was going to talk to somebody else. I felt that he was being unreasonable and he felt that I was being unreasonable and that's where we have parted ways. That's the truth of it. There is nothing sensational. I've heard all sorts of crazy stuff about this today. That I wasn't happy with him and this, that and the other, that's not it.

It's basically a decision that I needed to do this interview this weekend if he was going to do any interview and he'd made the decision that that was asking too much of him. I don't want to criticise him in any way but I just felt that I wasn't asking too much of him. We've had a disagreement and that's where we are now.

I wish him the very best with the project. He has a new ghost writer on board, I wish him the best and I wish his ghost writer the best and that is all that I have to say on the matter.

* * * * *

The truth of what happened was, in the end, a simple truth. Those who saw and heard Kimmage speak on Wednesday night understood that immediately yet still the doubts persist, especially so it seems among other journalists. The idea that a point of principle came between somebody and a project as prized as Brian O'Driscoll's autobiography appears an alien one to a lot of people. As Groucho Marx said: 'Those are my principles, and if you don't like them . . . well I have others.'

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