Ok , so I’m not keeping up with this as well as I’d hoped.
I’m still seeking out books by journalists but I keep being distracted by authors I already know. Like Michael Connolly, author of the brilliant Bosch books, or the latest John Grisham novel, which, to be frank, was a mistake because he’s not like the Grisham of old.
Anyway, I found Dan James (aka Dan Waddell, and if you recognise the surname, he is Sid’s son) and his website after stumbling across a discussion he was having on Twitter about the Lucy Meadows case – the transgender teacher from Accrington who took her own life several months after announcing how she planned to change her life.
Dan, who describes himself as a recovering journalist, was very critical the coverage of Meadows’ decision to go from being Mr Upton to Miss Meadows prior to her death. As has been well documented, the coroner in the case, Michael Singleton, has strongly criticised the coverage Miss Meadows received at the hands of the national media, even though there was no reference to the media coverage in evidence presented to the coroner’s court. Anyway, that’s a blog post for another day.
Despite the ‘recovering journalist’ reference and all the connotations that phrase contains, and the fact Waddell attributes his father’s belief of ‘never letting the facts get in the way of a good story’ as key to his success on tabloids (both statements which will wind up the many hard-working, honest, community-minded journalists out there), I did get as far as buying one of his books: Unsinkable, published in 2012.
So, how do you exactly review a children’s book when you’re 33?
I think I’ve found the answer: Get a little person involved.
My daughter Isobel is just shy of two now and has loved books since a very early age (she had little choice in the matter as it happens, there are plenty of relatives itching for an excuse to buy children’s books).
But amid the old favourites – Mog, for example, and the Hungry Caterpillar, not to mention pretty much anything by Julia Donaldson – and the newer offerings from Johnny-come-latelys like Peppa Pig, Albert the Pug is a very popular one.
“What part of my life has been lucky? I was born a bastard, my mother died when I was a baby, the people I thought were my parents turned out to be just two strangers who brought me up. I’ve got no friends. No family. I don’t even have a personality of my own. Then, to cap it all, everywhere I go someone is trying to kill me. Exactly which bit of that is lucky?”
There aren’t many books (which I’ve read) which have a character who sums up his predicament so well, but maybe that’s the great thing about reading a book by a journalist – there’s rarely a word wasted.
Two Minds To Die centres around journalist Marcus Fieldman, whose somewhat mundane life subbing on a London daily newspaper is shattered when he makes a spur-of-the-moment decision to follow someone who walks like him, moves like him and even has exactly the same mannerisms.
That split-second decision brings Marcus together with Jack Porter, who is his doppelganger – only not in looks, but in mind, thanks to the fact the pair – unknown to them – underwent an operation which had the result of saving one of their young lives, but which also transferred Marcus’s personality to Jack.
Ok, so I’ve hit some stumbling blocks already: Do I just read new books? Do I just read books by journalists who maybe aren’t known on a national stage? And what about books by journalists who are already successful authors?
I’ve decided ‘no’ to the last question, because it would preclude the likes of Kerry Wilkinson, the best-selling, self-published Kindle author whose latest Jessica Daniel novel I’m currently reading. Likewise, I‘ve just discovered Jon Evans on Amazon and it would remove him from this as well – and his books look good.
So to the first two questions. Well, in choosing Ben Brown’s Sandstealers, I have to admit I thought I was picking up a relatively new book. Actually, it was published in 2009. As for reading stuff by by journalists who aren’t household names, well, Ben Brown’s not really known for his fiction, is he?
Even if there aren’t many people who can call on BBC colleagues John Simpson, Fergal Keane and Emily Maitlis for reviews … although you’d hope they’d put professional reputation ahead of giving a friend a lift in the book charts.
In March last year, I was lucky enough to meet Steve Buttry – the Digital Transformation Editor at Digital First Media, an American news organisation which has taken a radical approach to digital publishing in the States. For anyone interested in serious discussion about the future of a media which has its roots in print, his blog is essential reading.
So why mention it when clearly writing about a book which doesn’t have his name on the front? Well, I found out about the book via his blog, written by his wife, Mimi Johnson. Yet it was only when he tweeted highlights from a couple of reviews on Amazon that I finally downloaded it to the Kindle app on the ipad. Mimi, I should add, is also a journalist.
The dark bags under my eyes which several colleagues remarked on last week have nothing to do with a no-excess-spared Christmas, or chasing after an 18-month-old who has discovered that most wrapped boxes contain a present for her for a fortnight. Or, indeed, long miles travelling to relatives while my wife battled through a stomach bug.
No, those bags are entirely due to the book on the right here. You know when you think you don’t have time to read, then start reading a book when you get chance and then everything else that can be put to one side tends to go that way? This is one of those books.
Set in America, the plot revolves around three journalists: Battle-hardened cynic Sam Waterman who has quit working on a top Washington newspaper to pursue a career, reluctantly, at a politics website; a photographer he once had an affair with which he’s never got over called Tess Benedict who escaped Washington and found a new life in a sleepy Iowa town with a basketball star turned newspaper publisher Jack Westphal. Westphal is, in short, everything Waterman isn’t.
Ok, so this idea may be a) rubbish, b) pretentious, c) pointless or d) a, b and c combined.
But over Christmas, I spotted a whole deluge of Tweets, articles, Facebook statuses and so on from journalists – or their friends – talking about books they’d published.
Now, we’ve all worked in newsrooms where journalists have felt they’ve got a book in them. The problem, in the past, was that to get the book published was often quite tricky – particularly if doing it around a job in a newsroom.