Alun Gibbard: The importance of the story

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Dafydd Jones November 25, 2020

Author: Dafydd Jones a Lewis Sharpe

From working in broadcasting for 26 years to publishing 33 books as a writer, Alun Gibbard insists the most important thing throughout his career was finding a story.

“Through television and writing, I’ve kept both languages, and it’s important to me. I didn’t just want to write in English or just in Welsh. But at the end of the day, if I combine news, documents and write magazines or books, the one thing that connects them all is a story,” Gibbard said.

“Telling stories is what I enjoy most. Not just Welsh Literature or just English Literature, I enjoy those, but it’s stories I like. Discovering the story, seeing what the story is and then the challenge of how to tell the story in a way that everyone understands.”

In his career as a writer, Gibbard has worked with many sporting stars, such as Jonathan Davies and George North. The author explains the process of co-writing and the finding of a story.

“I’ve co-authored several books, but with that kind of book, the process is different,” Gibbard insisted.

“You have to go into someone else’s world, understand that world in enough detail that you know what you’re talking about and present someone else’s world to the public in a way that the public understands.

“That’s quite a task because you have to be fair to the person you’re making the story with but still, you have to present it so that people who know nothing about the story can understand it too.

“That balance can be difficult and I couldn’t say I got it right every time. You could be too simplistic and insult the people you work with, or you could make it so detailed that the public don’t understand it, you have failed then.”

The success of Gibbard’s books is not just in sport, with his most recent being Carwyn Jones’ biography, ‘Not Just Politics’.”

“You have to see what the person wants to say and why they are making the book. What story do they want to get out there?

“For example, the most recent book I’ve done was about former First Minister Carwyn Jones. Carwyn’s first meeting was to establish with him what he wanted in the book. He immediately said he didn’t want a political memoir, but a biography that shows everything in his life, his wife, his children, his family and not a political memoir and because that’s what he wanted, I did it. Deciding on the story that someone wants to tell is important and that is true of everyone.

“After working that out, the way I write, I meet them and record a conversation, usually about an hour at a time. I start right at the beginning of their life until the present day, so I have a chronological story of their life recorded.

“But, I never write books chronologically, there is nothing more boring than writing I was born there and then did that. When I listen to their lives, something that stands out as a good story makes it’s way to the beginning of the book to show the story of that person.

One of Gibbard’s most popular books is ‘Who Beat the All Blacks?’, a topic close to his heart coming from Llanelli himself.

“I was at the game too, it was an honour, I loved it. To go beyond the personal, to look at it as a task, it was difficult to work out what I wanted to say and what the story was. What did I want to say about a game that almost everyone in rugby knows already?

“It had to be very carefully decided and it was difficult because a lot had already been said, but you have to find out what you have to say about something that people already know about. What is your contribution to the story?

“I turned it into one question, Cardiff, Swansea and Newport all beat the All Blacks, but what does everyone remember? The Llanelli game. My question was why? Why did the Llanelli game have such significance, so much impact and three other Welsh teams had also beat the All Blacks, what was the difference? I had something to start with then. What was special about that event, and then finding reasons.

“The first was Carwyn James, a year earlier, he helped the Lions to the All Blacks in 1971, the first and only time the Lions have won a series out in New Zealand. The All Blacks came back on Carwyn’s patch to take revenge, that was one thing. And then the nature of the town, a working town with ordinary people. The boys had all come together, there was that passion.”

Although the book has been a huge hit for rugby fans and is a book held in high regard in the sporting world, Gibbard explained that the he had to overcome a challenge to present the story in the book.

“What the All Blacks book showed me more than any other book is how important it is to prove facts, it’s so important. For example, the game was famous for many reasons, but Delme Thomas, the captain, made a pre-match speech, something that goes down in rugby’s folklore, it was inspiring.

“But, I had a difference of opinion as to where Delme had made the speech. Some players said they were in the hotel before the game and others said they were in the changing room. What do I do? As an author, writing about a sporting event with half the players saying he was in the hotel and another half saying he did in the changing room. Who do you believe? It was a real dilemma.

“What I did in the end was go back to them all and over time, the picture became clearer. He made the main speech at the hotel before going but made another short speech in the dressing room before going on the field, so both were right. That took some time to make sure.”

Despite the book being written about a major sporting event, with the All-Blacks’ iconic status for being the best in rugby union, Gibbard insisted that the book is more than a game of rugby.

“For me, not much about the 80 minutes is in the book, it’s what was around it. And that’s what sport is for me. When I’m writing about sports, I’m not interested in the statistics or tactics.

“For me, I like to write about where sports takes place in society. How did Llanelli against the All Blacks match affect the Llanelli community and the rugby community, not just the 80 minutes. Social history is sport to me.”