AS a boxing writer, Gary Todd has interviewed and trained with some of the greatest fighters ever - champions like Ali, Tyson and Pacquiao.
In their world, the fight is for money and glory. But in the world Gary grew up in - the hard, working-class streets of Dundee in Scotland - the fight was to live.
His new book, Annie's Boy, movingly evokes the highs and lows of that gritty childhood.
But more than that, running through it is a son's loving tribute to his "soft, tough, kind but vulnerable" mother, his rock in a hard place.
"People talk about Glasgow and I laugh," he told The Senior. "Because I basically grew up in and out of a pub.
"I grew up seeing people slashed and stabbed. And once you see these things, you can never go back. Your toys go in the bin."
Gary and Annie were stuck in an abusive cycle, living in fear for their lives due to an intimidating and violent father.
"We started off in a tenement, six families in a block, then we moved to another house and there was absolute chaos for years," he said.
"My dad was a violent man. He lived in a different house from us and would just pop in and out of our life."
Gary learned to box to try to defend his mother against his father.
"Things got progressively bad to the point that I had to testify in court against him at the age of 10."
While life was always a struggle, he said, his mother was there for him come what may.
"She always had three jobs trying to get ahead. She was ducking and diving to make ends meet. It was never enough, unfortunately."
Gary said all he wanted was to skip school and get a job to make things easier for her.
"We never got any help. The biggest thing they were going to do was to remove me from my mum and put me in a boys home.
"I wasn't meant to hear it, but was I sitting at the bottom of the stairs. The lady was telling Mum and I just saw Mum sinking deeper into the chair.
"She was saying to the lady, 'You've got Gary's dad coming after us with a knife and all you can do is take my son away from me. He's all I've got.' "
She saw that it didn't happen. But life remained a slog in early-'80s Dundee.
The jute industry - one of the city's biggest employers - was dying and its old mills closing. "They were slave labour and everyone used to drown their sorrows on the weekend. Then they shut down.
"Then Margaret Thatcher came into play. There was a lot of unrest, a lot of strikes, the electricity got cut, or cut off. Because there wasn't any coal. You weren't living, you were just surviving."
Gary said things got better as he got older. But short of joining the armed forces, opportunities were limited.
Today he lives in Sydney's eastern suburbs. having moved to Australia aged 21.
He says he wrote Annie's Boy after his mother died in 2011 and he realised his Australian-born children knew nothing about their grandmother and his Dundee upbringing.
He says he "locked himself in" to write the first 30 pages.
"My wife thought I was going mad. She said 'you're possessed, you can't think of anything else'. But I said it's just got to be this way.
"Then, when she read it, she started crying and said 'My God, I never knew half of that; you never told me.' And we'd been married for 30 years."
Through a boxing mate, those 30 pages found their way to a Hollywood producer who wanted to turn it into a film - provided Gary wrote the screenplay.
"I was wearing a beanie when he rang. I broke into a sweat. I couldn't believe it. But sometime you have to back yourself.
He wrote the script during his meal breaks while working night shifts as a tunneller.
"When my wife read the full thing, she cried her eyes out. She said. Gary, you've got to write the book."
While Gary has written about boxing, this went far deeper, he said.
"I could write a book about people punching heads all day, but this was on a different level. Writing about my mum and the experiences we went through took it right out of me.
"My wife said look like you've been on a flight to London. I used to write 10, 12 hours at a time. It was gruelling but I'm glad I did it."
He days some good came out of his experiences as a boy.
"I was only 10 years old, but it toughens you up. It made you a better person. I'm a better father for it. I think I'm a better husband. But you'll have to ask my wife about that!"
Annie's Boy, Gary Todd (New Holland Publishers); RRP $32.99.
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