The News From Waterloo is my eighth book, an enterprise that began when I was preparing a lecture. I wanted to illustrate to smartphone-era students at Kingston University, where I teach, what news communication was like before the age of electricity or even steam power, so I looked up how long it took for word of Waterloo to reach London in 1815. I could only find confusion, so I dug a bit more and then a bit more, and in that way the book was born.
I’m 58 years old and I have been professor of journalism at Kingston for nearly ten years. I live in north London -- the commute is easier than you might think -- with my wife Ruth and I have two grown-up sons with whom I share, among other things, a devotion (and two season tickets) to Arsenal Football Club. I don’t count being a football supporter as leisure – a lot of the time it’s not even pleasure. In my leisure hours I buy second-hand books, read old-fashioned detective fiction (Chandler, Simenon), watch birds in the garden or walk – we plan to complete the Pennine Way this year.
The News From Waterloo neatly brings together my two chief interests and preoccupations, journalism and history. I have been a journalist since I was 21 and a history enthusiast for longer than that. I am the son of two teachers – my father also wrote media history (see http://www.amazon.co.uk/Most-Contrary-Region-Northern-Ireland/dp/0856403237). I was born and educated in Ireland, taking a history degree at Trinity College Dublin before joining Reuters news agency in 1978. From Reuters I moved to the London Independent papers as they launched, eventually becoming deputy editor of the Sunday paper. By then I had written my first history book, Test of Greatness.
Soon after leaving the Independent on Sunday in 1997 I wrote Were You Still Up for Portillo? and that was followed by The Case of Stephen Lawrence. Jill Dando: Her Life and Death , Rain and then The Fly in the Cathedral
I never stopped being a journalist (in these freelance years I wrote a good deal about the Deepcut scandal) and by 2007 I had a weekly media column in the New Statesman. That drew me towards the unfolding phone-hacking scandal and the press regulation debate. In 2011 I was one of the founders of Hacked Off and became its first executive director in 2012, when I published Everybody’s Hacked Off. The campaign for a free press that is also accountable – I see it as a campaign for better journalism – continues, and though I stepped down as executive director last year I remain deeply committed and involved.
Writing The News From Waterloo has been a great pleasure. It’s about news, which I love, and much of the essential information comes from the newspapers of 1815, which are not only engrossing but in many cases can also now be read online. I recall making one significant discovery while sitting on the living room sofa one evening word-searching newspapers while half-watching the television. But the research has also got me out and about to a variety of libraries and archives, and I have followed Henry Percy’s route from Waterloo to London (though not the bit across the North Sea).
It may be corny to say it, but I hope people enjoy reading the book as much as I enjoyed writing it. It turned out to be a tale of adventure and intrigue – a Regency caper, you might say – but I have also been surprised by how much my research taught me about news, journalism and newspapers, and the people involved in them. A lot of that is relevant today. If The News From Waterloo passes some of those insights on to readers too I will be very pleased.