Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Letters Of Hope To Those Who Will Not Listen

I have just finished reading Letters of a Prisoner by Corder Catchpool,  a conscientious objector (CO) during World War I.  At that time all males of fighting age were conscripted into the forces. Due to high principles, Cordor objected to war, objected to killing another human.  He was court marshaled and imprisoned for six months. When his sentence was complete he was sent back to barracks where he refused to fight, was court marshaled again and sent back to prison.   This bizarre process went on for the whole war.  When the war ended in November 1918 Corder knew he wouldn't be released until after the peace agreement was signed. He was released in April 1919 having served four years in prison for committed no crime other than to refuse to kill a human.  The interesting point he makes in the letters is that the Sinn Feiners, imprisoned for what we would now call acts of terrorism, were released months before the peace loving COs.

It could be believed that a book of prison letters might be depressing and boring. These were neither. The letters were to either his mother or sister and contained details of his life in a small dark cell, with inadequate food and often with toothache. But the eloquent style of writing and the humor injected into the trivial made the letters interesting and educational.  Here was an cultured man who learned German and read classics whilst in prison; who crammed, in small spidery script, as much information as he could into the one page of paper he was allocated each fortnight. Here was a man who wrote over a series of three letters (due to lack of space) a touching post war Christmas story about a British soldier billeted in a German household.  The letters are filled with love and interest for his fellow man and above all a hope for the future. He notes that wars are started by old men and will never stop until people refuse to fight.

It is Corder Catchpools hope that left me depressed.  As we enter this Christmas we have writers imprisoned all over the world who, like CC, have committed no crimes.  Pen International fight for these writers but the fact that Pen International exists today proves we have not learned from Corder's experience.

This year UK's Christmas number one is set to be The Military Wives Choir Wherever You Are, a heart tugging song for the troops in Afghanistan - a political coup for the war mongers.  All week I have been hearing on radio talk shows about our brave troops in the forces.  The UK is being manipulated into a nationalistic frenzy, using Christmas as a tool.  I do care about the troops but I feel they are being used for political ends.

And now, today, the Falkland dispute is kicking off again - there must be an election coming up somewhere.

 I think Corder Catchpool got it wrong, war is not started by old men - it is started by greedy, vain, power hungry men and I believe it will never end until all the power in the world is handed over to mothers.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

The Secrets of a Successful Book Launch - V Campbell

V. Campbell, author of the sensational young adult novel Viking Gold, overwhelmed the staff at Waterstones, Sauchiehall Street a few weeks ago with the phenomenal success of her book launch.  Over one hundred people attended, the store sold out of the book and the friendly Vikings, in attendance for entertainment, were forced to curtail their revelries due to the size of the crowd. 

V Campbell with Vikings and a happy audience

How was it for the author?    V Campbell reveals all.

How important is a book launch to the success of a book?
I don’t know, but the success of my launch certainly got Viking Gold off to a jogging start.

Your main launch was in Waterstones in Glasgow.  Why did you/your publisher choose this venue?
I chose this venue because I’d been to launches there before and they’d gone so well. I also live in Glasgow, so the main Glasgow branch of Waterstone’s seemed logical.

How much input did you have in the planning of the event?
I planned it all.

What do you feel went well?
We had a band of Viking warriors storm the proceedings half-way through. I thought this was great fun and leant a certain light heartedness to the proceedings – sometimes book events can be so dry. And Viking Gold isn’t a dry sort of book; I wanted to reflect the book’s sense of mayhem and uncertainty in the launch. They also provided a great photo opp.

If you could do it all again what would you do differently?
Nothing, actually.

What advice would you give to first time authors embarking on their first book launch?
Organise it well in advance, especially if there is a specific date that you want. Tell everyone you know about it!

Read an extract of Viking Gold at
Follow @vcampbellauthor on twitter
Viking Gold is available to buy at Waterstone’s, WHSmith, Amazon and on Kindle.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Imagined Lives

Character and back story are basics to a writer, but they might not be interesting to the average art lover. I was intrigued when the National Portrait Gallery invited writers such as Alexander McCall Smith, John Banville and Tracy Chevalier to write back stories for some of the portraits in the gallery where the identity of the sitter is in doubt. The project is called Imagined Lives.

I never need an excuse to visit to the Portrait Gallery, I find both the paintings and the photography there invigorating and inspiring; faces fascinate me, they tell so much about a life.  Because I was keen to see how these writers tackled their task, and I had a couple of hours spare in the centre of London, there was only one place to go.

There are fourteen portraits in the collection, most painted around the sixteenth and seventeenth century.  They all had identities that were later disputed.  One was thought to be Mary Queen of Scots another Queen Elizabeth I.  In the book that accompanies the event the Chief Curator, Tarnya Cooper gives a very comprehensive explanation of why these identities became disputed, most were due to improved date detection techniques.

The faces are interesting and varied.  I wanted to know more about them and being a biblioholic I bought the book and rushed to the gallery cafe for a coffee with the expectation of being transported into the world of the unknown portrait sitters. Stories from beyond the grave and the imagination.

I don't know what the authors' brief was but I was immediately disappointed. Half of the eight writers simply made up a character and listed lots of facts and dates.  Julian Fellow's two pieces were so dull I couldn't finish reading them.  It was like reading a text book and showed no real skill.  I am pleased to say that some met my expectations.  Minette Walters even managed to plant a suspicion in the readers' mind.  Tracy Chevalier's two pieces showed the most skill in exposing a character through a story, and Terry Prachett was the only one that put a smile on my face.

I applaud the National Portrait Gallery for commissioning this project.  It is always encouraging to see writers being invited to participate in any art form but if I am honest I now wish I had used my two hours to pop next door to the National Gallery and soak up their Leonardo exhibition.