Ten years tending to a prison full of hard-core criminals turned out to be ideal inspiration for a first novel.
Under the pseudonym NE Shawson, the former prison guard said he had built on a decade of work in the Northern Ireland Prison Service.
The result is Time Served, a gritty debut novel that takes place within the granite walls of HMP Crumlin and follows the troubled life of prison officer central character John Patterson.
There is the inevitable interaction with paramilitary figures, but the author insists that the characters are entirely fictional.
“Of course the story is based on my experiences,” he said, “but no one should worry, the characters were built entirely in my head!”
And he revealed that the book already had the seal of approval from internationally renowned suspense / thriller writer Dean Koontz.
“I wrote to her to describe the plot and was surprised to get a response.
“He said the book could have been set in China, Mexico or elsewhere and encouraged me to do so. Who knows, if he reads it, he might call Netflix for me!
Former freelance graphic designer before entering the prison administration, his passions have always been art and writing.
“Getting married and having a family meant that I had to find a regular job with a regular income, somehow I ended up in the prison administration.
“Pleasant might not be the right word, but there were many experiences that I will never forget – and a lot of laughs along the way. “
There were also threats and constant concerns for personal safety with police and prison officers constantly in the crosshairs of paramilitary organizations.
“Fortunately, I made it out.
“When I worked in prison, I treated everyone the same, whether they were terrorists or sex offenders.
“I was working in the A and C wings which housed the paramilitaries, I know some officers would give sex offenders a hard time, but as far as I’m concerned I was there to do a job, what they were there for. were not looking at me.
“I think it made life easier. There was a lot of provocation but I tried not to react.
After leaving the prison administration, he worked with underprivileged young people and embarked on another unlikely career as a cartoonist, his work appearing in the pages of several newspapers, including the Sunday World.
But all the while, the germ of a new idea was bubbling in the back of his head.
“I had lots of stories and experiences that I wanted to share in a fictional way, so I finally started writing.”
Having previously been involved with a group of screenwriters and written a number of screenplays, one caught the attention of the BBC and another was shown at the Cork Film Festival.
“Patterson has a lot to do (in the book) and he makes a lot of mistakes, but I think the reader will stick with him even if he does bad things.
“I don’t want to give away the plot, but there is a twist to the plot that I’m reliably told by those who read it, that you don’t see coming.”
At a time when police dramas unfolding in Northern Ireland continue to grab the headlines, he is keen to distinguish between The Fall, Line of Duty and Bloodlands.
“It’s centered around a prison guard to begin with, so I don’t see any direct parallels, and I hope readers will agree.”
He is already well into his second novel, a revenge story set in the Amazon jungle, and he is preparing his third episode in London.
“It had to be the first, it’s been alive in my head for so long I had to put it on paper.”
Self-published, he admits that the production of the book encountered technical formatting difficulties, which resulted in some people receiving less than perfect copies.
“I can only apologize, but everything has been ironed out.”
The books can be purchased on Amazon and are available on Kindle.