Literary adventure of a lifetime

Terry Darlington with wife Monica and their two dogs Jim and Jess
Terry Darlington with wife Monica and their two dogs Jim and Jess
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After a lifetime in business, Terry Darlington finally got round to his ‘purpose’ in life – writing. Nick Ahad spoke to the popular author.

In his career he was a successful businessman, in his spare time a marathon runner, but Terry Darlington always knew that he was, at heart, a writer.

Darlington, now 76, ran his own business, successully, for many years, but there was always a nagging throught at the back of his mind.

Ever since he was a boy and had pieces published in Punch and later went on to study at Oxford, he knew his true calling was to have his work published.

“When I retired and left business, I thought my life was a desert of shame because I had never done what I was born to do, which was write” says Darlington.

“The TV writer Andrew Davies, who I went to school with, gave me a bit of encouragement and I knew enough about the difference between good and bad writing and so, when I retired, I decided to give it a go.”

Giving it a go didn’t just mean writing as a hobby for Darlington.

The founder of market research agency Research Associate had his sights set on having something published.

“I didn’t want to start writing a blog, full of spelling mistakes that nobody would read – for me writing meant doing something properly and worthwhile,” he says.

“I got a dozen books on writing and studied them very closely to look at how they worked – this was on top of doing my masters in English. I made sure that I had a good level of technical competence and once I had started to write, got some really good editorial advice.”

He also, clearly, needed something to write about. Darlington and his wife, Monica, had decided on retiring that they wanted to have some adventures and set out to have them on a narrowboat – along with their dog Jim.

Starting out on a narrowboat adventure with his wife and reluctant dog, Darlington quickly began to gather material for his writing and began putting down on paper the adventures the three of them had.

His musings became his first book, Narrow Dog to Carcassone, which sold over 200,000 copies.

“There are lots of people who have boats and lots who like to go on them. There are lots of people who have dogs and lots of British people like France. There is a snobbery value in knowing about France which people enjoy,” says Darlington.

“I think that was why there was such a constituency of people who bought and enjoyed the book.”

The success of the first book led inevitably to a second and an even greater adventure, when the Darlingtons and their dog took their narrowboat down the eastern seaboard of America.

“Everyone thought we were idiots. We had to contend with alligators, hurricanes throwing people into the air just behind us, everyone thought we would die on that adventure,” says Darlington.

The couple and their dog lived to adventure another day and in his new book, Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier, Darlington recounts the couple’s latest trip – taking a narrowboat around Yorkshire.

“It does tell the story of our adventure, with stories about how I nearly drowned in the Ouse, but it’s also a bit of an autobiography with stories from and about my life,” says Darlington.

“When the publisher suggested it, I thought ‘who would be interested in 
that?’, but they convinced 
me that I had adventures 
in business and through my life that were worth writing about.

“I recount in some detail a nervous breakdown I had when I was a teenager and tell stories of setting up companies in Africa.

“I’m 76 now and on the day of the book launch I had a terrifying stroke. I’m on my way to making a full recovery, but I am glad that I had the opportunity to finally write and fulfil that ambition.”

in writing

Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier features the Darlingtons and their whippets Jim and Jess taking their narrowboat from their home in Stoke, up the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, before crossing from Lancashire into Yorkshire through a tunnel running underneath the Pennines.

Once they have crossed under the Pennines, they travel up to York, loop around the ancient city and back home again – encountering all manner of people and adventures along the way.

Narrow Dog to Wigan Pier is out now, published by Transworld. Previous books Narrow Dog to Carcassonne and Narrow Dog to Indian River are also available.