The man who lived to tell tales: The Clapham rail crash made a new man of Ron Jones. Martin Whittaker explains how

Martin Whittaker
Sunday 23 October 2011 03:41

RON JONES has reinvented himself. In the Eighties he was a stereotypical yuppie, a computer whizz with a vast salary. Now he has become a house-husband, staying home to look after his baby son while his wife, Debbie, works. In between nappy changes and bottle feeds, he has produced the novel he had always wanted to write.

In between lies the reason for the transformation. On 12 December 1988, Ron Jones was aboard the 7.08am from Southampton to London when it collided with another train at Clapham Junction, killing 36 passengers. He survived with minor injuries, but the emotional aftermath turned his yuppie dream into a nightmare. Now he has awoken. At 47, he has become the author Alex Keegan: his first novel, Cuckoo, was published this month.

Keegan, as he now prefers to be known, sits in shorts and T-shirt, curly red hair tumbling over his shoulders. He shares a large house in Southampton with his third wife, Debbie, and their two children, 21-month-old Alex and five-week-old Bridie.

Born and brought up in Newport, south Wales, Keegan says he 'had the classic deprived childhood. There was my mother and father, two older sisters and me, five of us living in one room. Then we moved to a prefab. It was great - it had central heating and a fridge.'

His parents split up and he spent almost two years in a children's home, and was then sent to foster parents. He left school at 15, then joined the RAF. There followed a short-lived marriage, with two children; then numerous jobs; then to Liverpool University to study psychology, and another short-lived marriage.

By the mid-Eighties he had set himself up in Southampton as a computer consultant, training staff for companies with his then girlfriend, Claire.

'At our peak I was invoicing for an average of between five and eight grand a month,' he recalls. 'But I wasn't happy. The money just took over. We had a lavish lifestyle: big mortgage, company cars, money no object.'

While commuting back and forth to London to work for a City firm, he came to know a few of the regulars on the 7.08 train. On the day of the accident he was late and could not get his usual seat in the buffet, so he sat in a carriage further towards the rear of the train. He was dozing as the train approached London.

'There was an almighty bang,' he recalls. 'At first I thought I'd been in a fight. The guy opposite had just been thrown into me. I looked up and saw that the roof of the carriage had split. The carriage was full of falling dust. People were picking themselves up, and dealing with the people next to them. I leaned out of a window. One carriage was up on the bank, about 15 feet above us.'

He escaped with cuts and bruises, but the emotional effects ran deeper. He had been in the fourth carriage back: he discovered that the commuters he usually sat with had been killed. 'One was a girl who normally sat opposite me. I only knew her Christian name. I used to talk to her every day. I've never really come to terms with that.

'People told me I was very lucky, but I just felt I was in the wrong place. It was as if God had taken his eye off the ball. One minute you think you're the centre of the universe, then something like that makes you realise you're not.

'Afterwards, I was just a mess. I was driving like a loony, I couldn't stop drinking. Back at work I found I couldn't concentrate. I'd start a sentence and forget what I was talking about. I went from a real high flier to a complete tosser very quickly. It caused a lot of stress between me and my girlfriend. She was watching the empire collapsing around our ears and I didn't give a damn. I'd had pounds 8,000 in my current account on the day of Clapham. Within a year I was overdrawn.

'In that situation, the problem is that very quickly you go back to wearing the veneer you always wore and you look more or less the same. But your inner motivation, your drive and your concentration are gone.'

His girlfriend left, and Jones hit rock bottom. 'I was on my own. I hadn't paid the mortgage for a year and I had no way of ever getting back to where I was.'

Gradually he pulled himself out of it. He met his current wife on a blind date in November 1990. She had a good career as accounts manager for a big mobile phone company. When she became pregnant, they agreed that he would stay at home and be house-husband when the baby arrived.

'I was really frightened of trying to do another big-earning job,' he explains. 'I didn't believe I would be able to hold down a job again. It would have to be something else, but I had no idea what.'

He turned his hand to writing, and with the birth of his son in October 1992, he set about completing his first novel. 'Alex would wake up. I'd feed him. In the early days he'd be quite happy playing on the floor while I sat and wrote 500 words. It was great. Sometimes I would type with him sitting on my lap - depending on what his mood was.'

Late last year Ron Jones metamorphosed fully into Alex Keegan. He signed a three-book deal with the publisher Headline and in February his agent sold the television rights to Cuckoo - a crime thriller set in Brighton with a woman detective, Caz Flood, as its heroine. His second Caz Flood book is due out in the new year.

While he admits that, financially, things are still difficult, he has no regrets. 'What happened at Clapham changed my life. If I was going up and down to London I might be on pounds 80,000 a year, but I'd hardly see the children. Now I can take a two-minute break and have a cuddle. It's wonderful.'

'Cuckoo', by Alex Keegan, is published by Headline at pounds 16.99.

(Photographs omitted)

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments