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 bol.com, €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: https://www.paagman.nl/gordon-darroch

 

Additional info

https://www.gordondarroch.com/

https://wordsforpress.wordpress.com/

https://www.facebook.com/gordonwrotesomething/

 

 

The NUJ has condemned the murder of Daphne Caruana Galizia and the deaths of 82 journalists and media staff in 2017. Tony Sheldon from the continental European council proposed Motion 153 and said that so far this year the death toll has been 17. Our colleagues would not be forgotten, he told delegates.

DM 2018The motion was agreed and instructed the union to continue to work with the IFJ and others to campaign against the harassment and murder of journalists, and to co-ordinate a campaign at branch level to mark the international day to end impunity for crimes against journalists on 2 November.

Motion 155 was proposed by first-time delegate Katrin McGauran, left, from the Netherlands branch. She outlined the plans of the Dutch government to follow other European countries and introduce a law allowing security services to conduct mass electronic surveillance. This would expose the personal data of the population without any exceptions, and would also jeopardise the protection of journalistic sources.

Delegates agreed the motion which instructed the union to support bodies such as the IFJ, Amnesty International and our Dutch sister union, the Nederlandse Vereniging van Journalisten (NVJ), in opposing these measures.

Read more at the main NUJ site: #DM18: International solidarity

 


NUJ Netherlands is supporting a crowdfunding campaign to bring aid to journalists in Caribbean countries affected by Hurricane Irma. It focuses primarily on journalists in the Dutch territory of St. Maarten which was hit hardest by the hurricane. The initiative is part of a wider effort launched by the Association of Caribbean Mediaworkers (ACM).

Marvin Hokstam, editor of Amsterdam’s AFRO magazine said: “There are fellow journalists I know back home in St. Maarten who have lost everything. They’re doing what journalists do best, placing the story first, but of course, as we often also do, without thinking of themselves”.

See: Caribbean Journalist Relief
 

Jean WesoNUJ Netherlands branch member Jens Anders Wejsmark Sørensen was born in Copenhagen and grew up in Copenhagen and Paris. He has lived and worked in the Netherlands since 2009. In April, Jens published his first book, a thriller called The Amsterdam Sniper, under the pen-name Jean Weso. He sat down with the Branch for a short but friendly interrogation regarding his new life of crime.

To start, what is your professional background?

I’m a trained journalist from the Danish School of Media and Journalism. After working for several years in Denmark and England as an editor, I became an independent contractor in 2005, working as a journalist, correspondent and creative agent. Since moving to Amsterdam, I’ve worked as a foreign correspondent covering events in text, sound, photo and video. I’ve also specialised in online presentation and communication – both as a webeditor and webmaster.

I had been thinking about turning to fiction writing for many years, and in 2017 I finally decided: now or never. The comparatively low threshold to entry offered by self-publishing was an important factor for me.

In recent years Scandinavian crime fiction has become very popular worldwide. Do you identify with this genre?

Being Danish, a nordic noire dimension to my work is inevitable. But in terms of major influences, the British crime fiction tradition is for me more important. I’m a big fan of Colin Dexter (Inspector Morse), Ian Rankin (Inspector John Rebus) and also the South African author Deon Meyer (Inspector Benny Greissel). As I write in English, I can hardly consider myself a true “Scandinavian” noire author.

jean weso Your book is set in Amsterdam.

Yes! This beautiful city provides an excellent backdrop for my stories. In The Amsterdam Sniper, I make great use of the interior and exterior of the many beautiful churches here. For my next work, Amsterdam Strangler, I’m situating events in the many great parks we have.

What does your workflow look like?

I set myself a goal of writing 1,700-1,800 words a day. When I’ve finished the first draft, I send it to four alpha readers, from whom I get many excellent suggestions. I then rewrite the manuscript, adding and removing bits, strengthening the narrative where needed. The second version goes to my copyeditor. As we all known proofreading your own text is virtually impossible. You really need an extra set of eyes at this point. Also, I recommend using a professional illustrator for the jacket. Don’t judge a book by its cover, but...

Writing fiction has a steep learning curve. There’s a lot of research involved and considerable concentration required when you spread yourself over several hundred pages. I’ve decided to dedicate myself to this; I’m not doing it on the side.

You've gone the self-publishing route. Tell us about that.

The Amsterdam Sniper is available via the self-publishing facilities of Amazon, under my own imprint, Jaws Media, both as a Kindle eBook as well as a print-on-demand paperback. It’s important to have your book out on as many platforms as possible, so I’m now looking into producing an audio version as well.

In addition, I’ve had a hundred copies printed here in the Netherlands. These I’m placing at booksellers like the American Book Center and Waterstones in Amsterdam along with the bookstores at Schiphol.

One important lesson I’m learning is that you need to keep the momentum up. My second book will be out in August, and my third (Amsterdam Stalker) in November.

See further

 

Journalists and civil liberties groups have denounced UK government plans to replace the Official Secrets Act with an Espionage Act which would increase the potential penalty for journalists receiving leaked official documents from two to 14 years in jail.

Such documents could include for the first time sensitive information about the economy such as a report on the economic consequences of Brexit.

Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said: “The proposed changes are frightening and have no place in a democracy, which relies on having mechanisms to hold the powerful to account.”

Read more: Journalists who obtain leaked official material could be sent to prison under new proposals

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