Conspiracies have become more and more frequently part of modern debate. Yesterdays news, will virtually always make tomorrows news. But a book about conspiracies ? And provided in a logical manner, with reasons to doubt and believe? Now that is something we prefer…so, here we have it, an interview with Ian Shircore. An author of the conspiracy book , “Conspiracy! 49 reasons to Doubt, 50 reasons to believe”, his answers are sure to evoke a moral/thought debate: all I ask is that you keep social etiquette in mind, and are kind to anyone who comments in the comment forum:
How did you go about compiling the book?
I started off by putting together a short list of conspiracies or conspiracy theories that I thought I would be interested to know more about. Unfortunately, though, the short list grew and grew, until it had 132 possible stories on it.
I was busy staring at that long short list when I had a call from the publisher, John Blake, and I was told that the book could be up to 300 pages. That brought me down to earth. I knew I was good at packing a lot of information into a small space, but 300 pages meant I could only look at 50 stories – and that would mean squeezing them into an average of six pages per chapter.
So that was what it came down to. Just 50 chapters. That meant drawing some pretty tight boundaries, with nothing before 1939, for example, and nothing that required a huge amount of background knowledge of political or technical issues. I wanted everyone to be able to dip in and find something interesting.
Were you ever interested in History at school, as your books seem to be very History driven?
I wasn’t very interested in kings and knights and treaties and things like the Diet of Worms, 1521, except when they made me laugh. So they wouldn’t let me take the history exam. That makes it especially enjoyable when I’m on the radio and some BBC presenter introduces me as a “world-renowned historian” or “a leading expert on John F Kennedy”. I feel I’ve got my own back.
What are your top five favourite conspiracies?
I really don’t like to think of them like that. But I suppose I’d choose the deaths of Dr David Kelly, cricketer Bob Woolmer and The Doors’ legendary singer, Jim Morrison, plus the aftermath of the IRA’s Claudy bombing, which involved a cover-up by the British government, the police and Roman Catholic Church. That’s four. Oh, and the way they hid the fact that Lech Walesa, the man who led Solidarity and overturned Communism in Poland, was a paid agent for the government’s secret police. That’s never even been picked up now in the Western press.
Have you had any experience in the field of Journalism, prior to writing novels?
Yes. I’ve been a journo all my life. I worked on local papers in Richmond and Putney, in southwest London, and on magazines like Radio Times. Then I went farther afield and did a year or so in Hong Kong, working on the South China Morning Post, and spent some time in Sydney, writing and sub-editing on The Australian newspaper, which was owned by Rupert Murdoch.
I only met him once. He walked up and looked over my shoulder at the headline I had put on a business piece and snorted. “F***ing Poms,” he said, and stomped off. I’ve no idea how he could tell I was British.
You could say the ghostwriting I do now is like a long form of journalism. I’ve never found out how to make a living from writing my own books, but I’m good at ghosting, because I have a good bedside manner.
As a child, were you ever interested in writing?
Oh yes. I won second prize in an Evening Standard writing competition for kids when I was in primary school. First prize was a helicopter flight over London, and I’d never been in an aircraft, so I desperately wanted to win that. I got a book token instead.
How did you pitch your book, Conspiracy! 49 Reasons to Doubt, 50 Reasons to Believe, to a publisher?
Sometimes you have to put up a formal proposal, with sample chapters and a lot of detail. This time it was easy. I just mentioned that this was what I wanted to do – a balanced, unhysterical but lively, look at a mixed bunch of real cover-ups, misguided conspiracy theories and in-betweens where the evidence seemed pretty evenly balanced. The people at John Blake went for it and I just got started.
Have you ever thought, that an official story is wrong in a conspiracy, in the respect that it’s a cover-up?
Definitely. Yes. Bob Woolmer’s death at the 2007 Cricket World Cup was murder. When the members of the inquest jury became so confused that they could not make sense of the evidence, the authorities grabbed the open verdict with both hands and put the case to bed. But if you look at the last two emails sent from Woolmer’s laptop on the night he died, it is impossible to believe that they were both written by the same person. The second was written by the murderer, but they’ve given up on the investigation.
The involvement of a priest in the Claudy bombing was covered up, and, of course, though it’s not in my book, the truth about the police conspiracy around the Hillsborough football stadium disaster is only just coming to light.
I’m pretty certain, too, that there was a second Yorkshire Ripper, as well as Peter Sutcliffe, and that the police chose to cover that up.
Roughly twenty of the stories I cover in Conspiracy! are, I believe, cases of real conspiracy and cover-up.
Do you at all find it suspicious that FBI files regarding the assassination of President Kennedy will be withheld past the 2017 release date, and that “verified as genuine” video of the day in Dallas (click here to find out more) have been confiscated?
Yes. There’s every reason to be suspicious about JFK’s assassination and the multiple cover-ups involved. So much evidence went missing or was obviously tampered with that we will never know what really happened, and I don’t believe the 2017 files will be the end of the story.
Do you plan to publish any further novels?
Not for the moment. I’ve just finished helping celebrity fitness trainer Paul Connolly write the follow-up to his bestseller, Against All Odds, about his abusive upbringing in a terrible children’s home and his struggle to get his life on track. The new book, Beating the Odds, is out in July and I’m really proud of my contribution to that.
What is the value to you personally, in the continuous discussion of conspiracies?
I just think it’s important for people to gather information from a lot of different channels and to keep thinking about the stories we are fed.
The Hillsborough tragedy, for example, was blamed on Liverpool fans for many years. People found it hard to believe that so many senior policemen had lied and altered evidence so cynically to cover up their failings – and I did, too. I wish now that the evidence revealed by the Hillsborough Independent Panel in September 2012 had been available when I wrote Conspiracy!. If there’s ever a second edition, that’s one cover-up that will certainly be included.
Have any recent conspiracies had a personal impact on your life?
Not really. Although I live in London, I was not touched – even indirectly – by the 7/7 London bombings. I do have Russian friends in the capital who are very keen to see the truth about the polonium poisoning of ex-KGB spy Alexander Litvinenko uncovered, but the unhelpful attitude of British security services towards the Litvinenko inquest and calls for a public inquiry makes that unlikely. It’s a pound to a penny the Russians did it, but there seems to be a lot of background to this case that our own spooks don’t want out in the open.
Would you say, for any aspiring writer, it is essential to read a variety of media texts, to hone your craft?
Yes. You’ve got to read everything, voraciously. Novels, analysis, magazines, blogs, ads, newspapers other people have left behind on the train – everything. I was an obsessive cereal-packet reader when I was young, and I think that was a good sign.
What does every day consist of for you?
Up, coffee, write. Sometimes tennis, as well, or social life, or meetings. But every day, first and last, there’s writing. I work too late, often till 2am or later, which makes mornings rough. But I usually start with an hour of whatever I have on the go before I wander into the kitchen to find some breakfast. It gets you feeling you’re making progress.
Do you have any tips for writers?
Three, really. Write every day. Find opportunities to write in different voices and different genres. And, above all, learn to kill your babies. You have to train yourself to stand back and cull turns of phrase, sentences, even paragraphs that you’re very proud of, if they’re not taking you in the right direction. When you have completely finished writing something you think is just right, delete the first paragraph. Eight times out of ten, despite the effort you put into getting the intro just right, you’ll be better off without that opening par.
Random question : Do you prefer cats or dogs?
Dogs, obviously. If I point to the door, the cat stares at me pointing. If I point to the door, the dog starts wagging and goes over there, waiting for me to take him out. New Scientist tells me that’s because dogs have a Theory of Mind. They know I’m trying to tell them something. Cats just know what they want and look at me superciliously for not guessing what it is and providing it.
( Note that ‘Conspiracy’ is published by John Blake Publishing at £7.99 and available considerably more cheaply, as paperback or ebook, on Amazon. For easy reference, please see the links above)