Norfolk man’s true story of underworld crime, car chases and gypsies in new book
- Credit: Simon Parkin
A violent underworld feud, car chases, petrol bombings and court cases, to being offered a home by gypsies, Mike Woodhouse's eventful life sounds like the plot of a novel.
Now his incredible riches to rags story that covers 17 years of his life in Diss has been published in his debut book The Gypsy Code.
The 48-year-old first time author once had everything: a thriving Norfolk engineering business, owning Number 13, a successful Diss wine bar, playing rugby for Diss and all the trappings of success.
But when he caught a group of travellers stealing from his warehouse it was the start of events that would leave him penniless and living in a caravan in Essex.
'I didn't even have a water supply I had to use a dog tap or water from the cemetery,' he recalls. 'It was a very tough time and I was very depressed about the situation and I felt I just wanted to write a record of what had happened.'
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The book charts how as a marked man in Norfolk, Mr Woodhouse left everything behind to move to Castleton in the Peak District for a fresh start only for things to take a turn for the worse.
'I had only been there a few months when I had a brain aneurysm,' he explains. 'I spent over two months in hospital and unbeknownst to me the business went under. The debts cost me my house. I went from having a wine bar, an engineering business, hair salons and an art gallery to losing everything.'
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But having fallen for a Romany gypsy he was offered help when her father let him stay on land he owned in Essex.
Mr Woodhouse said: 'My attitude to travelling people had been coloured unfairly by that one group in Diss who were bad people. But when I had my toughest time in that caravan in Essex the help the travelling community gave was incredible. It opened up a whole new way of looking at that community.'
Having started writing in his caravan, he sent parts of his story to his old rugby friend and writer Richard Beard which led to a meeting with an agent.
'He said you're not going to hear anything for three months but three weeks later he rang me back and said there were three offers on the table and we went with Penguin. It has taken three years from the day I started scribbling in the caravan to the book launch. I never expected this I still see myself as a welder from Norfolk.'
The book, which is already on the bestseller lists, includes plenty of anecdotes about Diss including the time when the town was plagued by anti-social yobs he created a group called the Pro Community Forum (PCF) that led to a packed public meeting and police action.
'The funny part is that the PCF was never a group of businesses it was just me,' he chuckles.
• The Gypsy Code is published by Penguin on April 4. Mike Woodhouse will be at a special book launch event at the Saracen's Head in Diss on April 6, from 2.30pm-5.30pm.