NUJ Netherlands branch member Gordon Darroch is publishing his first book this month. It’s a very personal memoir about the loss of his wife Magteld to breast cancer four years ago. He lives in The Hague with his two sons aged 15 and 13 and works as a freelance writer and editor.

Gordon was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to field a few questions from the branch on the eve of the book’s publication.

Photo credit: Traci White

First, can you tell us something of your background?

I was born in Norwich in 1974. After studying English Literature and German at the University of Edinburgh, I went into journalism as a reporter on the Peterborough Evening Telegraph. In 2001 I moved to Glasgow, where I worked for the Glasgow Herald, STV News Online, the Glasgow Press Association, and as a freelancer. In 2014 I moved to The Hague with my Dutch wife Magteld and our two children.

You published several very personal, very moving blog posts about your final time with Magteld. At what point did you think that you might have the basis for a book?

I started writing a diary while Magteld was going through chemotherapy, partly as a coping mechanism but also with half an eye on turning it into a book about caring for someone with cancer and two children with autism. Of course, at that stage I conceived of it as an uplifting story of surviving hardship, but it didn’t turn out that way. After she died the blog posts were my way of harnessing all the emotions that were whirling round in my mind and making sense of what had happened. A few people suggested turning it into a book, but I wasn’t sure I had enough material. Then in January 2015 I saw a competition online run by Fish Publishing for short memoirs of up to 8,000 words. So I entered, got placed on the long list, and that gave me the impetus to work it up into a full-length book over the next year and a half.

Did you find a publisher first and then write the book? Or did you shop around the finished manuscript?

That’s a complicated story. I contacted a publisher while I was writing the book and they were very encouraging. I sent the manuscript to them in stages and we discussed contract terms, but at the last minute it fell through. Mostly, I think, because of the fragile state of the publishing industry at that time. Obviously that was disappointing, but luckily I found an agent who offered the manuscript to several other publishers and was able to find a new home for it fairly quickly.

At the age of 44 you are old enough to have had an old-fashioned journalism education and traditional newsroom experience yet young enough to still have to work for another twenty years or so. Journalism and media are going through some profound changes. What does the future look like from your vantage point?

I’ve given up trying to second guess what I’m going to be doing five years from now. It’s an exciting time to be a journalist and a vital one, given the turbulent times we live in, but it’s also extremely difficult because the job is evolving in ways that nobody really understands. For me the most significant change is the sheer mass of information that people are being bombarded with, of hugely varying quality – and that’s before we even get on to the spread of deliberate disinformation by malicious actors.

When I was a cub reporter a journalist’s job was to bring information to light that governments and corporations were trying to keep hidden; nowadays we have the internet and freedom of information legislation, so everything is out in the open. Instead of poking around in the dark, we’re trying to navigate in a blizzard. The journalist’s job now is to be a filter, cutting through the layers of flotsam and fakery to expose the core of the story. But it still requires the same basic skills: a reliable bullshit meter, an ability to analyse complex issues in plain terms and oodles of persistence.

I’ve no idea if I’ll still be in journalism in 20 months, let alone 20 years. I see exciting times ahead and a huge public appetite for news, but it’s incredibly difficult to make a living from it. The big media outlets are cutting staff and most foreign news comes from agencies or freelance operators like me who are often doing two or three jobs to make ends meet – and as a single parent, I can’t just drop everything and dash out to cover a breaking news story.

What are your thoughts on the role of the NUJ in this volatile and uncertain future?

The role of the trade union is changing, too, for the simple reason that newsroom staff are responsible for an increasingly small proportion of the material in the modern media. In this more flexible working environment the potential for journalists to be exploited, harassed and abused is enormous, so the union needs to be alert to these dangers and make sure their rights are upheld vigorously.

All the Time We Thought We Had, Gordon Darroch, ISBN 9781846974472, £9.99, paperback [€12.99 on, €14.95 at Paagman]. Also available as an eBook

The launch in the Netherlands takes place at Paagman in Scheveningen on September 25 at 7pm:


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