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Synopsis: Anthony Blair's dear old mater always said he was 'good at making things up'. As a new boy at St Stephen's College, he learns the ropes from his dour Scottish study companion Brown. Popular and polite, he charms everyone including Matron Boothroyd and the school porter's stepdaughter Cherie. Thanks to a tragic incident with a runaway horse and the help of his loyal toast fag Peter, he becomes captain of school. Anthony mingles with the local aristocracy and survives an embarrassing day out foxhunting. There are dark encounters with Fenians and a suspected Russian anarchist. But triumph turns to disaster when he and the Bible-quoting headmaster Dr Bush send the College Rifle Corps into the slum district of Mesopotamia. This lovingly recreated Edwardian six-shilling novel, with a strangely familiar cast of characters, moves deftly between the comedy of Adrian Mole and the biting satire of Animal Farm. It is the only book you will ever need to read to understand Tony Blair.

Staggeringly billiant - lovers of school stories will revere it for its devotion to the genre, whilst political observers will find their opinion of Blair reinforced and confirmed. The story darkens as it progresses, just as Tony Blair's own life does. Lifts the lid on New Labour's principal architect in a carefully constructed, beautifully-told tale at which no-one could take offence, yet it hits home with the real truth about a man corrupted absolutely by politics and ambition. Read on for my interview with the author, John Morrison.

Dear John - finished - a fabulous read! I happen to be an aficionado of school stories, and although I can't claim to have a huge collection, I do have some from the early yerars of the 20th century, and loads of annuals, of course - this is one of the funniest and, at the same time, darkest satires I've read in a very long time. Outside of Gateway, I've already recommended it to a number of friends and colleagues. The great thing about it is that it will appeal to anyone, regardless of how they feel about Blair. People who still worship him will think it's jolly funny, people who have seen through him will love the way you've assembled such a great cast of characters and managed to sum him up so brilliantly!

Here goes:

Let's start with the most obvious question - why did you choose to
self-publish the book? Did you approach mainstream UK publishing houses first? This is an excellently-packaged book, with superb illustrations and has the look and feel of an early 20thC school yarn. Your printer has done you proud, but why did you decide to go it alone?

Thanks for the compliments and I am delighted that you enjoyed the book so much.  Any publicity and word of mouth recommendation is very welcome. I decided to self-publish for three reasons: firstly, I was rather disillusioned by my last experience with a major UK publisher in 2001. Relations deteriorated to the point where I held a launch party for 'Reforming Britain' without inviting the publishers along!  So I was attracted by the idea of going it alone and avoiding the author's feeling that the publisher regards him/her as the least important part of the process.  

Secondly, I was worried about timing.  I finished the book at the end of 2004 and I knew that if I were to find a mainstream publisher, the usual calendar from contract to publication would be at least 18 months for a novel.  I didn't want to wait that long, because I did not want to risk Blair leaving office.  Thirdly, I knew that if I sold the book to a mainstream publisher, I would lose all control over design and illustration.  Because I was keen to reproduce the look of an Edwardian six-shilling novel, this was very important to me. At the end of 2004 I did some research on self-publishing for the Writers' Guild of Great Britain, looking at every stage in the process and investigating costs.  This persuaded me that it would be feasible to go ahead, though I would not necessarily get my money back.  (I still haven't.)  Most self-publishers are producing books at a clearly defined target audience (e.g. tropical fish enthusiasts).  Doing a book for a mainstream audience is much more tricky.  Most self-published books are paperbacks and mine is an illustrated hardback. Though I had to compromise a bit on the design to keep costs down, my costs were increased by deciding to pay a professional artist to do the illustrations.  I also decided early on to price the book at £9.99 in line with gift books, rather than in the mid-teens with the hardback novels.  So my margin is fairly tight and on books sold through the trade, I don't earn much per copy.

This is something of a departure from your previous publications - why did you decide to satirise Blair in this fashion? To do it so successfully you must have researched books of this type - is it because Blair typifies the public school captain in his approach to politics and government? Let's face it, the country has always been and continues to be run by an old boys' network.....

What's your next publishing project? Back to political lobbying, or has the past few years turned you to a different path?

I'm really not sure what I am going to write next.  I have toyed with the idea of a Blair sequel set during the Russian revolution, but I fear he will be out of office before I complete it.  I have a number of plays I want to work on.  Serious non-fiction and biography now seem a bit too much like hard work after the fun of making things up, but I may change my view on this if inspiration falters.  As for Thatcher, I have to confess to the fact that I spent the entire Thatcher era outside the UK, working for Reuters as a foreign correspondent.  So I missed the entire sorry story.  I left under Heath and returned under Major, having also missed Wilson II and Callaghan.

The illustrations are superb, and contribute to the overall feel of the book as part of a genre that, sadly, has gone into decline, despite the best efforts of Harry Potter. Have you worked professionally with David before, and do you have any plans to involve him in your future writing projects?

I found the wonderful David Hopkins by an exhaustive search of artists' agencies on the web.  I was looking for someone who could do Edwardian pastiche in the right style.  I shortlisted three artists who did samples for me, and picked David.  He does not draw on a computer but uses traditional pen and ink and is an enthusiast for the Victorian and Edwardian period.  The final design of the book is a joint effort by David, who did the cover and the lettering for the title, myself, and my self-publishing consultant Jane Tatam who is an experienced ex-publisher. She typeset the book and did most of the liaison with the printers, and also provided me with the link to a book trade distributor, without which the book would never have made it into the shops.  I did most of the promotion, marketing and PR myself.  The book trade seem to have liked the book because it was original and unusual and competitively priced. Waterstone's have been particularly good about stocking it with Borders and Ottakar's also helpful.

You have some great reviews on your website from eminent people in the know about politics; I'm just a lay-reader, as it were, but I guess my opinion is as valid as anyone else's. Have you had a lot of people e-mail you about the book? And were they, for the most part, complimentary?

As to reactions -- some people who have worked in Downing Street have found it very funny.  I haven't had any reaction from the man himself.  The barrier to understanding the book isn't really political, more cultural and generational.  Young people tend not to have any idea about the genre of story I am imitating, so the book is a bit of a puzzle and they don't get the joke.  Sherlock Holmes is familiar to most people, but the boy's stories of the period, including wonderful sub-genres such as the Boy Scout novel, are largely forgotten. I have had no unfavourable reactions or reviews at all.  I was hoping for an ASBO but I didn't even manage to get excluded from the Labour party conference in Brighton.  My impression is that most of the copies have been bought by people as gifts for other people and it's a notorious fact that many books bought as Christmas gifts never get read at all!

Going back to question 2, what titles did you read and research to get a feel for the genre? Do you collect the genre yourself? I ask the question because I know of several famous people who delight in collecting and reading school stories, among them Sir Tim Rice and the actor Terence Stamp.

I got to the point where I did not want to write another non-fiction book about Blair because I did not feel I could add anything to all the other books written about him.  What was missing was an explanation of how his mind worked and the personal flaws that led him into the Iraq adventure. This is very tricky speculative territory for journalists and biographers, and that's why I felt it had to be done as fiction.  My natural bent is towards writing comedy, and my two years at Westminster reporting (for Reuters) didn't allow me much opportunity for this.  Since leaving Reuters in 2000 I have written comedy scripts and plays.  The choice of a novel was something as a surprise (even to me) as I am not a great reader of prose fiction.  Two things came together to give me the idea for the book. Firstly, my elder son has a huge collection of Edwardian and Victorian boy's novels and bound volumes of Chums and the Boy's Own Paper which he acquired as a teenager in the 1990s.  I started looking through one or two 1920s adventure stories set in Iraq, and went on reading from there.  The choice of a school story came very naturally, because anyone who has ever worked in the Palace of Westminsterknows that it is run along the lines of a traditional boy's school, with prefects and noticeboards and silly rules and hierarchies.  So the idea of simply shifting Blair and his chums into an Edwardian school came almost without conscious thought. It helped of course that Blair is a product of a public school education, but my focus was on his Westminstercareer, not his time at Fettes.  I picked the period before World War One partly because of the very jingoistic and imperial mood of the boy's stories written at this time.  Though none of them were very memorable, the Edwardian stories seem to be the highpoint of the genre.  The boys who read these stories when they were published and absorbed their values were the ones who went off to be slaughtered in the trenches, which gives the period a great deal of poignancy for me.  After the first world war, there was a decline into the silliness of Greyfriars and Billy Bunter.  I think this was a reaction to the fact that nobody could preach the old patriotic imperial virtues with the same degree of certainty.

And finally, I'd like to ask you what I ask all my other interviewees: can you please name five books or authors that have influenced you?

My influences are mostly from non-fiction political writers. Among novelists, Orwell comes first by a long way and then probably Evelyn Waugh. My writing is probably influenced, perhaps too much, by the time I spent at Reuters.  Clarity, precision and accuracy are important to me, though I am aware that imprecision and ambiguity often produce better fiction.  To write satire you have to believe strongly in certain values and principles. It's no use being negative and cynical.

John, it's been a pleasure talking to you - I get lots of people e-mailing me to thank me for my reviews and telling me they're off to buy a particular title - I hope I can bring ANTHONY BLAIR: CAPTAIN OF SCHOOL BY AN OLD BOY to a slightly larger audience for you.  

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