As the daughter and granddaughter of a newspaper editor, Marika Cobbold is uniquely positioned to write about a jaded local reporter pressed by fake news and social media click traps.
Until recently, his family owned a newspaper in Gothenburg, Sweden, founded by his grandfather and inspired by the greater Manchester Guardian: “A local mass circulation newspaper which acted as a national broadsheet”.
âIt has been terribly difficult because of the digital revolution,â she says. “Advertising revenue is going down, the managing director has made some stupid decisions and the Swedish government has landed all the newspapers with a back tax, so we lost the newspaper.”
When the Hampstead author was thinking of an anti-heroine for her eighth novel, Thorn Marsh established herself as a workaholic editor-in-chief who falls for the media giant who bought the London Journal. Living in the ugliest and therefore most affordable house in Hampstead, Thorn “As By Your Side” values ââintegrity, pursues the truth, and holds the powerful to account, while prioritizing clicks over fact checking.
When Thorn tells an irresponsible anti-vax story, she is demoted to write upbeat articles for the good news edition ‘The Bright Side’. “His idea of ââhell”. So she makes up something sensational drunk. Based on a photograph of a man jumping from the Hampstead Heath Viaduct Pond, the story Thorn coined about an angelic vision of a daring rescue goes viral and the lies snowball.
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âThe big theme I was playing with was the idea that someone whose life was a complete mess and had no belief in themselves wakes up in the hospital and everyone thinks they’ve done something wrong. ‘extraordinary,’ says Cobbold, who asks Thorn to chase away the amnesiac. angel at a hospital bed.
“If this hero with temporary memory loss believes a lie, how does it change his life?” And then the person who incited the lie sees that it has an impact on others. What if lying turns into something good? with the consequences, are you disillusioning everyone? “
As On Hampstead Heath takes a satirical look at the death of newspapers as guardians of democracy and the erosion of trust in the “much hated mainstream media”, it’s all about finding unexpected love and to exorcise family secrets, that of “Trump, Brexit and alternative facts”.
“The love story which in her case is not based on reality but becomes something more real is part of the whole mirror of truth, lies and perception.”
But through Lottie, Thorn’s elderly Jewish neighbor, Cobbold points out the consequences of conspiracy theories and lies.
âThe new alternatives scare me,â says Cobbold. “Some are outright lies and if people believe the lies how can you have a functioning democracy? The further we get from the source of information, the less accountability there is.”
For Cobbold, the pandemic “went well” even though she struggled to write.
“I was lucky. I have a good life. I have a husband and I got to blow bubbles with my daughter on the road,” she said.
âBut the lockdown doesn’t do much for creativity. If you’d asked me in 2019 if I wanted to take a break from the world so I could go on and write without anyone passing by or being invited to something I didn’t don’t want to go to, I would have said yes. But then it happens and I couldn’t focus on anything. too bad, let’s make banana bread. There was this feeling of waiting … statistics, the next rule change, not really knowing what was going on. My focus was shattered. “
On Hampstead Heath is published by Arcadia Books for Â£ 14.99.