I must categorically deny the vicious rumours suggesting that The Rook is the consequence of John Doyle’s midlife crisis and my own. John has a loving family to keep him sane and honest, and I have wine and a Cineworld Unlimited card. And besides, we are not middle-aged. Yeah, right.
The Rook is the result of other kinds of despair: despair over the state of the world; despair over the nightmare that is Brexit; despair over the crisis of journalism. The anthology was conceived in 2016, as Donald Trump was tweeting his way into the White House and Brexit-means-Brexit Theresa May was shepherding Britain out of Europe. The Rook was our cry in the dark, a bloody ¡No pasarán! – our chant of defiance against nationalism, misguided patriotism, crude, blatant or I-am-just-worried-about-uncontrolled-immigration racism; and of course, also, against read-and-forget, it-takes-a-second, one-millimetre-deep journalism. We did not expect to defeat those beastly enemies at the first battle. But we have now crossed swords and drawn blood.
This does not mean that the brilliant young men and women who wrote most of the stories in The Rook share our ideas. While we adopted for this edition May’s insult to Remainers, ‘Citizens of Nowhere’, as our theme and a personal badge of honour, we did not impose on our contributors any political or professional manifesto. We just asked for their permission to include in this anthology some of the magnificent articles they had written while studying Journalism at Roehampton.
Isobel Rafferty’s ‘Lost on a Stranded Land’ and Vilde Haugen’s ‘Dreamland Beach’ – exquisite reminiscences of their trips to Northern Cyprus and Bali – and Josh Downe’s vivid ‘Bulls and Blood’ were all class assignments. Ellis King’s ‘Mallorca, Martina and Me’ was also an assignment, even though it reads, I told him, like the early script of a great romantic movie. Barbara Palovcikova’s ‘The Sounds of Camden Town’, which made me reconsider my dislike of the famous London market, was submitted for a module called Travel Journalism. And there is ‘Going Country, Going Undetected’, a shocking investigative piece about children used as drug mules by London gangs, written by Rafferty and her classmates Federica Infantino and Stephanie Badaru, three young women who have the courage and intelligence many career journalists have never shown.
We also commissioned three of the contributions: Isabelle Kern’s delicate-as-a-ballet-dancer ‘My Russian Friends’, Aleksandra Antonova’s fiercely honest, sad and stubbornly optimistic ‘A July Morning in Bulgaria’ and Conor Young’s ‘North of the Heart of Babylon’, a piece that both of us would have liked to have written, and which represents the kind of journalism we believe in: truthful in a way run-of-the-mill journalism never is, slow to read but hugely rewarding, intellectually and emotionally alive, candid, daring and beautiful. Beautiful. The one thing that will impress the readers of The Rook the most is how beautifully these current or former Journalism students write.
John added to The Rook his own formidable piece, ‘Citizens of the Sea: a Reawakening’, about the rise, fall and glorious resurgence of Liverpool, and I – cheekily – translated a piece (‘The European’) that I had written for a Cuban magazine on the week of the 2016 European referendum. But the stars and heroes of The Rook are not its middle-aged editors but these young authors, who give us hope that all is not lost for Britain, Europe or even journalism; that there is life, energy, talent, ambition, and raw, pure, untainted goodness in the generation that older people, incorrectly, associate with the Kardashians and Love Island. Being associated in any way with these writers, being published with them in The Rook, being their teachers and, hopefully, their friends, is a huge honour.
Fincham Press and its indefatigable publisher, Susan Greenberg, who made The Rook possible, have done a great service to our university and its Journalism programme, for which we will be always grateful. I hope that their reward will come in the future, when The Rook appears as the first in a long list of published work by some of these authors.
By then, who knows where Britain will be, in or out; whether there will finally be a woman in the White House or someone even more Trumpian than Trump; and whether there will still be something resembling journalism, newspapers, literature. But John and I will surely still be shouting and protesting and telling our students they should do better than clickbait and nonsense journalism. And we’ll tell them, Look at the kids of The Rook. Read The Rook. That’s the way. Try.