Friday, September 25, 2009

Frank Deasy: A great man passes away

Back in 2000 I was called into the bowels of the BBC to discuss a possible play about the Far Right. The BBC hadn't produced anything on this are for over a decade. We didn't have much of an idea, then, of what to do: I was in the midst of writing my book HOMELAND and Ruth Caleb, the producer, was looking for a screenwriter to turn my research into riveting viewing.

We slowly interviewed a succession of writers: those well-established, others who were little more than cab drivers with a desire to hit the big screen. Then we met Frank.

In walked this taciturn, brooding figure; a monk-like man with deep brow, a thinker's face and thoughtful expression. There was an intensity there, behind the measured-but-strong Dublin accent. He wouldn't talk about his childhood, that was quickly off-limits after I asked about his background. Apparently he had a reputation for being difficult to deal with – he even warned me that, most likely, we would fall out during the process of filming and making this drama (we did, but only for a short while) – but mostly it was fascinating to work with him. He'd written a brilliant TV series called Looking After Jo-Jo, starring Robert Carlyle, which was set among the drug dealers of a Glasgow housing estate.

I took Frank to the British National Party's 'Red White and Blue' annual festival (something they had copied off their big brother, the Front National in France); then to the East End to meet BNP people; we even ended up outside the house of an infamous Combat 18 member in south-east London. Through many months and script revisions, the drama 'England Expects' (directed by Tony Smith) was born. It was while staying in Welshpool, near BNP leader Nick Griffin's smallholding, that I learned of Frank's troubled past: he searched high and low for a local AA group, which he felt he needed to attend. (Inadvertently I'd asked him if he wanted to join me in the hotel bar for a beer.) He hinted even then about the health worries troubling him.

I watched Frank's other work appear on the screens in the following five years: an Emmy-winning Prime Suspect with Helen Mirren; The Passion, his tale of Jesus' life, and death; he had co-written an unseen Hollywood film Prozac Nation, made on a book of the same name (and which he hinted had been riven with troubles); and worked on many other superlative dramas. Sadly I only recently learned of the liver cancer that was to contribute to his death on 17 September this year. We swapped an email only the day before, after friends told me about Frank's poignant writing of his condition – waiting for a liver transplant, for which he had a rare blood type – in The Observer newspaper. It led to him doing an hour-long radio show with RTE in Ireland; thousands of letters poured in to the newspapers in support of his and others' plights.

Frank's email to me of 16 September read: "Thanks Nick – we live in hope ay?" I replied later that evening, not realising he was already in the life and death operation to transplant his liver, and which he hoped would give him a new lease of life. Instead it robbed him of that life – he died on the operating table – and his wife, Marie, and three children are now left without a father.

Frank Deasy was a rare man: principled, gifted, honorable. I was glad, in the end, to have known him.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Ponzis, Dying & Mercenaries

Updated here is a roundup of my latest stories. Several are part of larger projects or available for resale, and I hope they make for interesting reading.

1) Follow The Money. October 2009: Wired (UK) magazine. In an era of financial scams and Ponzi frauds, it takes cunning, smart thinking (and a little luck) to nail the bad guys. Nick Ryan meets the 'fraud busters', the team which hunts down major-league swindlers from a luxury Caribbean base and recovers millions for victims. Based on my 10-year contact with the hotshot lawyers of Martin Kenney & Co.

2) Living with Dying. August 2009: The Times Magazine (UK). What does it mean to be dying? Nick Ryan followed five people with terminal illness as they journeyed towards the end of life. A major piece for the Times, which took many months and a lot of heartache to put together.

3) Good Heart in Africa. July 2009: The Tablet (UK). Father Kieran Creagh narrowly escaped death in Northern Ireland during the Troubles and more recently in South Africa where he founded Leratong hospice. Nick Ryan meets a man who for many epitomises the essence of priesthood and its sacrifices. (This is merely the intro/taster to part of a much longer project.)

4) Lords of War. Walrus Magazine (Canada). They brave their lives in the shadowy world of mercenary riches, risking all for reward – but what are the dangers today of using so many 'soldiers of fortune' to protect corporate and diplomatic interests? Nick Ryan, who has met many private military and security contractors, looks at their motivations and at the wider industry they inhabit. (Look out for more pieces to come from this area).

5) The Fog of War. April 2009: The National (UAE). Captured fighting alongside the Taliban, a young American Muslim convert, John Walker Lindh, became the United States’ most infamous “enemy combatant” and a potent symbol of betrayal. In a rare interview, Nick Ryan talks to his family, who ask if their son really deserved a 20-year sentence. (John Lindh deserves his freedom, despite many Americans' misguided enmity.)

6) Gold Trading Exposed. March/April 2009: Eurogamer. A major four-part, 12,000 word investigation into the blackmarket world of "gold selling" in virtual video games and online worlds. Includes exclusive interviews with Chinese gold farmers and brokers; as well as revelations such as the huge size of the market ($10bn) and size of the industry (one million employed in China alone).

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

7) (reprint) Hammering the Rock. 2005: Maxim. One of the most feared gangs in American history faces the ultimate showdown with the authorities – but will it be enough to smash 'The Rock'? Report by Nick Ryan.

8) My Virtual Family. 2009: The BBC. They are the 'Twitter generation'. Couch-potato teenagers, addicted to video games and instant messenging, dangerously cut-off from the outside world. That, at least, is one depressing stereotype painted of today’s youth: we have a disgruntled, alienated generation ignored by its guardians and parents. Yet more and more of us are finding ways to stay in touch with family and loved ones via online game worlds or "MMOs.

Further articles, books, and documentaries currently in development.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

The Fraudbusters™ revisited

The two men stepped off the long flight from Dublin. The Miami heat washed over them in a second, but they didn't flinch. In their line of work they were well-used to entering harsh climes:

War-torn Liberia, the jungles of Papua New Guinea or a freezing Toronto winter – they went wherever the money trail led them.

The taller and more broad-shouldered of the two had once guarded US Presidents and worked out on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border when the US supported the mujahideen. His companion, shorter and with carefully-buttoned suit and tie, was a forensically-minded lawyer responsible for crossing swords with some of the most tenacious con-men the world had ever seen, sociopaths who would stop at nothing in their avarice. When you heard of names like Bernie Madoff or Sir Allen Stanford, chances are he was on their trail. He had sat across from these criminals as they told him how they lay awake at night, dreaming of ways to kill him.

Meet the world's sharpest fraudbusters.

Follow The Money. October 2009: Wired (UK) magazine.

Photo © Neil Massey.