From the moment you start reading the prologue of Mark Eglinton’s latest book “No Domain: The John McAfee Tapes”, it is quite impossible to put it down. Granted, the subject matter of John McAfee’s life is gripping itself, but Mark’s commentary enhances it masterfully. Due to the exclusive nature of their exchanges and their rapport, it is also likely to be the ultimate and truest account that will ever be published.
Other previous books of Mark’s include Blindsided, with former Australian rugby captain and stroke survivor Michael Lynagh — which was shortlisted for International Autobiography Of The Year 2016; Heavy Duty: Days And Nights In Judas Priest with musician K.K Downing — one of Rolling Stone magazine’s ten Music Books of 2018 and, more recently, Reboot: My Life My Time with soccer legend Michael Owen — shortlisted for Autobiography Of The Year 2020 by the Daily Telegraph. Among other career endeavours, he’s a former professional golf caddie who learned the sport at a young age in his native Scotland – and has written about his experiences for Golf magazine and Golf Digest.
Mark and I first came into contact via Twitter, as with most of the kindred spirits I’ve been fortunate to encounter since going public in September 2020. A quip led to a follow, and DMs were exchanged – and now here we are. I asked Mark if he would kindly participate in this profile piece because not only is he a talented writer, but also I found Mark’s story particularly engaging and very relatable, although his life is atypical in many ways. In his own words during our conversation: “my life has been one of unconventional conventionality”.
While it wasn’t as insane and extreme as John’s journey, there is one common denominator with Mark’s: neither wanted to be slaves to the system, and sought ways around it.
As he once tweeted: “John McAfee placed the act of LIVING high above everything else. Do you?”
Our interview below should give you a good glimpse into Mark’s own answer.
Mark, for those who are finding out about you for the first time, tell us a bit about your background and how your upbringing in St Andrews has shaped you.
I’m Scottish, 51 years old and I grew up as the younger son of two people who I suppose were fundamentally working class from Glasgow, but who ultimately elevated themselves to middle class through sheer hard work and entrepreneurship. My parents existed in an era when you really could buy a house for five thousand pounds, and they consistently made money throughout my childhood by buying homes and selling them on for profit. In parallel, when they moved to St Andrews—the Home of Golf— in 1969, they started a newsagent business with a post office attached. Over time this business grew into more of a distribution company as they acquired more stores, and by extension they integrated themselves, and that business, deeply into the local community to the extent that it became a bit of an institution. I was born in 1970 and what I remember most from my childhood is that we moved house a lot. I was sent to boarding school – which I now recognize was an enormous financial sacrifice on my parents’ behalf.
You followed a ‘conventional’ path, as the product of your environment, having to conform or meet certain expectations. Then, at the age of 34, you decided to veer course and chart a different trajectory for your life. What was the trigger?
Boarding school was the beginning of this conventional path I guess. I was at that place at a time when the demographic was very much the sons and daughters of politicians and diplomats – and certainly not of newsagents. From the start, I was at a disadvantage.
In this era, the 80s, boarding school was little more than an exercise in survival—a siege from morning to night. From day one you had no choice but to survive in a hierarchy that was best compared with ‘Lord Of The Flies’. Senior boys were responsible for disciplining younger ones. If you didn’t look after your possessions, somebody took them from you. If you were fat, you were taunted mercilessly. If you were weak, you became a victim. I was exposed to all of this from a position of not being the standard boarding school kid. My parents didn’t show up in fancy cars to school and I didn’t have the kind of home other kids did. Consequently, I had to punch much harder, in a figurative sense, to survive. But that I certainly did. Rather than sinking and becoming an anonymous also-ran, destined for a lifetime of obscurity, I suppose— via the sporting abilities I had— I became a bit of an Alpha male in the context of my peer group.
I then went to University with no real plan as to why I was going or what I wanted to do afterwards. I didn’t enjoy any aspect of it: the party atmosphere, the fact that people didn’t conform to my worldview, which was pretty cynical at that point, if I’m being truthful. I started to not like people and the irony was that one of the people I liked least was myself. For whatever reason, I really wrestled with self-esteem—especially when it came to my relationship with the opposite sex. I had no idea how to do small talk with anyone, far less with women. I became dispirited and walked into a relationship for no other reason than I thought it was all I would ever get. Within a year of leaving University, I was married. And then I made one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
In order to appease the much older woman I married, I decided to go into the family business. I did this not because I wanted to run a newspaper business, but solely because I felt it could elevate me to a certain income level without having to work particularly hard. It was a weak decision, and ultimately very selfish in the sense that it forced my father to dilute his income in the business he’d worked so hard to build. But at age 24, I didn’t think about or care about those things. I was just focused on creating some sort of viable platform from which to sustain a marriage, and for all the wrong reasons. Although my relationship was deeply flawed, I had two children and was a very active and engaged dad. On one hand life felt good, but on the other I knew that I was living a constant lie. I found myself asking myself “Is this all my life will ever be?”
Inevitably the relationship broke down and around the same time my father died after a long illness and the business failed. At the age of thirty- four, with a divorce, no home of my own, two young children and no income, I found myself at the edge of the abyss. For a while I lost all sense of purpose and identity. I even lost track of reality for a while when I started taking sleeping pills to erase that reality. I was living day to day, and not liking the next day when it arrived. It was a really dark time, and I wasn’t always certain that I’d get out of it.
How did you find your way out?
One night, as I sat half asleep in my rural cottage where Prince William and Kate Middleton as she was at the time were my next-door neighbours, there was a knock at the door. I got up, irritated, and walked down the hallway to see who had the sheer audacity to interrupt my misery. Outside the door stood a friend of mine who’d been calling and texting me for days to no avail, barely visible behind what I could see was a Playstation 2 console sitting atop a 48-can slab of the cheapest Czech lager known to man. “This ends now, Marcus,” he said–using a bastardization of my name only he has ever used. He came in, we hooked up the games and we played until morning with Czech beer on the side. He ended up sleeping on my couch for three nights. For whatever reason, this guy’s unexpected company shook me from my depressed state.
To what extent was your experience working as a caddy a catalyst to making this change?
Caddying pretty much transformed my life! That is no exaggeration. I had grown up playing golf in St. Andrews. I’d played the Old Course hundreds of times. I knew the landscape like the back of my hand. It was one of the few places I ever felt alive and unburdened by the shit of life was when I was out on the links with the wind and the four-seasons-in-one-day climate of eastern Scotland. By late 2004, I had to make quite a depressing decision—what was I going to do that could give me some kind of an income? Really I had no choice. I decided to walk down to the caddie shack and ask if there was any possibility of trying out as a caddie.
This caddy shack environment was yet another Lord Of The Flies situation except no longer was I contending with a bunch of snot-nosed teenagers, this was a hundred-strong crew of grizzled grown men and a couple of women. People who had been there for forty years viewed any incomer with slit-eyed suspicion. They viewed me, a guy who until recently had owned a prominent business in their town, with even more of the same. Again, I had to adapt and find my place. But because I knew the course and could talk to people from any background, I soon became part of the hardcore Old Course caddie fraternity. For once I felt like I was the person I wanted to be and in the place I wanted to be it.
Tell us a bit more about how the skills you acquired from your time caddying have helped you in your writing career, and how this line of work influenced the way you relate to others
I actually had no expectations at the beginning about what it might lead to. I was using the caddying simply to decompress, earn some money and just be in an environment I enjoyed. However… it soon became apparent to me that caddying for someone was a unique position. You met these random people on the first tee and had no choice but to find a way to relate for the next four or five hours. Many of these people were on bucket list trips. I wanted to make their once in a lifetime experience of playing the Old Course in St Andrews memorable. Along the way I met an Olympic athlete who was in the midst of writing his own autobiography at the time. As we walked and talked, he told me about how the process was playing out. As I listened, I was reminded of the words my English teacher at boarding school had once told me: “You could be a good writer if you ever bothered to show up to class.” I’d never considered this as a potential career path at all. To me, writing never seemed lucrative, far less very sexy. However I started seeing things differently. I began using these four-hour relationships with golfers as a way to develop my listening/relating skills with a view to perhaps launching a new career as a biographer/ghost-writer. Looking back, caddying was a means of testing the model.
Your first foray into writing was linked to another passion of yours, heavy metal music. In an interview elsewhere you describe how although you winged your first manuscript, with little to no experience at all on how to write a book when you got the deal, you submitted a perfectly standard industry manuscript. It must have been a thrill to take that leap!
Heavy metal had been in my life since an older school friend handed me a cassette tape when I was fourteen years old with the words, “Listen to this shit…”
It was a mix-tape, with a random bunch of songs on it. ‘Paranoid’ by Black Sabbath, ‘More Than A Feeling’ by Boston and ‘Simple Man’ by Lynyrd Skynyrd were three of them. I can’t recall the others.
Well, hearing this kind of music felt like walking through a star-gate into a parallel dimension. While this music I’d been given wasn’t heavy per se relative to what I’m into nowadays, it was nevertheless a whole world that I never knew existed prior. It was a private club, completely hidden away from most people in the normal world and I especially liked that idea of belonging to something like that.
From there I became completely immersed. I bought vinyl in vast quantities, wore the shirts, went to concerts and shook the foundations of my parents’ house. I lived the heavy metal lifestyle from the age of fifteen and I have not stopped doing so since. At various times I have been asked questions like, “Will you ever grow out of this stuff?” Many people don’t get it, but I get a perverse sense of satisfaction from the fact that they don’t. Even today, not a moment passes where I don’t think about this music. It truly is fundamental to my being. If you want to be in my life, you must accept that it is part of me. I still wear the t-shirts.
So, when it came to finding a way into writing, it was very much a case of writing about what I knew best. In the mid-2000s, I found myself begging website editors to let me give them what were, in retrospect, very naïve album reviews of heavy metal albums released at that time. But, just like anything, if you work hard enough on what you’re doing, you get better at it. And before long I’d written a few reviews, had done a few features and interviews, and was being approached by an independent publisher to write an unauthorized biography of James Hetfield, the frontman in Metallica. And I literally did wing it. I had no idea how to research or write a book. I decided to agree to the deal and then figure it out later. And I did figure it out. It was pretty empowering and scary at the same time. But when I submitted it on deadline, I remember thinking, “Damn, I can do this.”
One aspect we discussed I’d like to know more about, is how you changed your mind-set, learned to rely on your own abilities, and how putting yourself first improved your relationship with those around you.
I think I was a people-pleaser for years without really knowing it. Scots aren’t the most forthcoming when it comes to offering affirmation etc. and that extended to my own parents who came from a generation where everyone was pretty stoical in the day to day. In no way is it a criticism of them, but they rarely verbally or physically expressed love that I can recall. Instead, they exhibited love in more practical ways by doing things like sending me to boarding school regardless of how much that definitely stretched their finances. As I said, they never had fancy cars and we only ever took one holiday overseas. I respect that dedication of theirs, but with hindsight it left me looking for affirmation throughout life, mostly in the wrong places. What I realized was that the need for affirmation not only made me weak, but also it meant that I wasn’t giving myself any affirmation. Getting my first book published, low key as it was, probably flipped a switch in me. I saw it as not only an act of defiance to all the people who saw what I was doing as not a ‘real’ job, but I also used it as a means of beefing up my own ego at the same time. It had taken me until the age of forty to believe in myself. And once I believed in myself, I started applying really direct communication with anyone I worked with. I did what I said I’d do (rare nowadays) and I wasn’t afraid to say ‘no’ a lot. I think people worry that that kind of stark honesty alienates people. I found the opposite to be true. I got respect. And as a result of that respect, all my relationships improved: family, friends, business—every aspect of my life benefitted. I began to understand my own worth.
As a writer of biographies, each project must be quite transformational, immersing yourself into another person’s world. Which aspect of delving into the recesses of your subject’s life do you enjoy the most? How fulfilling is the collaboration process when you co-write their story?
I like that you can be in someone’s world for a year and then you leave. Some I enjoyed leaving more than others. But no two processes are the same. Like I had to with every golfer I met on the first tee of the Old Course, I also had to find common ground with my subjects. In some cases it was easy, in others less so. But the basis of it all was the honesty and direct communication I mentioned earlier. I spelled out the process as clearly as possible at the outset with no bullshit whatsoever. I never over-promised and I like to think I over delivered instead.
In co-write situations, my ideal situation is where the subject doesn’t have any desire to write anything and is happy for me to do all the writing based on our conversations. That way I can build authentic voice from scratch, without having to pick one out of existing writing—which is a bit like trying to bend non-compliant lumps of metal into shape. But these conversations I’m talking about are the key. At the beginning of my career, I think I probably asked too many ‘closed’ questions. With time I learned that the best material came when the subject was disarmed and unprompted. Sometimes someone will go off on a tangent on their own, and it was learning when to shut up when that happened, rather than trying to interject, that yielded the best material. Lesson: people don’t always think linearly.
Speaking with John McAfee for so many hours, how has his way of thinking and experiences influenced your belief system? I imagine it shakes up many preconceived notions and makes you reassess certain of your perspectives on life, and reaffirm others.
I honestly had no expectations when I started speaking to John. If anything, I think I went into it all expecting not to like him very much. As much as I saw him as this interesting maverick figure, I didn’t particularly see any areas where I thought we’d agree—not that that particularly mattered. However, in one of the first conversations with John that I had, he told me that previous people he’d worked with had been too naïve as to the ways of the world. When he said that, I took mental note. From that point onwards I made sure that I was completely open to anything he told me—even some of the stories that on paper were beyond implausible. The fact of the matter is that the majority of people walking around the world are far too content to just accept what they are told –by media or by other people. Time and time again it has been proven that to simply take things on face value, isn’t the way to go. How many so-called ‘conspiracy’ theories have later been disproved? Let’s get real, in 2022, institutions that are held up to be unchallengeable and unimpeachable: politicians, doctors, law enforcement etc., are every bit as likely to be corrupted as anyone else. The evidence of that is just too plentiful to ignore.
When you accept that fact, it opens your eyes. Now, I should say that I was already halfway down that road when I started talking to John McAfee. For years my wife and I have been having breakfast table conversations about aspects of the world we don’t like and that aren’t what they seem. We even talked about making a podcast out of it all: us ranting over breakfast. But we decided that we’d probably be cancelled! Anyway, I digress. What was most appealing about John to me was his understanding of the dichotomy of human nature. He had many qualities. He also had loads of flaws. However, when he explained how both of those sides have co-existed in him, and how by extension they also co-exist in every human being who has ever lived, that reinforced something in me that I’d always felt: that I wasn’t perfect, and that I should give up trying to be. When you do that, it doesn’t give you license to live a shitty life, but it certainly takes the pressure off. John, for someone who specialized in bending the reality he projected to the world and the media, was someone who was, at the heart of it, deeply rooted in a sense of his own reality. He knew what the Truth of John McAfee was. There was something very reassuring about that.
So you were already somewhat ‘red pilled’ before embarking on ‘No Domain’. Tell me more about that awakening and those conversations with your wife.
Yeah, I suppose I was. The breakfast conversations I talked about started out as us just ranting about the world in the echo chamber of our kitchen. One or both of us might have seen something on social media or in the news, or on Netflix the previous evening, and often it was something like that that started the conversation. Then it would go freeform from there. We go all over the place with this: how wireless technology simply has to have profound effects on peoples’ health that we probably won’t find out about for years. How TV manufacturers were implanting technology in TV sets as far back as the 1980s, specifically to spy on people. Why does Alec Baldwin’s wife pretend she is Spanish? How pets didn’t used to get weird cancers back in the day but now seem to. How spectacularly shit Emily In Paris is? How mainstream news cannot be believed etc. etc. This has been breakfast fodder for a few years, and believe me this is some of the tamer stuff! It’s our way of attempting to set the world to right sat the beginning of each day. And then the next morning, we go all over again. These types of conversations perfectly primed me for the kinds of suggestions about our world that John McAfee often made.
In your book’s epilogue, after having previously explained how the original publishing deal with John McAfee fell through, you describe a touching aspect of your relationship, and the importance of getting his approval to publish without his involvement in the writing process. It reads like there was an unspoken code of honor between the two of you.
That wasn’t something either of us planned, but was something that just happened. I remember he and I talking about how ludicrous the idea of a collaboration agreement between us would have been. In any other book arrangement I’d been part of, there had been a written agreement, signed, maybe an NDA etc. But we both knew that was pointless. He was in hiding. What was I going to do if he didn’t fulfill his end of the deal? Equally, for the same reason, what could he do to me? We just laughed, looked each other square in the eye on Skype and said, “OK, let’s proceed.” Later, after John had removed himself from the publisher deal because of the issue with crypto, I was left hanging with all this material. In the background, I had talked with a few publishers with a view to how it could be used. In the end, the publisher that had originally offered us the deal was the one who was brave enough to go with the revised idea whereby I’d go it alone with the material from the tapes. Now, I know many people who, knowing what they knew about John’s position, would have just powered on and not bothered even asking. I just couldn’t have done that. I was fully prepared for him to say no. Had he done so I would have been disappointed, but I’d have sucked it up and found another book to write. But I asked him directly and with nothing withheld. I didn’t dress it up, nor did I dress it down. And I believe it was that approach that tipped the scales my way. John knew I was being respectful, and he reciprocated by saying yes. The sad part is that he told me later that he was looking forward to reading it. That never happened obviously.
You’ve spoken about the passing of your father, and how it has affected you. Reading ‘No Domain’ and from our conversations, it seems like John became a kind of father figure to you. What made you look up to him in that way?
This thought occurred to me long after our conversations. As I said, my parents were from a hardworking and reasonably non-effusive generation. Not only that, my own father, who I respected a great deal, did not live life on the scale that John McAfee did, nor did he do much by way of philosophizing about life. John did a lot of that, and what was most surprising was that he wasn’t self-centered about doing it. Many times he asked me about my life and views on certain things – many more times than I chose to include in the book. Long after we stopped talking, I suddenly realized that he enjoyed imparting wisdom on someone who was 25 years his junior. Equally, I enjoyed getting it. John taught me the nuances of how to get thrown in jail in Mexico and how to steal bicycles from peoples’ front porches. With the best will in the world, my father never did that!
In one of your conversations you transcribed in the book, John McAfee refers to the presidency as ‘that chair that is occupied by a set of profoundly charismatic and articulate actors’. I wonder what his take on President Trump was, as the only reference was his disagreement over the wall. And what is your assessment of the theatre that is currently going on with these different ‘leaders’ such as Biden and Trudeau, who in my opinion are clearly puppets (though not charismatic, nor articulate).
I never once got a sense of John’s political leanings beyond his own McLuhanesque spin on Libertarianism— none of which he took particularly seriously I don’t think. He certainly didn’t want to become President; I just think he found it titillating that he could even try.
I think John looked fairly cynically upon any politician’s motives, his own included, and I think that went back to his fundamental understanding of human nature more generally. He always told me that the acquisition of power only ever resulted in negative traits: greed, jealousy and anger etc. I can’t disagree. Show me a politician from any side of any aisle that isn’t motivated by what they personally stand to gain?
As far as Trudeau and Biden are concerned, I am no fan of either of them. Unfortunately, all of this theater as you describe it has led us into uncharted and dangerous territory. The great irony here is that for all that I didn’t always like Trump’s house style, what he did seem to be was honest in a way that the Bidens and Trudeaus of the world just aren’t. And this was a guy who didn’t even come from a political background! I think that tells its own story.
There’s another passage I really enjoyed, where you transcribed John’s views about the unconstitutionality of income tax and the government/central banks’ control over us, as I share pretty similar views. However, unlike John I have mixed/cautious feelings about crypto and remain dubious about its origins and/or potential weaponization to usher in a digitized centralized system by our cunning overlords. He seemed utterly convinced in its liberating power. What are your thoughts?
I disagree with you on that one. I don’t see it as their desire to usher in anything specifically. I just think governments have realized that crypto is unstoppable and that, in that case, they may as well make some attempt to control it and regulate it for their own ends. But this is where people must make a decision. It is clear that, for all that technology arguably makes life better on many levels, the other side of that coin is that governments can and will utilize technology against the general population if given the chance. Look at Australia during the pandemic. I believe their Government had an app where they could make sure people stayed in their homes! How did we get there? We need to decide whether we want to control technology, or whether we are prepared to submit to being controlled by it via government regulation. It’s a simple choice. Crypto is just one part of that.
You recently launched a ‘No Domain’ NFT collaboration, tell us a bit more about that
This NFT collaboration is the first step for me into the crypto world and I did it for all the reasons I mentioned above. With a company called Canonic, we launched an NFT version of the McAfee book on Bitcoin, in addition to a signed, numbered and limited edition hard cover version with a new holographic cover. In addition to that, there are some cool extras related to the forthcoming documentary being directed by Amanda Milius, after she optioned the original book. While this NFT is a cool vibe, the signaling that comes with it is every bit as important. By owning this you are saying: “Screw you” to anyone who thinks they can regulate crypto-currency. And who better than John McAfee as a medium through which to transmit such a signal?
I can’t wait for the film adaptation by Amanda Milius — she’s brilliant. Another project you’re working on I’m excited about is your book on Steve Bannon, who is someone I greatly respect. What can you share about both ventures at this stage?
I’m really glad Amanda is doing this adaptation. She gets McAfee completely and I don’t doubt for a second that she’ll come up with something great. I’m not sure about timelines at this stage though. I believe these things can take a while.
Steve Bannon is someone I pestered for months to do something. After a while we started getting along pretty well and he was into the McAfee stuff enough to have me on the War Room to talk about it. Beyond that I wanted to co-write an autobiography, which was an idea he absolutely wasn’t interested in. Instead I pitched the definitive Bannon biography to him: the dark, the light – the entire Bannon story from the Navy to Goldman Sachs, to China, to Hollywood to the Trump White House, and everything else that goes to make what is a truly fascinating character in my eyes. The funny thing is that everybody always told me Steve is basically Satan— that he’s impossible to work with etc. I’ve found the Honey Badger to be the complete opposite: old school direct, honest, reliable; I have never had any issue with Steve Bannon and I’m in the midst of writing what he knows has to be a balanced biography, with his blessing. In it will be some input from him directly, as well as tons of inside-baseball from people who have known him over the years—both friends and foes. It’ll be explosive…