Ex-boxer’s new novel sheds light on Edinburgh’s gritty underworld

Alexander Brown.
Alexander Brown.
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A FORMER boxer has swapped his gloves for a keyboard after penning a gritty debut novel that sheds light on Edinburgh’s underworld.

Alex Brown was introduced to boxing at 11, when his father encouraged him to step into the ring in a bid to keep him off the Craigmillar and Niddrie streets where he grew up. He developed a passion for the sport and was soon a skilled contender.

At 15, he collapsed at a bus stop and had an emergency appendectomy which revealed he had been living with tuberculosis. He said: “I woke up and all of my family were at the end of my bed and I thought, ‘this can’t be good’.” It put an end to Alex’s dream of being a professional boxer.

A chance conversation with his brother, who died after a protracted illness in 1994, sparked the idea for the “darkly comic crime thriller” which started life as a film treatment.

Hit Me tells the tale of boxer Barnabas Wild who hires a hit man to take him out after he is wrongly diagnosed with cancer. With acute illness phobia, Wild can’t deal with facing down the disease and persuades a gangster friend to help him organise his own gnarly demise.

Things take a turn when he discovers the hospital made a mistake and he spends the rest of the novel desperately trying to evade the highly-skilled assassin.

Alex, 54, who owns Ideal Flooring Solutions in Musselburgh, has owned and run The Bronx Boxing Gym in Tranent for the last ten years. He took his character’s name from a memorial plaque found in the former methodist church that has trained Scottish and Great British boxing champs.

He said: “The whole project has fallen into place the last two years. Every corner I have turned has been the right corner. It almost feels like the book has been guided by someone watching over me.”

Alex has been “delighted” with the book’s reception, which even earned praise from Edinburgh author Irvine Welsh, who is close to Alex’s friend and fellow boxing gym owner Bradley Welsh.

The book is set in Edinburgh, centring around Niddrie and Craigmillar and taking in the famous landmarks of the city. Characters are tissues of people Alex knew or had heard of who hung out in the pubs, bookies and gyms that he grew up in.

Alex immersed himself in research and taught himself touch-typing in the process, after getting tired of scribbling notes on loose paper. The book was a long time in the making with long pauses when his confidence took a hit.

He said: “At first I didn’t believe I could finish it and I shelved it but the more impossible it seemed the more I wanted to do it.”

After securing Blackwell’s Bookshop on South Bridge as a stockist, Alex is even more excited about the launch of the book, marked by a party tonight at The Biscuit Factory, compered by pal Welsh. There will be readings from the book and a question and answer session with Alex.

Alex said: “I’m proud of the book and that I’ve finished. It felt impossible as my schooling was interrupted because of the tuberculosis. I’m delighted at the reception the book has had already.”