I was in the bar at Elstree Film Studios last week, which can feel a little like swimming in the recently dangerous waters off Sharm-el-Sheikh, surrounded by sharks circling for prey – though, in the current economic climate, the dead eyes are more desperate that deadly (unless, one presumes, you go into business with them).
Fortunately, though, I was there for a drink with the extremely amiable and apparently totally indefatigable criminal-turned-author Jason Cook (not to be confused with the amiable and I’m sure equally indefatigable comedian Jason Cook).
The first Jason Cook’s film company moves into production offices at Elstree Studios today.
He is one of those interesting people who are a just joy to meet, although I suspect living his life was considerably less enjoyable than sitting back and hearing about it. He is a dyslexic ex-con, who was smoking and selling hash from his bedroom when he was 12. By the time he was 16, he had moved on to ecstasy and became involved with local gangsters. He carried knives and guns, took steroids and worked out at the gym to build himself up. By 17, he was helping alleged gangsters collect debts – related to money-lending, drugs, anything.
Eventually, by now addicted to cocaine, Jason was given a seven and a half year prison sentence, of which he served two years, nine months. During this stretch in one of Her Majesty’s finer residential establishments, he joined the education programme and volunteered for a ‘drug-free wing’, where he was given help and support to kick his habit.
As part of the rehabilitation programme he was encouraged to start writing about his experiences and this inspired him to write his first partly autobiographical book, There’s No Room for Jugglers in my Circus (2006). This was followed by The Gangster’s Runner (2009) and the upcoming A Nice Little Earner ( to be published in 2011).
It’s a rare thing to find an optimistic story about a hard working indefatigable person who has overcome the odds and could succeed because of sheer personal determination.
Jason’s first two novels are being used by local community ‘drug awareness’ groups; he does an impressively heavy schedule of book signings in Waterstones etc etc; and he is trying to raise finance for the first of a movie trilogy based on his books – thus the move into Elstree Studios today.
But one of the strangest things he told me is that his definitely – indeed, definitively – ‘hard man’ books are mostly bought by women. Neither he nor I understand why as, from all the above, you can tell they appear to be resolutely “lads” books about “the Chaps”. One theory Jason has is that his books are being bought by women as presents for their men; the only other possibility would seem to be that women are somehow moving from ‘chick-lit’ to tougher books.
Perhaps they, like Mae West, believe that “a hard man is good to find”.
PS If you have couple of million pounds to invest, Jason Cook is your man. That’s the author/producer not the stand-up comedian, though I’m sure that other Jason Cook wouldn’t turn it down either.