For my first ever guest blog I’m featuring the very talented author Ian Probert. His latest book Johnny Nothing has drawn considerable praise and is available to purchase on Amazon and other outlets at the links below. In addition to being an internationally successful author, Ian Probert is also a highly respected journalist. Ian’s guest blog here is divided into two parts: In the first part we read of the time he met Muhammad Ali, and his astonishment when the The Greatest quite unexpectedly kissed his then girlfriend. In Part two he moves onto a feature on his latest book Johnny Nothing…
When The Greatest kissed my girl
It was the third time I’d met him. Well, that’s not strictly true. In reality I’d only met him once before. Met, in the sense of shaking his hand and getting introduced to him. Met, in the sense that he’d spoken to me and I’d actually sat at the dinner table and eaten with him (with a lot of other journalists it has to be said). The second time didn’t really count as a ‘meet’. On that occasion I’d queued at Sports Pages in London along with hundreds of other people hoping to bask in his presence. But then basking in the presence of Muhammad Ali – once the most famous person on planet Earth and arguably the finest boxer ever to lace up the gloves – was usually more than most people could ever hope for.
The year was 1994 and I was standing in the queue outside the Whiteley’s branch of Waterstones waiting for that third meeting. Beside me was my then partner, a good-looking French lawyer named Julie. Behind me was Hugh McIlvaney, the great Scottish sportswriter who had been there to report on some of Ali’s greatest triumphs, not least of which his victory over George Foreman in Zaire in 1974. McIlvaney, despite a career spent travelling the world and meeting and writing about some of sport’s greatest icons, was happy to wait his turn alongside Ali’s fans.
It must have been Ali’s 10-millionth book signing and he was having trouble drumming up any enthusiasm for the occasion. More than that he looked ill. He was hunched over a desk in the middle of the shop, scrawling signature after signature while admirers attempted to catch his attention. ‘You’re the greatest fighter that ever lived,’ most of them said in so many words, and Ali would move his head slowly toward them and nod weakly in agreement. Speech for him seemed impossible. The thousands of punches that Ali took in his career had turned boxing’s finest exponent into its most tragic indictment.
Holding Julie’s hand, the front of the queue grew closer and I found myself not looking forward to what was about to happen. After all, what was to be gained? The Ali whom I loved was the person on TV who danced the shuffle and seemed to defy any logic as he charmed his way through a quite dazzling boxing career. The person sitting before me wasn’t really Ali. He was someone else. He bore no resemblance to the beautiful man who once cradled the planet in his hands.
Now it was our turn. The two of us approached the table nervously. Neither one of really wanted to shove the book we had just bought in front of the great man. But we did. We did because there was nothing else to do. Ali signed his name and passed the book to us. Then – and I don’t really know why I did this – I asked if I could take a picture of him with Julie. Ali looked tired and I immediately felt guilty about asking the question.
Then something remarkable happened.
Ali slowly rose to his feet. It was painful to observe as the former champion straightened his body and shuffled toward us. Except this was no Ali Shuffle. It was the painful gait of an old man. A large part of me was desperate to look away. Before I could do so, however, Ali climbed on to his toes. Unbelievably, he began to skip and as he did so the years slipped away from him like autumn leaves in the breeze. He threw a few punches into the air and all at once he was the young Cassius Clay, the man who shocked the world by beating Sonny Liston; the man who took on and defeated the parole board.
As we stood there open mouthed, Ali seized the moment and moved over to Julie. Suddenly his arms were around her and he was kissing her. And the kiss was not a peck. The kiss lasted far longer than it should have done. But I was not disturbed by the sight of another man kissing my girlfriend. I was too busy photographing that very long moment.
And then it was over and Ali was back slumped into his seat. Suddenly forty years older. And Julie was looking back at me in shock, her face drained of blood, her lungs of air. My girlfriend had just been passionately kissed by Muhammad Ali! It was only when we got home that Julie confessed that she hadn’t a clue who Muhammad Ali was.
“Great new kids book alert! My two are in hysterics reading Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert (and I am too).” Jane Bruton, Editor of Grazia
“Oh, Wow! Dark, sordid, grotesque and hilarious are only a few words I can conjure up to describe this hilarious book.” Lizzie Baldwin, mylittlebookblog
Critics are comparing Ian Probert to Roald Dahl. And Johnny Nothing we have a modern successor to Charlie And The Chocolate Factory.
Johnny Nothing is best-selling author Ian Probert’s first ever children’s book – although adults are enjoying it too. The story of the poorest boy in the world and the nastiest mother in the universe, the book is earning rave reviews. Children and grown-ups are all laughing at this incredibly funny kids book.
Take a look for yourself:
To celebrate the paperback launch of Johnny Nothing we are offering a free Kindle copy of the book to the first 100 people who Tweet the following message:
@truth42 I’m reading Johnny Nothing by Ian Probert. http://geni.us/3oR8 #YA #Kindle #kidsbooks
The first ten readers who answer the following question will also receive a signed print of one of the book’s illustrations.
Q: What is the tattoo on Ben’s arm?
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Twitter @truth42 https://twitter.com/truth42
Ian Probert has been scribbling down words ever since he learned to spell the phrase: ‘Once upon a time…’. He is the author of Internet Spy, Rope Burns and a bunch of other titles. Internet Spy was a bestseller in the US and made into a TV film. Rope Burns is a book about why books shouldn’t be written about boxing. Ian has also written things for a shed load of newspapers and magazines. When Ian was a student he used to write lots of letters to the bank manager.
Bill had a shaven head and was wearing a blue tracksuit. He was almost seven feet tall and built like an outdoor toilet made of brick. Bill didn’t realise this but he was a distant descendent of Neanderthal Man. He had only one eyebrow – one long bushy eyebrow that reached right across his forehead. He looked like what you might get if you force fed a member of Oasis with a half-tonne black plastic sackful of steroids.
And if you were brave enough to be present when he took off his tracksuit you would discover that his back was so covered in hair that he was able part it with a comb. If Bill had had more of an interest in fashion, he might even have considered giving it a curly perm and perhaps a few extensions
On his right arm, Bill had a tattoo which simply read ‘Bill’. This was in case he woke up one morning and forgot who he was. This was actually less unlikely than you might imagine because standing next to him was his twin brother. His name was Ben and he was identical to Bill in every way except that the tattoo on his arm read ‘Bin’ (the tattooist was either South African or not a very good speller). He was wearing a red tracksuit.
Bill gave Mr. and Mrs. MacKenzie the tiniest of smiles and managed to grunt ‘hello’. Ben gave the couple exactly the same tiniest of smiles and also managed to grunt ‘hello’.
The two men were standing protectively close to Johnny. They were so large that in the confines of Johnny’s bedroom they looked like giants, which they were. They were so enormous that each of them had their own postcode. They were so gigantic that they had their passport photos taken by satellite. They were so humungous that you could spend all day thinking up rubbishy jokes about how big they were and never adequately describe just how indescribably, earth-shatteringly ENORMOUS they were. By no stretch of the imagination could you call them small (unless, of course, you were a lot bigger than them).
The pair of Goliaths were having to stoop slightly so as to avoid head-butting the ceiling, which actually even looked a little scared itself. They were a terrifying sight. Even scarier than a school trip to a Weight-Watcher’s nudist camp.
There was a long, pregnant silence in the room like this:
This eventually gave birth to an even longer post-natal silence, which, in the interest of preserving the rain forests or the battery on your Kindle, I shan’t demonstrate.
The four grown-ups eyed each other nervously. Bill and Ben looked at the Mackenzies like they were looking at insects that could be squashed into pulpy insect juice any time they so desired.
The Mackenzies looked at Bill and Ben like they were looking at two giant skinhead Neanderthal bully boys who had just appeared from nowhere in their recently and unexpectedly decorated council flat.
Johnny looked a little scared.
Finally Billy Mackenzie managed to get his mouth working a little and spluttered: ‘Who are you?’ And then: ‘What do you want?’
There was another long silence – let’s call it a pause – while Bill and Ben looked at each other as if trying to decide who was going to answer. Finally Bill spoke: ‘You the boy’s parents?’ he demanded in a voice that sounded like an angry rhino with horn-ache. Although if he was clever enough he would have realised that this was a rhetorical question.
There was yet another long silence (you’ll be relieved to hear that this is the last silence you’re going to get in this chapter) before Billy Mackenzie mumbled ‘Yes’.
‘We’re Johnny’s bodyguards,’ continued Bill. ‘We’re here to make sure that everything’s hunky dory.’
‘Hunky dory?’ Mrs. Mackenzie suddenly found her voice. ‘What do you mean ‘hunky dory”?’
Now Ben spoke: ‘What my brother means to say,’ he explained. ‘Is that we’ve been – how shall I say – contracted – to make sure that this young feller’s affairs are in order.’
‘Get out of my house!’ interrupted Mrs. Mackenzie, suddenly feeling a little braver, although she had no idea why.
Bill and Ben looked at each again for a moment. They did this almost as much as your mum looks in the mirror. Or you dad looks at websites that he shouldn’t be looking at. ‘First of all,’ said Bill, ‘This isn’t a house – it’s a flat.’
‘And second of all,’ said his brother. ‘We ain’t going nowhere. And neither are you.’
‘Johnny who are these men?’ Mrs. MacKenzie asked her son, ignoring the two giants.
‘I’m sorry mum but…’ Johnny started to speak but Bill cut in like a pair of scissors that chops sentences into bits.
‘…What the young feller means to say is that the fun’s over.’
‘The fun’s over?’ repeated Felicity MacKenzie numbly.
‘That’s right,’ continued Ben. ‘You’ve had a right old time. You’ve been spending his money like it’s your own. You’ve been ripping the poor young feller off. And we’re here to put a stop to it. From now on things are gonna be different.’
‘I’ve had enough of this,’ said Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my house…’
‘Flat,’ corrected Ben.
‘Nobody speaks to me like this in my flat. Billy, call the police!’
As usual Billy MacKenzie did as he was told. He reached into his pocket for his mobile phone. Before he had the chance to even turn it on the gigantic frame of Bill was towering over him.
‘That an iPhone?’ asked Ben.
‘Erm… Yes,’ said Billy, who could only watch as the huge man took it from him and with one hand crushed it into a chunk of buckled metal and shattered touch screen.
‘I think it’s broken,’ said Ben. ‘You ought to take it back to the Apple store. Tell ‘em that you’re not getting a decent signal.’
‘Right!’ cried Mrs. MacKenzie. ‘We’re leaving! You’ll be very sorry you did that. I’ll fetch the police myself!’
Now the giant frame of Bill was standing in front of her. He was holding something in his hand that looked a little like a child’s toy space gun.
‘Know what this is?’ he asked. Although once again he wasn’t clever enough to recognise that this was a rhetorical question.
Mrs. Mackenzie regarded the object for a moment. Then she shook her head. Whatever it was she guessed that it was not intended to provide pleasure, happiness or fulfilment. Anything that has a trigger and a barrel and goes ‘bang!’ seldom does.
‘Come on Billy!’ she said. ‘We’re leaving!’
Bill stood in front of her blocking the doorway. ‘Not so fast,’ he said, not so slowly. ‘It’s called a Taser. See this little trigger at the front? If I press this it’ll give you a small electric shock. It won’t hurt you…Well not too much anyway.’
Bill raised the object and gently touched Mrs. MacKenzie on the arm. There was a loudish bang and a flash of blue neon light and Mrs. MacKenzie collapsed groaning to the floor. She was conscious but wasn’t able to move her arms and legs
‘Oh my gawd!’ said Billy Mackenzie bravely charging out of the room in terror. He got as far as the stairs before there was a second flash. He, too, crumpled to the floor. Bill dragged him back into the bedroom by the scruff of his neck.
Johnny Nothing got to his feet and stood over his two parents. He looked anxious. ‘Are they… Are they… OK?’ he gasped.
‘Don’t you worry yourself,’ smiled Ben. ‘Give em a few minutes and they’ll be right as rain.’
‘But they’ll think twice before they try to run off again,’ said his brother.