Just outside Stephen Gillen's house on north Belfast's Antrim Road, where he lived as a young child, was the monkey puzzle tree that he has named his new book after. His uncle would warn him never to speak in front of the tree. It held all the secrets of the land, he would say, but was so loyal and silent that whoever it heard would lose the gift of speech forever.
Those were the short days of Stephen Gillen's innocence, before he embarked on a path that would lead him to become one of the UK's most dangerous gangsters with a history of robbery, violence and addiction.
At 14 he was sentenced to eight weeks in a detention centre for theft and criminal damage and would grow up to become boss of one of the East End's most feared crime fraternities.
But later, after more than 20 years behind bars, some of which he served alongside the notorious Charles Bronson, Stephen has reinvented himself as a life coach, international public speaker, entrepreneur and peace ambassador - and now the gripping story of redemption he tells in The Monkey Puzzle Tree is set to become a movie.
Now 49, he recalls the young days in Belfast with his Aunt Madge, Uncle Gerard and cousins with fondness.
"My Aunt Madge, she was a wonderful figure - she's going to be in the film," he says. "She had the most wonderful shiny black hair and she was a really kind soul."
Dreaming of cowboys and Indians, the young Stephen would sometimes escape and run free on the streets. But at seven, life took a serious turn when he found himself caught up in a riot.
"These riots would just erupt, move around and then disappear," he says.
"There was a coach on fire on its side, flames, barricades - the shooting started and everyone ran. I jumped into a garden while the other people were running and I couldn't get out of there. There were shots being fired from a place behind us, in some flats.
"I saw a boy in a balaclava - he couldn't have been more than 20. He took a shot to the chest and he dropped straight away. He was calling for his mother and that was a terrible thing - he just about died in front of me and I saw the blood.
"And that affected me terribly. I found it hard to speak about it. Up until about seven years ago, I didn't speak about this to anyone."
In the years to come, his beloved Aunt Madge lost her life to an aggressive cancer.
"I can remember my uncle coming back to the house and he took me into the little bathroom and he just broke out in tears and said my Aunt Madge was gone, and we stood there and cried for a long time," Stephen says.
He says that it was then decided he should live in England "probably because of the Troubles escalating a bit".
However, after moving across the water, Stephen says he missed his Aunt Madge and Ireland terribly: "I spoke funny, I kind of stuck out and I was a really anxious child.
"My answer to it was to do more and be more. I ended up in foster care really early on - I must have been about 11. From there, I started getting into petty crime really easily."
He ended up under a care order with the local authority when he was 12.
"The care homes were like mini prisons for children," he says.
"There were some terrible members of staff in there who treated everybody badly and I used to get locked in the boiler room - they dragged me up and down.
"It really made me a hard little thing because I had no other choice. You wouldn't treat a child like that - I have children of my own and that is disgusting.
"I was cast adrift and I formed my own kind of family.
"They were just the same as me, little things that were blowing in the wind, that had no opportunities, that were just surviving.
"I started to become a really angry child - there was an anger in me against authority. I'm 11 years clean now but I got into the drugs of the time - I was in so much pain and was trying to escape from myself."
As he grew older, Stephen became involved with the serious crime fraternity in London's East End.
"I became a protege in a way," he reflects. "They were all the hardcore ones, the armed robbers, the gun people. These were the kinds of people I quickly caught the attention of and started to be integrated with.
"The crime around me started off with a lot of stuff like extortion, protection rackets, counterfeiting money - the drugs didn't come until later, but it was more about the armed robbery, security van hijackings, and of course with that came feuds and fallouts and serious violence."
His book tells of one night when he had his head split open at Camden Palace and returned with his gang seeking violent revenge.
"I had guns pointed at my head so many times," he says. "I used to walk into places and I really didn't know if I was going to walk out of them again."
Over the years, he says, he has been intermittently in contact with his family and now has a relationship with them, but at that stage he had burned his bridges.
"I was beyond the pale and at that time there was nothing going to bring me back."
His career eventually took him all the way to the Old Bailey where he beat one trial for armed robbery, but was soon back.
"I beat another for armed robbery but I was found guilty of possession of a firearm and in the third trial I got 14 years as a Category A prisoner for armed robbery," he says.
As a Category A prisoner, Stephen was in a "prison within a prison".
One inmate was the notorious Charles Bronson: "I was known as one of the most dangerous, disruptive prisoners in the UK, like Charlie, and I was in a lot of units with Charlie.
"I see a wonderful side to Charlie as well - he's an excellent storyteller, he's hilarious, the stories that he's got. He's got very old school values, he's got a caring side and he's very clear, he hates anyone who would hurt women or children.
"We were in the Closed Supervision Unit in Woodhill which was to house the most dangerous prisoners in the UK. On the bottom it was a complete lockup, it was very, very draconian. We would tell stories out the window and read and we would train to keep our physical and mental health together.
"I was really disruptive in prison - I didn't cope very well. I never thought I would get out of there. But I was in a dark cell one night and I had this profound feeling, this unbelievable feeling of comfort and love that settled on me. It wasn't a trick of the mind, I wasn't off my head but I believe it was my Aunt Madge who was coming back to say 'look it's okay'.
"But I got through the sentence. What I learned is that to really change, you need opportunity, courage, circumstances to come together at the right time. I didn't come out of that life just like that - it was a process."
In his late 30s, Stephen became a labourer, and rose to run a contract on the Isle of Wight with 25 men before starting his own business.
"I realised I was so tired of that life and I wasn't prepared to lose another second. It taught me real, hard honest toil."
As a dad of three and with his partner Daphne by his side, he had a thirst to build up his life again from scratch and study. He embarked on a business degree, created a media and IT company making documentaries on the world's most powerful entities, got into motivational speaking and gave talks in prison.
"When I met Daphne it's like our souls knew each other," he says. "I've been misunderstood all my life, but Daphne really sees me.
"When I got clean all those years ago I had to make amends as part of the Twelve Steps. I had to cross that list off as much as I could."
Last year Stephen was nominated for the prestigious 'Sunhak' International Peace Prize in South Korea and his book is now set to be made into a major feature film next year.
The screenplay is being written by Kieran Suchet, son of broadcaster John and nephew of Poirot actor David.
Stephen has also been offered to cast for a series on Netflix and is planning to set up The Stephen Gillen Foundation to support initiatives for disadvantaged children and single parent families as well as promoting entrepreneurship. "It's just wonderful after all I've been through to be in a place now to create something for the future," he says.
The Monkey Puzzle Tree, published by Filament, £14.99. For signed copies, visit www.stephengillen.com