Book Review

Extract – On Hampstead Heath

I have an exciting extract for you all today from one of my very anticipating reads On Hampstead Heath by Marika Cobbold. I have only seen amazing things about it and it sounds fantastic! I hope you enjoy this extract.

On Hampstead Heath is out now.

Synopsis:

Thorn Marsh was raised in a house of whispers, of meaningful glances and half-finished sentences. Now she’s a journalist with a passion for truth, more devoted to her work at the London Journal than she ever was to her ex-husband. 

When the newspaper is bought by media giant The Goring Group, who value sales figures over fact-checking, Thorn openly questions their methods, and promptly finds herself moved from the news desk to the midweek supplement, reporting heart-warming stories for their new segment, The Bright Side, a job to which she is spectacularly unsuited. 

On a final warning and with no heart-warming news in sight, a desperate Thorn fabricates a good-news story of her own. The story, centred on an angelic apparition on Hampstead Heath, goes viral. Caught between her principles and her ambitions, Thorn goes in search of the truth behind her creation, only to find the answers locked away in the unconscious mind of a stranger. 

Marika Cobbold returns with her eighth novel, On Hampstead Heath. Sharp, poignant, and infused with dark humour, On Hampstead Heath is an homage to storytelling and to truth; to the tales we tell ourselves, and the stories that save us.

Extract:

I’d go so far as to say that, until the Goring Group bought the London Journal, my life was made up of more good days than bad, and that’s despite my lousy childhood and my husband leaving me for a woman who had named her dog Teddy Pom Pom.

I had worked at the Journal for the best part of thirteen years, the past five as news editor. It had been thirteen happy years, with scarcely a day apart and barely a quarrel. Had anyone asked me where I saw my future, I’d have smiled a gauzy smile and said, right here, writing the history of tomorrow.

And then came the announcement: the London Journal had been sold, sold to the man in the back, yes, you sir, with the large media company and a sideline in household appli- ances, or is it the other way around? Going, going, gone.

The Goring Group hired a ‘media consultant’, a beige man with the uncanny ability to be underfoot in five places at once, to write a report. This report was very long, containing ever more ingenious ways of saying exactly the same thing: the London Journal was a fine publication, a standard-bearer for journalistic integrity. It pointed out how we, unlike many other news outlets, had successfully avoided dumbing down while remaining accessible to a wide cross-section of the public. Having studied this report the new management con- cluded that nothing becomes success like a massive upheaval. Our much-loved editor-in-chief chose early retirement in much the same way that Socrates chose hemlock, and in blew Angela Foster on the winds of a summer storm, armed with a business plan and a jar of homemade chocolate chip cookies.

Along with her cookie jar, Angela Foster brought some- thing we’d never had before: a managing editor. Joe Moffat, she said, was an innovator with a background in digital mar- keting. At this point, Fahran, our political editor, suggested that a background in journalism might have come in handy, but Angela Foster silenced him with a look and an offer of a chocolate chip biscuit. Two weeks later Fahran was gone. Where to? The Register? Siberia? Small Household Appli- ances? Obituaries? For his sake I hoped it was obituaries. There’s a great art to a properly executed obit, a balance to be struck between libel and hagiography. I know because some- times, when the nights draw in and I have nothing else to do, I write my own. If nothing else, it focuses the mind.

I understand the desire to put one’s stamp on a new place, make oneself at home. Some people bring a photograph of the family to put on their desk, or a pot plant, or perhaps a special mug with something amusing written in the glaze, like: ‘Who Are You Calling a Mug?’ If you’re confident you bring ideas and suggestions about areas of possible improvements, and if you’re a dog, you cock your leg against your colleagues’ desks. Unfortunately for the employees of the London Journal, to Joe Moffat, nothing said ‘home’ like an axe.

The next three months saw the Arts section reduced from six pages to two and the book club abolished. A decision was made to increase the proportion of images to text by thirty per cent, and an instruction given to keep the word count of the average articles, be it news, feature or comment piece, to no more than three hundred words. Headlines, on the other hand, were to become longer. It was all about ‘readability’ apparently, and readability meant getting a sufficient gist of a story to post a link on social media, without having to read beyond the headline and the first paragraph. I suggested to Joe Moffat that it might work with books too: make the title and chapter headings longer so that people could talk about the book in their book club without having the bother of reading the whole thing? I got the worrying sense that he thought it wasn’t a bad idea.

Unease crept along the corridors like mould. Not even a memo from the sports editor referring to Joe Moffat as ‘the word-cunt’ could lift our spirits. And then came the tyranny of the clicks: how many times did someone, somewhere, click on an online article? Where once there was harmony, fear and suspicion flourished. Dirty deals were struck: I’ll click yours if you click mine. Does your grandmother go online? She’s got time on her hands, doesn’t she? Would your kid like to earn some extra pocket money? There were even rumours of colleagues employing the services of professional clickers. The journalistic integrity for which we had been praised was ditched, as Moffat ordered us to get down and dirty; trading truth for populist headlines, replacing reasoned analysis with rabble rousing. ‘I want,’ he said, ‘to give our readers some- thing new to be angry about every day.’

The opinion editor and the business editor favoured quiet resistance over open mutiny. I agreed, for now.

Some three months into the new order, I got an email from Joe Moffat’s PA asking me to have lunch with Joe. I was pleased. The occasion, part work, part social, would be an opportunity to raise my concerns.

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