‘Published at twenty five’ is a goal many young writers would call the Holy Grail of ambition. Jack Martindale has not only done this but has travelled, seen and experienced more than most men his age. And, other than the book, this was all done before he was nearly killed in a car accident.
In the first few hours of 2010, while walking home in London with two friends from New Year’s Eve celebrations, a hit-and-run driver on the North Circular, Shamail Ali Syed, while racing a friend, drove his car into Jack and his two friends Carrie MacLaren and Chelsea Cannon, both of whom died from their injuries. Jack was in a coma for three months, required extensive reconstructive surgery to mend his jaw and skull - fractured into thirty pieces - and a long course of therapy to be able to walk and speak again.
"The events are shocking in places, of course," says Jack in his characteristically cheerful way, "I mean, I’d rather it never happened but it did, so at least - without trying to being overly benevolent - I thought my story could maybe help someone else. It was a dismal experience but the writing is quite optimistic."
"Paradox is a theme I use a lot in the book; it was the best of times and it was the worst of times."
Jack’s outlook is uncommonly bright even for someone who hasn’t been through his ordeal: "I always say don’t take yourself seriously and life will be okay" he smiles, which somehow bears more gravitas from Jack than it would from most people.
While Jack was recovering, his father started keeping a diary of his son’s improvement during 2010, a task Jack took up when he felt he was able. "I started writing the book in March/April 2011," Jack explains. "I’m sure my writing has improved since I started; my early writing is cringe-worthy if I’m honest but the beauty of the work is that it’s raw."
Listening to Jack’s self-effacing introversion, you might forget that this is not merely a young writer trying desperately to get his story published, but a young man who has beaten quite staggering odds and emerged alive in both body and spirit and - as the icing on the cake - been awarded a publishing deal. But even that wasn’t achieved without a modest amount of suffering.
Austin Macauley, who will publish Jack’s story at a later date, showed interest in the book after Jack had, like many other young writers, trawled the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook for possible allies in getting his story out there; it wasn’t easy despite Jack’s amazing story.
"Blood, sweat and toil, that’s when the publishers get interested. It’s not a fun game to play, all very alien to me since I did English Literature and Politics at Uni and didn’t have a clue about how to write a book. It was a matter of perseverance and not taking things too personally."
The book, while not so much a diary as an account, was "cathartic and cleansing" for Jack. "It was therapeutic to capture the thoughts I had; very personal for my benefit and it was only after it got to a fair length that in August last year I decided the time had come to get it published now, rather than ‘someday’."
It would be all too easy to feel sorry for Jack, or see his story as a rather shocking ‘triumph of the human spirit’ tale simply because of the nature of his accident, but the young writer’s attitude is so refreshing, his outlook on life so genuinely entertaining, that his story fair demands to be read when it finally reaches the publishing stage.
"The moment you take yourself too seriously," explains Jack, "whether it’s depression or whatever, problems can arise. I’ve always been introspective and this experience has intensified it. I have a lot to be sad about, even more than I ever did, but euphoria makes me very happy indeed." He then goes on to make the observation that:
"Boring plateaus don’t interest me. If you can see your life as if you’ve already lived it, why bother living it?"
Aside from the publishing deal, Jack is waiting on a long-fought settlement from his accident that could change his life further. He stands to make over £300,000 if the court rules in his favour, and again he is philosophical about this: "It’s bittersweet really, because my compensation is based on what I’ve lost."
On the subject of how he’s changed since the crash, Jack is tantalisingly astute: "Beyond the tangible things like physicality and voice, it’s hard to see. I mean, what’s your perception of what you were like four years ago, from the outside? I still like the same things but I don’t know how much I’ve changed from the outside any more than you would know if you have."
"Before the accident I was an independent person, I travelled, I didn’t take things seriously. The accident has made me appreciate life more. Paradox is a theme I use a lot in the book; it was the best of times and it was the worst of times but it could be worse."
"When I was eighteen I thought I was pretty mature but I think you learn as you grow and I’m a different person now."
As for the continuation of Jack’s story itself, "We’ll see what happens in the next five years. I want people to enjoy the book, I want to publicise it and see how the reception to the story affects people. I want to share this and get it out there, beyond me. It’ll be a dream come true when it happens."