Non-fiction titles by Ruth
Gollancz was a huge project, which taught me inter alia about Judaism, communism, the 1930s and the clash between idealism and pragmatism. I’ve learned a great deal too from my brief books about a British prime minister (Harold Macmillan: a life in pictures) and a socialist revolutionary (James Connolly) and most from the biggest and fattest of my books, The Pursuit of Reason: The Economist, 1843-1993. That was a book that required me to get a grasp of international economics and politics as well as of the thought processes of the journalists and managers who kept the soul of the paper intact over one-and-a-half centuries. It stretched my brain almost to cracking point, but it was a wonderful education.
I become obsessed with all my non-fiction books (which feed into my crime fiction – e.g. aspects of The Economist that feature in Publish and be Murdered).
Another preoccupation that, for reasons too complicated to go into, had been bubbling for several years, was finally published in 2005. Newspapermen: Hugh Cudlipp, Cecil Harmsworth King and the glory days of Fleet Street is a joint biography of two people – Cecil King and Hugh Cudlipp – who together were responsible for turning the Mirror into the biggest selling newspaper in the world (5,500,000 circulation) as well as for founding a great newspaper empire.
Their backgrounds were dramatically different: Cudlipp became a journalist at 14 whilst King, the nephew of Lord Northcliffe and Lord Rothermere, was educated at Winchester and Oxford. They ended their careers as Lord Cudlipp and Mr King. It is a story of old Fleet Street, of the bonding of two opposites, of patricide (for Cudlipp, the protégé, had to sack King, his mentor), of the strange role of King’s second wife, the extraordinary Dame Ruth Railton and of lots more. Its writing was another education.
2005 also saw the publication of the third edition of An Atlas of Irish History.
In March 2006 my biography of Patrick Pearse, Patrick Pearse — the triumph of failure was reissued by the Irish Academic Press.
Aftermath: the Omagh bombing and the families’ pursuit of justice was one of 18 books (from 212 entries) longlisted for the Orwell Prize for political writing.
Aftermath: the Omagh bombing and the families’ pursuit of justice — had its roots in a phone call I received in February 2000, from my friend the crime-writer Simon Shaw, who persuaded me to meet his Cambridge contemporary, Victor Barker, who hoped I could help him search for justice for his son James, murdered in August 1998 in Omagh. That meeting began the campaign to launch a civil case by Omagh victims against people believed to have been involved in bombing Omagh, whom the criminal justice system had failed to bring to book.
I would spend more than nine years involved in that campaign along with — at various times — a support group that included two ex-terrorists, the Marquess of Salisbury, Bob Geldof and Peter Mandelson, who eventually prevailed on the government to grant the families legal aid. In 2003 I agreed to write a book about the campaign and the case, which we expected would begin in 2004 and last for eight weeks. In the event, because of incessant legal delays, the case did not begin until April 2008 and took almost a year. I threw my heart and soul as well as my head into the families’ cause.
Aftermath tells the extraordinary story of how ordinary people — who found within themselves the strength and courage to stand up to the terrorists who had destroyed their lives — won a famous victory. It meant a great deal to me that so many reviewers empathised with the families and that the book won the Crime Writers’ Association Gold Dagger for Non-Fiction.
I had become a writer decades earlier for the most traditional of reasons: someone offered me an advance. My supervisor at Cambridge, Professor Geoffrey Elton, was asked by a publisher to recommend someone to write An Atlas of Irish History and he suggested me. I was and am permanently short of money, so I agreed instantly.
Not long after it was published, Terence de Vere White, then Literary Editor of the Irish Times, was asked by Kevin Crossley-Holland, then at Victor Gollanz, to suggest a biographer for Patrick Pearse. I had reviewed for Terence and he knew I had a long-standing interest in Pearse, so I was commissioned. I wrote an honest book which caused a furore and had me branded as a revisionist at a time when I didn’t know the implications of the word. In 1988 I published ‘Confessions of an Irish Revisionist’, in The Troubled Face of Biography, a collection of essays edited by Eric Homberger and John Charmley’.
Like all my previous non-fiction books, my book on the Orange Order (and similar organisations) – The Faithful Tribe: an intimate portrait of the loyal institutions — was suggested by someone else. I had spent a great deal of time at Orange parades and come to know many decent people in the Orange Order at a time when they were being vilified and reviled throughout the world because of the media coverage of Drumcree and their own hopelessness with public relations. At lunch with a publisher to discuss an entirely different project, I went on about Drumcree so much that he said, ‘You should be writing a book about the Orange Order; you’re obsessed with it.’ So I did.