Death on the Hill hit the shops this week. To coincide with this I’ve been hitting the publicity trail. The last week has passed in a blur of corridors and studios and next week promises to be no different. It’s a necessary part of bringing out a book but it’s one of the more surreal parts of the job.
As a journalist I’ve been in a fair few studios over the years. I started out working in radio and it’s great to get the chance to be sitting in front of a mic again albeit on the other side of the desk. It’s strange to be answering questions rather than asking them and being an item on the running order, a part of the story.
It’s very different from the daily business of court reporting. Taking notes, checking facts, always on watch to catch the smallest detail that will make the picture that you paint at the end of the day all the more vivid. It’s quite a passive line of work, an observer not a contributor. Definitely not a position that tends to land in the spotlight.
Of course when you write a book it’s a different matter entirely. You’re no longer simply a story in the paper, waiting for tomorrow’s chips. You’ve pinned your colours to the mast and embarked on a project that involves, of necessity, some hard sell. Suddenly you’re flashing a smile and plugging away and getting ever more removed from the violent facts that you’re recounting.
Covering murder is an odd business. When you do the job for any length of time you develop armour so that the gory details slide off you like drops off an umbrella. You become flippant when faced with brutality, treating each tragedy lightly because it’ll only be followed by another. That’s not that you don’t have compassion, just that it get’s rationed, metered in the face of relentless details that bleed into one another as trial follows trial follows trial.
The details of each successive trial settle on each other until your brain is clogged by the fallen details of dozens of deaths, dozens of post mortems. You learn to leave the job at the end of the day and put aside the details and the pain of the victims and their families but your sense of humour gets a blackened edge and gallows laugh.
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job – well love is probably the wrong term, but it’s what I do and the work suits me. But when you’re selling a book it tends to come home that while you are happy to have a book with your name on it you’re also constantly retelling somebody else’s personal tragedy with each bright and breezy interview. It’s more than a little surreal.
All you can do is try to keep the balance. A balance between the book I’ve written, telling a story as a writer and a journalist, and the dark, tragic truth at the centre of it. It’s the nature of this kind of book. Most of the time I don’t navel gaze but when I find myself sitting in another corridor waiting to go on air to do another interview it can get a little introspective. Tomorrow starts with two such corridors. You have been warned.