Liz Robinson knows a good book when she reads one and this month she has picked John Sutherland, as the author who has stood out and grabbed her attention. Over to Liz…
My April book of the month is a biography, a rather special, searingly honest insight into policing, ‘Blue A Memoir’ by John Sutherland.
A candid, objective, cooly passionate, and often unsettling account of policing from a police officer. John Sutherland joined the Met in 1992 aged 22, we see snapshots of his life as an officer, as he progresses up the career ladder, as he deals with all the horrors and glory a life in blue has to offer. From the very first page my attention was sucked in whole, I come from a family of blue, married blue, and spent 20 years as a member of police support staff. Even then, I was on the edge of understanding, I didn’t ever have to run towards danger, tell someone a loved one had died, sit with death, experience the bitter lows, the jubilant highs of being a police officer, yet John Sutherland takes you there.
As we read, we step in and out of a series of events that have all added up to create this man. It isn’t a glittery or gory descriptive feast, but it doesn’t have to be, he simply and clearly gives you a connection, and an understanding that under that uniform is flesh and blood and feelings. One thing is abundantly clear, this man loves his job. He feels the continued effort is worth it and yet it very nearly broke him. It is truly captivating; whether you nod, smile wryly and wish he could have been your boss, or feel the shock and admiration as you learn what our police are exposed to day after day. ‘Blue: A Memoir’ is a worthwhile and fascinating read, I really do recommend it with my heart and soul.
Note: John has written an epilogue to his story, which has been included in the paperback of ‘Blue A Memoir’. He speaks with his normal good sense, and he has the remarkable ability to put into words the thoughts and feelings so many officers struggle to properly articulate. He speaks from the heart, and his words made me cry. I wish him every success in his future, and whatever path he decides to explore. I’m quite sure to the many who know him, follow him on twitter and read his blog, he will forever remain a true inspiration.
Liz in conversation with John Sutherland
Liz – ‘You’ve been incredibly honest in ‘Blue A Memoir’, prior to the publication did you have any concerns about feedback?’
John – ‘There were definitely one or two moments before Blue came out when I wondered how on earth people were going to respond – and when the prospect of publication felt more than a little overwhelming. I guess that, in writing a memoir, you are giving something of yourself away – without having any control over the myriad ways in which people might read and react to it.But, almost without exception, the response has been amazing.’
Liz – ‘At what point did you realise ‘Blue’ was truly speaking to, and touching peoples hearts and minds?’
John – ‘My dad died a couple of years before ‘Blue’ was published. But he read a very early draft of something that, in parts at least, resembled ‘Blue’ – and he loved it. I always said it would have been worth writing it just for that. As I continued to write, I began to show extracts to friends and family and they were incredibly encouraging. But it wasn’t until I found Laura, my brilliant literary agent, that I began to appreciate the extent to which there might be an audience beyond those closest to me. My words and stories became a book published by the wonderful Weidenfeld & Nicolson – and complete strangers picked it up and started to read.’
Liz – ‘What has been the most interesting piece of feedback you’ve had from both police and public about ‘Blue’?’
John – ‘There are two recurring pieces of feedback that I’ve had about ‘Blue’. Police officers (both serving and retired) have written and spoken to me to say that my story might have been their story – and they wanted to thank me for telling it. That has meant more to me than I can say. Members of the public have written to say that the book has given them a glimpse into a world that was previously unknown to them – and that it has left them with a renewed sense of gratitude and appreciation for the men and women who stand on the thin blue line.’
Liz – ‘What was the most difficult and enjoyable part of the writing process?’
John – ‘I started writing as part of my recovery from serious illness. It became increasingly cathartic – and I found that I really loved doing it. I have always loved reading stories. I discovered that I loved telling them too. Because much of the subject matter is quite raw, there were days when I had to step back from it to give myself a break. Once or twice, a few weeks went by before I got back to it. But it was always there waiting.
Liz – ‘Did you develop any writing habits?’
John – ‘To begin with I simply used a notebook and pen. I sat quietly and allowed myself to remember, before starting to write – for as long or short as the inspiration and energy were there. Eventually I graduated to computer and keyboard – and my favourite place to type is sitting at our kitchen table, under the natural light pouring in through the glass roof. Puffin – the 2 year old family spaniel – sits at my feet as I type.’
Liz – ‘Are you an avid reader? Which books beckon to you from bookshelves?’
John – ‘I love books. I always have done. I have to be careful what I read these days – one of the long term hangovers of my illness is an inability to deal with trauma and violence. But that still leaves plenty that’s wonderful.
Favourite books include:
• ‘First Light’ by Geoffrey Wellum: the breathtaking memoir of a Battle of Britain spitfire pilot.
• ‘Seabiscuit” by Laura Hillenbrand: the remarkable true story of three men and a racehorse.
• ‘The Shawshank Redemption’ by Stephen King: a short story about love and hope.
• ‘The Measure of a Man’ by Martin Luther King: powerful observations on the meaning of life.
But if I had to choose one book (or series of books), it would be ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ by C.S.Lewis. I read them as a child and was captivated. I read them as an adult and was overwhelmed. I read them aloud to my wife when I first tried to win her heart. I’ve read them to each of our children in turn. And the magic remains. The deeper magic.’
Liz – ‘Has the book world been a surprise to you?’
John – ‘I bumbled into the world of books without a clue in the world! I really had no idea what expect – it all just felt like an adventure to me. And people have been wonderful.’
Liz – ‘Are you planning any more books?’
John – ‘I would love to write another book. I’ve got a handful of ideas, but I haven’t quite picked up my pen yet. There’s a family holiday to come first!’
John is appearing at the Chiddingstone Literary Festival
on Sunday 6th May at 2:45pm.
‘Blue’ was published in paperback by Weidenfeld & Nicolson on the 19th of April 2018.
Follow John on Twitter by clicking here.
Find out more about John Sutherland by visiting his blog here.