We were up in Scotland for Christmas, internet connection suitably weak, cycling conditions wet but beautiful, mental health conditions the usual end of old year/start of new up and down, so I laid off the blogging. December 15 indeed since last I told the world, other than via an occasional tweet, what I thought about it. Mind you, given all the interim hoo-ha re Bulgarians and Romanians, I think the piece, headlined ‘On immigration, Europe and much else besides, it’s time Cameron stopped letting myth drive policy‘has stood the test of time from one year to the next, and doubtless into next year, election year, as well.
I do hope, incidentally, that the single Romanian found at Luton Airport by the hordes of media seeking hordes of economic migrants is being offered a place on Big Brother, so that he can get a proper welcome to Britain, and proper instant celebrity, not just a handshake from Keith Vaz MP, and a few hundred clips on the news channels. Still, at least he gave a little blessed relief from the reviews of the year. Was it me or did they start earlier this year, and go on for longer? Memo to media – time for a rethink of fallow periods? Perhaps a blank screen (rolling ads in corner allowed for commercial channels) and a note to the world – ‘not much news today, talk to each other, or read a book!’
I started work on my next book over the holiday – well, I wrote an outline – and read a few good ones too. I was lucky enough to be sent an advance copy of the new book about Hillary Clinton which is due out later this year, HRC, which makes me think she is going to run for President again, and makes me hope she does. I also read an excellent (authorised) biography of Angela Merkel by Stefan Kornelius. Merkel is a fascinating leader, in so many ways the antithesis of what people expect from modern leaders in the media age. The author clearly likes and respects her, and so do I.
Novel wise, I am half way through Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty and if the second half is as powerful, well written and well-constructed as the first, it won’t be long before I will be adding to the 236 Amazon reviews (average four and a half stars! – totally deserved.) There was I, very pleased with the 55 reviews for All in the Mind, my first novel (also averaging at four and a half) and the 36 (not that I am counting of course) for the latest one, My Name Is.(also four and a half)
A friend of mine who works in PR in the film industry tells me that social media instant responses are now taken every bit as seriously as the reviews by established professional reviewers. I tried this out on my publisher for the paperback of My Name Is, which was published yesterday (yes, yes, yes, first blog of the year is a glorified book plug, with a meander through Scotland, Cameron, immigration, impressive women leaders and my current reading) and I gathered a few nice tweets and Amazon review comments and suggested, ‘maybe use some of these?’ They nodded, smiled, said ‘leave it with us’, and as I expected, a week later a ‘final draft’ of the new cover came through, complete with four quotes – from the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent and The Times. How old media, I groaned, to be told that if you didn’t have ‘proper’ newspaper reviews on there, readers assume it hasn’t been reviewed, and if it hasn’t been reviewed, it means it can’t be much of a book! Added to which, they said, look at what they say … ‘a poignant account of a teenage girl’s descent into alcoholism’ (that was the Telegraph) while the others were quoted as saying ‘gripping’ … ‘stunning’ … and ‘terrifying’. Oh ok, I said.
But still on I go, just a few times a day, encouraging people who tell me they read it and liked it to stick a post on Amazon, and retweeting some of the favourable comments too. This has annoyed a few people, and their annoyance has annoyed those who tweeted, who at least understand that if you write a book, you hope that people read it and you hope they enjoy it, or get something out of it.
What I am trying to get out of My Name Is … is a deeper understanding of the damage Britain is doing to itself through our love affair with alcohol. That is why I am again supporting, and encouraging others to support, the Dry January campaign run by Alcohol Concern. It is also why I am hoping that some who read My Name Is see something of themselves in some of the characters and let Dry January become Dry February and on and on; or at least take stock of their relationship with alcohol. Sorry to sound preachy, and I know there is nothing worse than a convert, but if you had been with me in the liver disease unit at Royal Bolton Hospital last month; or when I was talking to some of the London Ambulance crews who were on duty during the Christmas Party season; or on the train north to a recent Burnley match at Huddersfield when a couple of QPR fans en route to Doncaster got through 12 pints of lager and a bottle of vodka before midday, I think you might move a little bit to my side of the argument.
And to those who say, as so often they do, ‘why should I pay a few pence more for a glass of wine because a minority can’t drink responsibly?’ I say this: ‘do you really think it is a minority any more? And also, who do you think is paying for those doctors and nurses who reckon 20 per cent of hospital admissions are alcohol related, or for the ambulance crews, or the police out in force on weekends struggling to cope with the impact of our booze culture?’
So that is why I will keep plugging away, and why when someone tweets ‘this book should be compulsory reading in schools’, I will retweet it and hope that Michael Gove reads the copy I sent to him. To be fair to George Osborne and Jeremy Hunt, I know they have read it, because they told me so. I wouldn’t expect them to post a review, but I do hope it made them think deeply about the role government has to play in facing up to the scale of the alcohol problem in the UK.
Meanwhile, in for a penny, in for a pound, having told you the front cover quotes, here are the ‘prelims’, as they’re called, the comments inside the cover. The publisher still rebelled at the tweets but I managed to persuade them to allow a couple from radio, and a doctor. Happy New Year.
‘It is a sad and terrifying story, well-researched and timely… Campbell’s idea of telling the story through the self-contained testimonies of every person who came into contact with Hannah during her spiral into self-harm is clever and affords the reader a 360 degree view of what it is to deal with a vulnerable deceitful alcoholic in denial… Campbell has taken the vilified, sprawling, drunken youths caricatured in tabloid headlines and, in one young girl, showed us the damaged human beings beneath. For that he deserves much credit.’ The Times
‘The tenacity Campbell brought to bear in politics is matched here by his gripping inhabitation of his characters. Stunning.’ Independent on Sunday
‘This is not a quasi-misery memoir. Instead, each chapter is told from the perspective of someone who crosses paths with the troubled teenager. There are 23 of these before the final, achingly sad missive from Hannah herself . . . Campbell succeeds in allowing Hannah’s family, friends and, later, psychiatrists and magistrates, to tell her story’ Observer
‘Campbell writes with great skill and nuance. The voices are convincing and differentiated … The novel shows how the saturation of British culture in drink only become fully apparent to those who are trying to give it up. The achievement of this novel is to bring about a similar shift in the reader’s own perspective.’ Financial Times
‘Thought-provoking’ Good Housekeeping
‘A truly brilliant novel on a very, very important issue. Utterly gripping. It is like Dante’s Inferno with extra vodka shots.’ John Hess, BBC
‘A gripping and brutally frank portrayal of the descent into alcoholism and the damage it does to the dependent drinker and so many others. It is also incredibly moving. I strongly recommend having a box of tissues nearby when reading.’ Sir Ian Gilmore, Head of Alcohol Health Alliance.
‘If there is one book you should read this year it is My Name Is … I started it, and could hardly bring myself to put it down. When I did put it down, I was scared to pick it up, because I was so drawn to Hannah and her story. It is moving, shocking, brilliantly put together, and everyone should read it, and wake up to what alcohol is doing to us’ Richard Keys, Talksport.