When Duncan Hamilton and his wife Mandy had lunch with cricket writer Derek Hodgson at his flat in Menston, they were told it was up for sale.

Within two days they made up their minds and put in an offer. They live there now and are very happy.

Two days was about the same time it took Mandy to persuade Duncan to embrace his 20 years of experience of the late Firebrand football manager Brian Clough and write his biography. Several bottles of vino collapso helped.

The result, Provided You Don’t Kiss Me: 20 Years With Brian Clough, was published in hardback in 2007, reprinted in paperback last year, and has sold more than 100,000 copies. It won the William Hill Sports Book of the Year award in 2007.

Duncan’s latest book, an engrossing story of the life of the Nottinghamshire and England fast bowler Harold Larwood, has shifted 9,000 copies in less than two months.

After 32 years as a journalist in Nottingham and Leeds, Duncan, now 50, lives the life that most journalists dream of. Free of the daily grind, he is able to work on his commissioned books, travel where he needs to, and write what he wants.

“I am a free agent. I suppose if I didn’t want to work for a time I could do that. I have got plenty of ideas; but like anything else, who knows? I might find myself editing the Wharfedale Observer in five years.

“The only thing I miss writing about is the arts; I used to enjoy that,” he said, shivering slightly on a typical August day in Ilkley – cold and cloudy.

Born in the centre of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Duncan was four when his mum and dad moved to Nottinghamshire for work. His dad was a miner. In the early 1960s the North-East, Yorkshire and the Midlands were pitted with working collieries.

Coincidentally, Harold Larwood was a pitman; he remained one until his career as England’s premier pace bowler was established in the late 1920s. The world’s stock markets tumbled in 1929 as Larwood was being honed into the weapon that would destroy Don Bradman’s Australians in the 1932-33 Ashes – the controversial Bodyline series.

Reading the Clough and Larwood books does not require a personal passion for football and cricket; these books are as much about the life and times of these extraordinary men as about their sporting achievements.

Duncan said: “Writing a sports book doesn’t appeal to me as much as writing a book about a sportsman; it’s about trying to get people in the context of their history.”

As he says in the Larwood book: “We live our lives forwards, but we can only understand them backwards.”

One of the things we come to understand is that the lives of all great men and women are shaped by one or two important mentors. Brian Clough’s were his mother and football colleague Peter Taylor. Among Harold Larwood’s life influences were cricketers Jimmy Iremonger and, critically, England captain Douglas Jardine.

“Clough and Larwood were both from big families; they were both so different from the other members of their families. They were both drinkers and anti-authoritarian.

“Clough’s actions were dictated by the way society changed in the 1960s. He couldn’t have flourished in the 1950s because he was too outspoken; but he was perfect for the TV age.

“Larwood, if he was playing now, would be a multi-millionaire. Just as his father, a miner, wanted something better for him, my father didn’t want me to go down the pits.

“And I hope that my daughter will have a better life than I had.”

Roots are supposedly important to identity, yet they also tie people down.

“Clough always made a big thing out of being from the North-East, but he never went back. Larwood escaped completely by going to Blackpool and then Australia,” he added.

Duncan’s research took him and Mandy Down Under for six weeks. Enid, one of Harold Larwood’s five daughters, invited him to her home, where she showed him the contents of a large perspex box, a treasure trove of Larwood memorabilia. He saved all his cuttings and photographs, unlike Brian Clough.

In 2008, Duncan escaped from his last journalism job, in Leeds. He then worked for Ilkley and Bradford-based publishers Great Northern Books.

“I edited a book called Fire And Ashes, a collection of pieces about 18 Yorkshire cricketers, still alive, who had played in Ashes Test Matches.

“I also commissioned four or five books for them and edited another one about Hull City,” he said.

Fire And Ashes was published this month. Last year another book that Duncan edited, Sweet Summers: The Classic Cricket Writing of J M Kilburn, was made Wisden Book of the Year.

The day after talking to the T&A, Duncan was off to Headingley for the Roses match. His latest book, to be delivered to his publisher by the end of October, is about the current English cricket season. Only it’s not just about cricket.

“The matches are merely a hook to talk about the game and its characters, sort of like JB Priestley’s English Journey, I suppose.”