Two former Gunnedah men will share a story of trauma and triumph in the anticipated book Back on Track.
BackTrack is a not-for-profit organisation that works with youth who would otherwise fall through the cracks, and over the years has got alongside more than 1000 teens to help them get back on track.
Mr Knight said he first heard about Mr Shakeshafts initiative through his mother Anne Knight, a Gunnedah artist and poet.
She said, Theres a fellow doing great things with dogs in Armidale, Mr Knight said.
I followed him for any number of years and with my media background there was a point where I was toying with the idea of approaching him about doing a documentary and then Catherine Scott did a wonderful job of BackTrack Boys.
Before long, Mr Knight put the wheels in motion and headed to Armidale to share a pub lunch with Mr Shakeshaft and discuss the idea of recording his life and how it led to BackTrack Youthworks.
Hachette Australia Group announced the acquisition of world rights for Mr Shakeshafts memoir on Wednesday, with plans to publish Back on Track in June 2019.
Mr Knight said he had already interviewed dozens of people including police and social workers, and undergone a number of intense sessions with Mr Shakeshaft.
The author said the book was very layered and would capture the story of Bernies life, which inevitably leads to the BackTrack organisation and the observations of the community and BackTrack participants.
It is Bernies life story but central to that is his desire to help others and he does it in what I would consider a very distinct way, Mr Knight said.
He realised there was a need there and away he went.
Mr Knight said it was an extraordinary and heartwarming tale and I just hope I get it right.
Bernie is so refreshingly different and it works. He connects, and this is one thing I hope will become apparent in the book, Mr Knight said.
He just makes people want to listen to him and do their best by him.
He makes things happen, thats one of his strengths. Hes visionary and hes a bit of a maverick. Hes not one to tick boxes as determined by other people.
Hes managed to get a whole community behind him, and in doing so, hes helped these kids and hes reduced the crime rates up there.
Mr Knight said Mr Shakeshafts success in turning youth around lay in his ability to see their value.
So many people want to label our kids [but] I would argue that someone who can put a fence up straight or do some welding, theyre good students in their own right and thats what Bernie has tapped into - he has found their interests and tapped into them, Mr Knight said.
Its important to realise he gives people time and thats critical to what hes about.
Really, it gets back to showing an interest in them, showing you care and giving them a purpose.
[Bernie] makes things happen, thats one of his strengths. Hes visionary and hes a bit of a maverick.Author James Knight
The author said he was out of all the lives he had put to paper, Mr Shakeshafts resonated in a personal way.
I connected with it in a way Ive personally never connected with [other stories] because I grew up in a small country town, Mr Knight said.
Ive seen the type of people Bernie is working with now and the type of people Ive gone to school with.
It relates to my childhood and it relates to a country area, so Im very excited about it.
Mr Knight said the book would also give an insight into what it was like to grow up in a rural community.
We have 80-90 per cent of the Australian population living in coastal fringes [and] so many people in these urban areas know nothing or next to nothing of rural communities or bush communities, he said.
Im hoping the book - and the documentary certainly has done so - I hope it creates greater awareness of what its like living in a rural area.
I genuinely believe it would do city kids a lot of good if they came out and mingled with the boys and girls there [at Armidale] and got a greater understanding.
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