Joe Gallagher came knocking in spring 2015.
He had been selling The Big Issue and was sleeping rough in Edinburgh. Joe wanted to write and asked if he could send some things through.
It’s a question that is asked from time to time. The answer is always yes, though copy doesn’t always follow. When Joe sent his piece, you could see it was different, that there was something to it. It was funny, it was raw, there were echoes of Irvine Welsh. Here was a new voice telling of the reality of street living in ways that hadn’t been properly told in a long time. Joe’s circumstances – he wrote longhand at night, then found a library during the day to type it up and send it through – added an extra layer to everything. It also showed how important libraries are.
Joe started to craft his copy, began to find his voice. We ran a regular series from him. At first, he published under the pseudonym of James Campbell. He didn’t want to alert those who weren’t clear on his circumstances to what these were. We put him on the cover – a picture of his notebook that contained his world.
Over time, Joe started to work up and out of the place he’d landed. He got shortlisted for a major journalism award. He started looking for a place to live and applied for work. He gained confidence. He worked his way from the street, using The Big Issue and his incredible writing skills, and is now in a permanent job. He also gained enough confidence to reveal to those he hadn’t told before that he was James Campbell.
A few months ago we learned that The Smiths legend Johnny Marr and British acting royalty Maxine Peake had read Joe’s work and wanted to use it. This was some cherry on top of an increasingly good cake. They wanted to take part of his Big Issue diary, title it The Priest and release it as a single – with Marr doing the music and Peake reading the words. Ahead of release, Joe, a huge Smiths fan, went to see the pair, to discuss his story. You can read his piece about the meeting over the page.