In first-time local author Hal English’s autobiography, he reveals years of mental and physical abuse… and so many twists including his own discovery that he was secretly adopted.
“Behind the Ivy Walls” is about Hal English’s life growing up in Trenton in the 1950s under the abusive watch of his alcoholic father, head of Trenton Psychiatric Hospital.
“It is about family and history and recovery,” shared author, Hal English.
It is a true-life modern Huck Finn coming-of-age story with each chapter unveiling new secrets — each one more shocking than the last. And it also has so many rich details about Trenton and Chambersburg.
I’ve known Hal casually for a while, both professionally (when he’s not writing he’s working in community banking) and through is charity work (Hal recently chaired RWJ Hamilton Foundation’s Strides for Stroke 5K run, for example). He’s always struck me as warm and open. So when I heard he wrote this book and what it was about, I was floored. I immediately called him up and asked for an interview.
The idea of writing a book started when Hal’s wife and children encouraged him to write down his story — the ones he had been telling to them for years as part of his family history.
Hal said he never considered himself a writer before, having only written business articles, so when he started this process he contacted a writer he knows to see whether she should write it for him. His friend wrote a chapter as a sample and, although it was well written, Hal shared that it wasn’t “him.” And he knew he needed to find his voice.
It took him 4 years and is about 61,000 words. Hal said that the experience of writing it himself allowed him to look back and heal.
Once he was done, he had to figure out how to publish it. Hal wrote a synopsis and send it to 100 publishers and got back 20 encouraging response letters but no bites. And then he found Black Rose Writing, a independent publishing house in Texas, who was interested and the book was published in June of this year.
For Hal, this book isn’t just about telling his own story. “Behind the Ivy Walls” is dedicated to the homeless children in the United States. In the book, Hal reveals that he lived as a homeless teen in Cadwalader Park in Trenton. When we met to talk about his book, he told me that he has received so many emails from people he doesn’t know who share a history like his — one of abuse and sadness in childhood — from readers who said they thought they were along in this world. These readers shared how inspired they are by his bravery to tell his story and to maintain a positive outlook.
“There’s no negativity in my life. I’ve seen enough of it,” said English.
And this rallying support is shown in the reception Hal has received so far. He had a sold-out book signing in August where friends and fans packed Killarney’s Publick House in Hamilton in torrential downpour. There has been such a demand for his book, that Barnes and Noble in Hamilton now carries it and asked him to participate in a “meet the author” with a book signing later this month.
Where can you find Hal’s book? Anywhere. Online, for nook and kindle, some local shops including Carella’s in Hamilton, and larger stores like Barnes and Noble.
Where can you meet Hal? He will be at Barnes and Noble in Hamilton Marketplace on Thursday September 18th from 5:30-7:30PM – view our calendar page for additional information. Hal also promises that there are many more book-signings locally in his future. You can follow “Behind the Ivy Walls” on Facebook to receive all the updates.