How good can a person be? DAVID WHETSTONE looks ahead to the launch of Wife in the North’s second book
WHATEVER became of “Wife in the North” Judith O’Reilly, the former journalist whose book of that name chronicled her efforts to come to terms with a move from London to Northumberland?
The book polarised opinion when it came out in 2008, a spin-off from Judith’s successful blog.
Critics and Londoners loved it, empathising with every word. It was a BBC Radio 4 Book of the Week.
Up in Northumberland... mmm. Let’s just say not all warmed to the predicament of a woman prepared to confess that their bracing Northern air and landscapes were poor compensation for the loss of a lovely London latte.
Well, Judith’s still a wife and still in the North. With her journalist husband, who loves the North East, and their three children, she has, we can assume, acclimatised.
And now comes her second book. It is called A Year of Doing Good and it is published next Thursday. Its essence is captured in the subtitle: “One woman, One New Year’s resolution. 365 good deeds”.
This, you will see, is a timely launch date since it coincides with the moment many of us are still bright eyed and bushy tailed about the resolutions that we will stick to ... or not.
To drink less, give up smoking, aspire to bulging biceps or a Hollywood figure ... you’ll have heard them all before and maybe tried them. If you stuck it for a year, well done. If it changed your life permanently, brilliant.
Not for Judith, though, these me-type resolutions. No, she vowed to do a good turn every day and become a better person in the process.
Arguably doing good with a book deal in mind runs counter to the spirit of altruism but I don’t wish to cavil. For one thing, I haven’t read the book yet, so this is not a review.
I can’t tell you whether Judith achieved her aim of becoming more saintly. What I can tell you is that this is not only an admirable life choice but a really good idea for a book and it is going to get a lot of media coverage.
Judith used to be a colleague on The Journal before she went off to London and the heights of The Sunday Times, Newsnight and Channel 4 News and the attendant pleasures of a metropolitan lifestyle.
She was a bit of a terrier in the Newcastle newsroom so it was no surprise that she did so well.
With Wife in the North she emerged as a writer able to go the distance, holding a reader for the span of a proper book.
To quote from the publicity material which comes with this new paperback: “Juggling family, friends and a variety of neighbours in the small Northumberland village she (Judith) calls home, she recounts the ups, downs, moments of doubt and sheer bloody hard work of doing good.”
My hunch is that Judith never quite matched Mother Teresa but maybe that would have been setting the bar impossibly high.
It seems she hasn’t quite cracked fiction yet, either. Strictly speaking, this is Judith’s third book. The second, a novel, lives in a drawer, she confesses.
Perhaps this year’s New Year resolution was to finish it.
A Year of Doing Good by Judith O’Reilly (Penguin, £7.99)