“A fascinating tale compellingly told”
In his latest book, Ian Thomson undertakes a new venture, a biography.
After his death in 2008, Blackburn citizens called for a statue of the philanthropic shoe magnate, Tommy Ball, to be erected in the town centre.
In this memoir, his daughter, Patricia Price, reveals a different version of the legend to Ian Thomson, author of The Blackburn Trilogy, where the celebrated shoe magnate is revealed as a Jekyll and Hyde character.
In the Spring of 2023, Patricia Price, a fellow member of one of the excellent Facebook groups concerned with the history of Blackburn, messaged me with an intriguing idea. Pat is Tommy Ball’s daughter. She told me that she had wanted for a long time to write a history of her father’s life, but was unsure how to go about it. She had read and enjoyed my three novels set in the town. Could I help?
I was flattered, of course, but I was a bit uneasy, and felt it was only fair to say that I was really a writer of fiction, and that biography wasn’t really my bag. Did she have enough material, I asked. Oh yes, she had plenty of material, no doubt about that.
In the end, we agreed to hold a weekly FaceTime meeting, where Pat could relate her memories. I would record the sessions, and if I agreed to go ahead, I would work from the recordings.
I was fascinated from the start by what she had to tell me and thoroughly enjoyed our weekly meetings. I agreed to take on the project almost immediately. This is a life of the entrepreneur, Tommy Ball, but it is also Pat’s story.
One of the most persistent motifs of the storyteller’s art is the rags-to-riches theme. That is certainly the trajectory of Tommy Ball’s life, but it is not simply a question of stepping out of the shadows into the sunshine. There are some very dark places in the tale. There are episodes where one cannot but admire his hard work and persistence; there are incidents which might raise a smile; but there are also events that will make you cringe. Pat wants me to tell it all as she experienced it, and I have tried to be faithful to her wish.
“Insightful. Emotional. Brilliantly written”
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