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Published against all the odds. Whodunit? Our Simon did


IT IS notoriously hard to have a first novel published. J K Rowling had 12 rejections before Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone got into print, and she had an agent to fight her corner.

How much harder to find a publisher for a debut novel with a highly original plot blending Catholic themes, history and a murder mystery, without the help of an agent. That is the achievement of TCW writer Simon Caldwell, whose articles you can see here. 

His book, The Beast of Bethulia Park, is not officially launched until next Thursday but has been available since it was published on September 30, which coincidentally is the feast of St Jerome, the patron of librarians. Maybe that is a good omen – despite having no publicity yet, it has already got two five-star reviews on Amazon.

Caldwell grew up in Lancashire and started his career as a reporter on local papers in the North West. In 1999 he became associate editor of the Catholic Herald and in 2001 embarked on a decade-long stint on the Daily Mail.

As a freelance he did a lot of work, mainly for the Daily Mail but also for the Mail on Sunday, the Sunday Times and the Daily Telegraph, in exposing the deadly abuses of patients carried out under the Liverpool Care Pathway (LCP). This was a programme developed in the late 1990s with the aim of providing hospice-standard end-of-life care in hospitals. Treatments were supposed to manage pain, agitation, respiratory tract secretions, nausea and vomiting, and shortness of breath. It was meant to be implemented only when a multi-professional team caring for the patient agreed that nothing more could be done and that the patient was definitely dying, but in practice decisions were often taken hastily, without the oversight of experienced doctors and without telling the patient or the family. In many cases patients suffered days of dehydration.

Caldwell interviewed families of patients said to have been killed by medical negligence or worse, spoke to whistle-blowing doctors, attended inquests, and conducted research into how this lethally-flawed protocol was being implemented. He was able to demonstrate how NHS trusts were paid (or ‘bribed’ as the Mail said in its front-page splash) to increase the numbers of patients dying on the pathway or penalised if they failed to meet targets. The result of a campaign by the Mail was the official abolition of the pathway as a ‘national disgrace’ in 2014 following a review led by Baroness Neuberger. Afterwards Caldwell continued to work with families who claimed that the LCP had simply been rebranded and that their relatives had died when subjected to the same lethal treatment in another guise.

This work is the basis of one strand of The Beast of Bethulia Park. Another is Caldwell’s strong Catholic faith, which is expressed in the young, idealistic priest Father Calvin Baines and in a sub-plot concerning a 17th century Catholic martyr.

I need to declare an interest as I did a spot of editing on the book. I’m not going to give away the plot but these two reviews on Amazon might give an indication of its flavour:

‘This is a very attractive book. It combines depths of human insight with a philosophical and metaphysical grasp of life and its complexities . . . This book works at a number of levels in an impressive manner. Not easy to put down. Be prepared to be immersed in a great read.’

‘Fast-paced psychological thriller with thought-provoking moral themes. Couldn’t put it down.’

The Beast of Bethulia Park (paperback, 400pp) is available for £20 direct from the publishers, Gracewing, at various prices from all online sellers and by order from any bookshop.

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Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth
Margaret Ashworth is a retired national newspaper journalist. She runs the Subbing Clinic in a hopeless attempt to keep up standards, and co-runs A & M Records where she indulges her passion for 60s pop.

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