Alastair's Blog

Return to:  Blog | Articles | Videos RSS feed

It’s my book and I’ll plug if I want to (…at least until the alcohol crisis subsides)

Posted on 3 January 2014 | 11:01am

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.

  • thisisGilb

    Have you sent a copy to Peter Hitchens?

  • Mark Wright

    As somebody who spends most of my life performing in establishments where people are generally pissed I am constantly amazed at the inability of so many to think they they are incapable of having a good night out unless they get smashed. I just don’t get it. Getting blind drunk is their raison d’etre for going out bar none. Have we become so dissatisfied and so disconnected from ourselves that our happiness can only derive from blotting out our reality?

    At times I think so. This problem is so much more than over-reliance on alcohol. It is about our perception of ourselves and of each other.

    We need to get happy.

    (And whilst we’re on the subject of plugging…)

    What better way to put a smile on one’s face right now than to spend 25 minutes listening to my Review of 2013 on BBC Radio Sussex on iPlayer!!! I cover the big stories of the year: walrus-dressing for rent in Brighton, gold for weight in Dubai and fake Iranian space-monkeys.

    You’ll feel 13% better. That’s a personal guarantee.

    Listen from 2hrs 8 mins

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01ng0fr

    • Ehtch

      Think in a social situation it is social shyness/social phobia, which again the grog alleviates, and hence another reason why many get plastered right up to their gills.

  • Margaret

    We do our young people a great disservice by brainwashing them into thinking excess of alcohol is the only way to have a good time. Best of luck with your, much needed, campaign and your book. Look forward to reading it.

  • Ignore the complaints and carry on doing what you do best; being honest and frank and very helpful. “My Name Is” is an excellent book I read the hardback in 2 sittings and yes it’s difficult sometimes but it tells the truth about the devastation alcohol can wreak. Our country is in the grip of a serious crisis and the government has to crack down on the sale of cheap alcohol in supermarkets and on the constant advertising of alcohol. Someone told me I was boring because I was drinking fruit juice well tough…not true…I’m not a party pooper just wary of what I drink. Congratulations on this blog and again on your book. It needs saying.

  • Ehtch

    It is baffling that science just does not have the capability to do basic medical tests on a person’s body chemistry to find the “craving” part of their make-up, that I am sure a simple pill would alleviate the need. The main “attribute” of alcohol is it’s anxiety relaxant ability, but causes reinforcement sub-consciously, so hence the over-doing of it bit occurs. It is as if it is a taboo part of medicine of the human body to relieve.

    As an aside, is Osborne going to put a load of tax on these e-cigs this year, which remove all of the worst effects of smoking? All will be due to their rising popularity, and so hence less tax coming into the treasury from traditional intake of nicotine. Wonder what excuse Osborne would use for such a move?

    Linky from The Guardian the other day, about such devices,

    http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jan/03/how-e-cigarettes-changed-my-life

  • Ehtch

    Extra aside Ali, hard luck with the FAC today, but compensations, concentrate to get into the Premier now, full on attack, where the REAL money is, to move things on, and all that usual talk the pundits that know nothing usually come out with how to manage or run a football club, and we know who we are talking about here Ali…. ; )

    (jeeeeeeeeeezuz gawd, England are getting slaughtered in The Ashes Ali, Cook out for 7 just chasing 448!?! to win. Boycs must be having a conniption fit as we speak. 5-0)

  • Caroline Frances

    Gave up alcohol in October after reading Jason Vale’s book ‘Kick the drink easily’. Didn’t mean to but was so convinced by the arguments that it felt impossible not to. This book is particularly good on the way we have all been conned into thinking drinking alcohol is an essential part of enjoying ourselves. Four people I passed it on to also gave up immediately!

    Apologies for praising a book which isn’t yours however feel that this one would be a welcome addition to that compulsory reading list for schools. With ‘My name is…’ at the top if you like 🙂

  • Ehtch

    Just for Fergie Ali, Man U/Swans from yesterday evenings, si?

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jlubL49Gdy4

  • Michele

    Am sure there are contractual obligations to the publishers too and nobody has to read any of the plugging, I find it (the plugging) dutiful.

    Osbo spoke last night about the continuing (and to become deeper) cuts in spending and celebrating that the cuts are helping to cut the ‘deficit’ ….. was that word used to imply another – being deliberately foggy and suggesting we are lending less internationally?

    After all if ‘we’ (the state) are spending much much much much less internally ‘we’ are inevitably keeping more as a percentage (not as a value) of what ‘we’ earn even if those national earnings are less or only still close to 2009’s.
    It’s self-fulfilling that the difference between national earnings and spendings would be smaller .

    But that is not the same as cutting our debt (the word I;m sure he was hoping we’d presume he was celebrating).
    It’s time that MPs and media types used terms that matter ….. or even explain what THEY mean (own it, don’t leave fog in the mix by ‘mis-speaking’).

    When they yadder about ‘deficit’ they should prefix it with ‘national’, implying imbalance between domestic earnings and spending – few people have cause to celebrate that.

    When they imply that they are impacting on international debt and are borrowing less they have to prove it and Osbo can’t as it isn’t so – haven’t international borrowings grown by around 35% in 3yrs and it can’t all be down to interest charges – the other constant refrain – unless politicians are too cowardly to take on the IMF in a way similar to their not intervening on PFI contracts.

    Even capitalists must care about what’s fair shouldn’t they?

  • KDouglas

    I don’t buy from Amazon because of their tax avoidance stratagems and the conditions their staff are subjected to – plus their effect on other book sellers. Your books are for sale on Amazon and you are regularly exhorting people to review them there. Until people like you, Steve Coogan and George Monbiot kick the Amazon habits supporting your output, you are all part of the Amazon problem, however noble your sentiments.

    Said more in sorrow etc.

    • Michele

      Good point despite the cases being still ongoing due to the spurious ‘warehouses aren’t presence’ argument – nope, but their occupants are and it’s panto-like that the ‘non-present’ owners will find ways round their present difficulties while their employees are presumably paying their dues (as well as the majority of their suppliers).

      I’ve never bought on amazon but not because I ever had suspicions about their tax arrangements (I have plenty about the head office whereabouts of all the price-titled establishments on our high streets).

      There was a shocking documentary a few weeks ago about the automated time-controlled management / supervision of amazon warehouse pickers. Inhumane.

      As I type there’s a feature on t’radio about the roaring-ahead of Lidl and Aldi who also manage some serious undercutting ….. as well as having very efficient PR people getting them lots of exposure for their own-brand goods in consumer programmes.

    • Michele

      Re my last which isn’t ‘up’ yet it’s stuck around in my bonce for a while and made me wonder whether publishers give too-big discounts for sizeable orders like Amazon’s and that being a huge part of what allows their low RPs (ie: not the lower margins that some customers might presume) ?

      The two types of retailer give very differing levels of service and even more-differing work conditions for employees. Having seen the documentary I mentioned earlier and the poor workers slogging around modern but UN-lively accommodation with their trolleys and constant beep beep messages of the type ‘You’re three seconds behind’ (not to mention the lack of tolerance if they’re ill) I think it’s all something that should be published more widely. We should know what we’re culpable for.

  • Michele

    Off topic alert! Don’t like the Saturday headline ‘Labour tells teachers they could face sack’ as, if an actual quote it’s cack-handed and yet more of that ‘who can be the most butch’ …. but of course those words might be some slack ‘interpretation’.

    Wouldn’t have thought to post about it if not for ‘The Papers’ and a statement ‘don’t remember them doing much about it while in Govt’ …… excuse me!?

    Wasn’t there a child-centred all-round protection policy called Child First?
    plus ….
    Teaching materials on the internet for any accredited teacher to download (including those at fee-paying schools)
    Constant assessment of teacher as well as pupil
    Academies
    Better school meals and dining facilities
    Alan Johnson was planning to delay school leaving by 2013 …. to age 18, include apprenticeships and work-based training rather than continued academic learning
    Colossal improvements in school buildings and sports / PE facilities
    Practical school uniforms as the norm from early years (doing away with the attendance at school of little girls wearing ‘When I grow up I want to be a stripper’ t-shirts – several did so at our local primary in the late 80s/early 90s)
    ……………….. and so much more.

    Ggggrrrrrrrrr

  • Michele

    Re all the fuss at the moment about ‘benefits tourists’ hasn’t there always been a requirement for a claimant to have at least 26 NI contributions on their history before a claim of any type can be made ?
    NI conts have always been (and surely still are?) deducted for any Mon-Sun week in which 4+ hrs have been worked and 26 in any one NI year was the entry-level for conts-based (and therefore insurance) benefits.

    Anyone with less than 26 conts in the relevant NI year had to rely on means-tested stuff which didn’t kick in till some weeks in to being off work.

    Surely these conditions still apply and do so for all?

  • Jane whitehead

    I just read My Name Is…and feel it was the most moving piece of literature I’ve read in a long time. Thank you for the unique style and, oh yes, the honesty.
    I hope it has touched anyone who has held it in their hands and felt what I believe you have done so simply and eloquently.