El Gringo’s Once in a Lifetime by John Ellis is the story of the Brazil World Cup. John decided to go at the last minute, barely a week before it started, and spent over a month in Brazil, recording the highlights every day on his smartphone, painstakingly typing it into notes with one finger. Or his thumb, if his other hand was busy clutching a beer or a caipirinha as usual.
The book is published by MyVoice, and we think this book is a first in many ways. Has anyone written 170,000 words on his phone before, and turned that into a book? At the same time John took over 3,000 photos, carefully backing them up into the cloud every night. We have selected nearly 200 of those photographs and placed them in the text, in full colour, where he talks about the scene.
So when John talks about the fan in the silly fancy dress, why, there is a photo of them so you can see exactly what he is describing. We have not seen a book, a paperback, of this thickness and size produced in this manner before – indeed, the technology hasn’t been around very long!
A 420 page paperback with 200 colour photos? What does it cost? Just £14.99. An amazing price for what it is.
As for the content and readability, well it is just fascinating. John doesn’t just describe the football. No, this book is about the fans, for the fans and makes wonderful reading, a non-stop emotional rollercoaster as he meets fans from all over the world and immediately joins them to find out what they think and record their words for the book. Already in a few weeks it has notched up 35 five star reviews on Amazon, more on GoodReads, and tellingly they are not just from fans. Wives are buying the book as a present and finding they love it as well, for it is more a holiday story than a football fiesta.
We asked John a few questions about his book.
Q. You decided to go at the last minute, and were almost checking out possibilities when you found you had booked…. so when did you decide to write the book?
A. I started to write a Romcom towards the end of May and had completed the first 50 to 60 pages so was on writing mode. A week before the opening match, I had absolutely nothing booked. During that manic week, my mind went back to the wonderful Italia’90 book by Pete Davies which, along with being in writing mode, inspired me to think of writing my own book.
Q. Did it start out as a bit of joke, then become serious?
A. As soon as I made the decision to write the book in that week, I took it seriously which is hopefully evidenced by the detail I captured in that crazy week.
Q. Did you write it by pressing single keys with one finger? Does your phone have auto text correction and did you use it? Or was it too annoying? How about predict text? Sliding finger?
A. My index finger is worn out! The only time it had a respite was when I had a beer or caipirinha in my left hand when my right thumb took over the writing duties… Those reading my book might come to the conclusion that my thumb will be more worn out than my index finger!
I used predictive text but this was a bit of a nightmare as there are a lot of foreign words in the book!
Q. At which point did the writing of the book become an absolute must?
A. The people I met made it an absolute must and not only because their stories had to be told but also because I made a commitment to them that I would complete it.
Often I was tapping away whilst drinking and chatting with my friends which at times was frustrating. I think my friends might have been rather hacked off with me if I hadn’t followed it through to completion!
Q. When did you start thinking the photos must go in the book?
A. The sights I was seeing meant that they had to be a must. Not just the stunning scenery but also the colourful outfits of the fans and then of course the fan fests and stadiums.
Q. Where you taking photos with an eye for inclusion in the book?
A. Yes I was, all the way through. This is evidenced on the first leg of my flight to Brazil when I mention the photograph I took of the sunrise over the French coastline. Ordinarily I would have just looked at it and thought of how great it looked. The writing of the book compelled me to take a photograph.
Initially my publisher said that because of the 170,000+ words, the book was already too large, it would be prohibitive to include even black and white photographs. We had a discussion and agreed to increase the price of the book. The icing on the cake was when he said the photographs would be in colour and that we could place them specifically alongside the words to which they relate.
Q. When did you start talking to fans from other countries because of the book?
A. As you will see in the book, I started chatting to fans from Belgium, Africa, Middle East and Bosnia on the flight to Brazil.
During my time in Brazil, I began to realise that every fan had amazing stories to tell and began to capture these stories as the tournament unfolded.
Q. How much help did these fans give you?
A. Help is an interesting word and can have so many different meanings…
My once in a lifetime experience was a once in a lifetime experience because of the fans. They didn’t just help, they made it happen from match tickets, places to stay, visiting places as well as contributing towards the book. Even after returning back to the UK, they have been writing to me offering contributions towards the book, photo shoots and encouraging me to finish the book.
In short they are the book. I am just the person who had the idea to pull it altogether.
Some quotes from Amazon reviews:
‘Football fans will live through every World Cup game enjoying the sight, smells and scenes that are described so eloquently.’
‘I felt like I was right there with the writer experiencing the WC’
‘I thought the book would be all about football, but it’s not, it’s about people, experiences, street parties, stunning scenery. I laughed, cringed and even shed a tear. I thoroughly recommend this book and will be purchasing more copies as Christmas gifts.’
El Gringo’s Once in a Lifetime is available from bookstores and Amazon and is published by MyVoice.