Chambers interviews RLC writers to mark World Book Day

March 3, 2022
Chambers marks World Book Day 2022 – a celebration of reading, authors, illustrators and books. Designated by UNESCO as a worldwide celebration of books and reading, it is marked in over 100 countries all over the world.

This year’s World Book Day sees a continued commitment to promote reading for pleasure with the objective that every child should own a book of their own. Additionally, this year sees a particular focus on reaching children from disadvantaged backgrounds with the theme “You Are A Reader”.

To mark World Book Day, RLC interviewed Barnaby Jameson QC, Jamie Sawyer and Tim Kiely who alongside their work as criminal barristers are published writers. They talk about their work, love for writing, literary influences and inspiration here:

RLC Writers

Barnaby Jameson QC

Barnaby Jameson QC’s debut novel CODENAME: MADELEINE is inspired by real events and follows the life of one of the most intriguing and exotic spies of the wartime Special Operations Executive (SOE). Her mission into Occupied France was considered the most dangerous of WW2. The most unexpected and moving spy story to be told it teems with tigers, zeppelins, elephants, angels, assassins, chessmen, beetles, butterflies and Rumi- a kaleidoscope of love, war, music, betrayal, poetry and resistance.

When did you first realise you wanted to write?

I come from a family of writers. My cousin, Kitty Curran, is the author of the interactive romance novel, ‘My Lady’s Choosing’ and is a staff writer for Disney. My uncle has published a dozen books on the history of the press. As a pupil I staved off starvation by writing book reviews for A.N. Wilson at the London Evening Standard. As a reviewer, I always wondered if I could do any better if I threw my hat into the ring.
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What inspired you to write a series of Spy Thrillers focussed on the Special Operations Executive?

I discovered by chance that my grandfather, Squadron Leader Curran, was not just in the RAF in WW2 but was also doing clandestine work for the Special Operations Executive (SOE) in Ethiopia and Aidan in 1941-2. While attached to Gideon Force (an SAS style British-Ethiopian special forces group) my grandfather met the Emperor, Haile Selassie. There is a rumour that the Emperor asked my grandfather to source ponies during his mission to Aiden to restore the imperial polo stable. After the war, Haile Selassie opened my grandfather’s pottery near Cambridge. The residents of a quiet Fenland village were surprised to learn that the diminutive, quietly spoken Ethiopian who cut the ribbon was a King of Kings descended from Solomon who kept a pair of leopards with ruby collars.

Can you tell us more about your series of books?

My book is inspired by the lives of real SOE agents. The SOE was thrown together in 1940 with a brief to carry the war’s most hazardous espionage and sabotage operations. It had strong legal connections. Partners from Slaughter & May helped set up SOE (known as the ‘Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare’) behind the guise of the Ministry of Economic Warfare. A senior SOE instructor once told a class of SOE agents about to be deployed into Occupied France: ‘I want a little less May and a little more Slaughter.’ SOE went on to boast one of the great legal heroes of WW2: Francis Suttill, barrister of Lincoln’s Inn (Codename: PROSPER) who went on to head the main SOE-backed Resistance network in Paris.

Other SOE recruits included safe-breakers, burglars, forgers, actors, racing-drivers, chess masters, cryptographers and at least one stage illusionist.

My book is based on one of the most unusual SOE agents, Codename MADELEINE. Noor Inayat Khan was the harpist daughter of a Sufi mystic and writer of children’s stories before joining SOE. By 1943 she was dodging the Gestapo in Occupied Paris with a clandestine radio, a Liberator pistol and a cyanide capsule sewn into the hem of her dress. Any SOE agent caught by the enemy was outside the Geneva Convention and liable to be summarily executed. ‘Madeleine’ went on to be awarded the George Cross and the Croix de Guerre.

The next book in the sequence is Codename: GOD-GIVEN based on a ‘past-it’ actor struggling with his bachelor leanings who also became an SOE agent and wireless operator at a time when the life expectancy of wireless operators in the field was four weeks.

What did you learn when writing your first book?

Bravery comes in many forms – whether in the guise of a Sufi woman harpist, or a faded matinée idol initially rejected for combat. In my research I picked up a real sense of what never happened to mainland England during WW2 – Nazi occupation. Occupation seemed to have brought out the very best and the very worst in people in countries that were occupied – France, Denmark, Holland, Norway to name but a few. Nazi collaboration in France was particularly disturbing. The French authorities are believed to have sent up to 75, 000 Jews for deportation to Germany of whom the majority were murdered.

What has the journey been like from writing to preparing for the launch of your first book?

No one tells you that writing a book means scaling the Eiger twice. The first ascent is the writing – and there were a few times I almost fell off the North Face. The other is finding a route to publication and then launching the book. Millions of new titles appear every year. Each new book is fighting against hundreds and thousands of others. Fortunately, I have a few lucky charms. My one celebrity friend, Olivia Williams, is reading the book for Audible. The beauty of her voice alone should crank up the Amazon algorithms. I also have some high-profile reviewers, two of them from the Bar. One is Imran Mahmood, author of the hit novel (now adapted for BBC I-player) ‘You Don’t Know Me’ and (ssshhhh…….) The Secret Barrister. Another reviewer is Giles Foden, author of ‘The Last King of Scotland’ and ‘Turbulence’.

How do you juggle being a criminal barrister with being an author?

With difficulty!

What is your work schedule like when writing a book?

The life of a barrister means you have to snatch time to write whenever you can. If in court and my long-suffering junior, Naomi Parsons, has to read out a day of interviews I have (once or twice – tell no one) redrafted the occasional section. Writing when I am on holiday in Greece is easier but it becomes a play-off between my pen and my Retsina-induced hangover. The latter often wins.

This year’s World Book Day theme is “You are a Reader” with a focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds all receiving a book of their own. If you could choose one book that you would like children to read for this year’s World Book Day what would it be and why?

I would choose Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials Trilogy.’ Lyra is a wonderful and accessible protagonist. The world Pullman has created (or rather the interlinking worlds) brings children’s stories together with quantum physics – no easy feat. I also love the idea that everyone has a ‘Daemon’ – an animal manifestation of a person’s alter ego. As a child your Daemon can change. As an adult your Daemon settles into one animal. Lord Asriel’s (Lyra’s father’s) is a snow leopard. Everyone wonders what sort of animal their Daemon would be. Pullman’s writing is brilliantly imagined, deeply complex and sometimes dark – but also accessible to children and adults alike.

What was your favourite book as a child?

Who can say, hand-on-heart, they did not love Winnie-the-Pooh? I identify with Winnie-the-Pooh’s world view:

“When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

It is touching that Winnie-the-Pooh’s creator, AA Milne (like J.R.R. Tolkien) saw action in WW1. He went on to create a world that was surely the antithesis of the trenches (Milne himself fought in the Battle of the Somme) – not a million miles from Tolkien’s Middle Earth in the Lord of the Rings. Milne’s brilliant illustrator, E.H. Shepard was also a veteran of WW1. My parents sent me to Westminster on the basis that AA Milne had been a pupil there. My mother said any school that produced AA Milne could not be all bad.

Name one of your favourite authors to date and the reason why you have picked him/her…

I like ‘big’ literature. Tolstoy surely stands at the pinnacle. War and Peace is 600, 000 words and boasts 559 characters. Tolstoy redrafted the book roughly eleven times. I love Anna Karenina the best for the setting and the protagonist’s depth of character. Writing as a man through a woman’s eyes such as Anna Karenina or Madame Bovary has its own set of challenges. I have taken a miniature leaf out of Tolstoy’s book in writing CODENAME: MADELEINE through the eyes of a woman. Are women more complex than men? Perhaps, like me, Tolstoy would agree. One of Tolstoy’s sons (Count Sergei) appears in Chapter 1 of CODENAME: MADELEINE which is set in Moscow in 1914 on the eve of the Great War.

CODENAME: MADELEINE will be published on 28th July 2022 (Whitefox)
The Audible version will be read by actress (and daughter of two Silks), Olivia Williams.
Follow @Silk_Scribbler on Twitter for news and updates.

Jamie Sawyer

Jamie Sawyer’s debut novel, Artefact, was published in 2015, with the sequel Legion later the same year. The books form part of The Lazarus War series, including Redemption (published 2015) and Origins (published 2016). Jamie later continued writing in the same universe with The Eternity War series.

When did you first realise you wanted to write?

I have always wanted to write. It has always been something I have done; imagining situations and characters and how they interact. In secondary school, I had a really encouraging English teacher who suggested I get involved in creative writing. Although I’ve never done so formally, that kept the flame going and through my school years I wrote for pleasure. It was never properly structured or disciplined, just something I did in my spare time. It wasn’t until much later in life that I started putting the pieces together to make a story though.
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What inspired you to write Science Fiction?

For me, writing and science fiction go hand-in-hand. I enjoy the escapism of SF (as it is known now) and there is always something new to explore. It’s such a broad school – from dystopian horror through to uplifting speculative fiction. There’s so much to play with in the genre (if you can even call it that anymore). I’ve always enjoyed the SF classic authors and that interest increased as I have grown older experiencing film and video games. So to write SF was a natural human reaction for me; I couldn’t imagine myself writing in any other field! It’s a logical extension of my other interests.

Can you tell us more about your series of books? Do you have a favourite?

I’ve written two series of SF books – first was The Lazarus War and then the sequel The Eternity War. Both are set in a far future universe in which humanity is at war with an alien species known as the Krell. The soldiers of this universe are members of the Simulant Operations Programme – they use technology that allows them to operate copies of themselves (“simulants”) in the deadliest theatres of war. One body dies, but you can come back in another: and you get to use whatever you learnt the first time around. Unfortunately, you also feel every death and carry that baggage around with you on to the next mission…

The Lazarus War (Artefact, Legion, Origins and Redemption) featured Captain Conrad Harris – callsign “Lazarus” – and his efforts to stop a rising alien threat from beyond the Maelstrom. But Harris is a soldier with a heart, and as much as the stories are about combat and explosions and massive starships, they are also about his personal journey. One reader called the series Starship Troopers crossed with Apocalypse Now and Aliens. That’s an accurate description.

The Eternity War (Pariah, Exodus and Dominion) is the follow up, featuring Lieutenant Keira Jenkins – formally Harris’ second-in-command, now in charge of her own Simulant Operations unit. Jenkins uncovers a conspiracy on an immense scale, struggling to balance the responsibility of managing a green outfit of Sim Ops troopers, a terrorist cell bent on destabilising galactic peace, and the need to counter an alien virus. While it does feature a pandemic, it was written a long time before COVID!

Do I have a favourite? That’s a bit like choosing your favourite child. Each of my books has something that interests me and I can’t really choose which I prefer.

What did you learn when writing your first book?

I wrote The Lazarus War: Artefact over a period of several years but it wasn’t truly finished until I got an agent and he suggested some key revisions. The thing about writing is that you are in a sort of splendid isolation – it’s sometimes hard to know whether what you’ve written is any good. So I realised that feedback and a second pair of eyes were important. There’s also a bit of a human reaction to sit back and say “it’s done”, rather than revise a manuscript. While sometimes having a bit of perspective is a good thing – you can get tired of writing the same story – in reality, most writers will agree that the first draft is about getting the words down rather than creating a finished product.

What was the journey to getting published like?

I followed the traditional route to publication. I was very lucky to be signed by a well-known and well-respected literary agent, who was key to whipping my manuscript into shape. His guidance was priceless; by the time we came to put Artefact out to publishers, it was a well-polished piece of work. I then signed a multi-book contract with Orbit (part of Hachette Publishing) and things really picked up. My writing gears shifted – I wasn’t writing just for pleasure but as a second job. That was an interesting change. There’s nothing like a deadline to encourage you to get that manuscript finished!

Do you interact a lot with your readers?

I try to interact with my readers as much as possible – I’m on Twitter, I have a blog, and some readers also run a Lazarus War Facebook group. It’s not always easy juggling all these aspects with writing and work, but I do what I can. I could definitely do more in terms of Twitter and other social media.

How do you juggle being a criminal barrister with being an author?

There’s always tension between different jobs because there’s only so many hours in the day! But I look for time when I can. I also try to protect my writing time – for example, taking an extra day off before a holiday. It’s all about balance. The two jobs aren’t mutually exclusive, but it does require some discipline to give myself writing time. This has been more difficult since the pandemic – I could work all day, every day on my day job as there’s always something that needs to be done.

What is your work schedule like when writing a book?

I tend to have specific places and times that I write, rather than having a set ritual or timetable. I like to write in locations where I’m out of contact, or where I don’t feel guilty about not doing court work. So most of my writing tends to be done on long train journeys or in cafes – there’s also something about being around people that triggers my creative instinct. I’m not sure why that is but maybe there’s some psychological reason. In contrast, I can’t edit or revise a manuscript unless I’m somewhere quiet and private. As a result, those sort of writing aspects are usually done late at night at home. But generally, I try to avoid writing at home, which is another reason why the pandemic has slowed down my writing.

This year’s World Book Day theme is “You are a Reader” with a focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds all receiving a book of their own. If you could choose one book that you would like children to read this year what would it be and why?

I’m not sure this is appropriate for younger readers, but the novel Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel is an uplifting and invigorating SF story which I would highly recommend. It’s about a deadly flu pandemic but – hear me out! – it’s actually a very positive tale about hope and human nature. I feel we need that now more than ever. The writing is also exceptional and even experienced authors can learn from the prose of this book. It has recently been made into a streaming series but I haven’t watched that yet.

Who has been your favourite author to date?

I don’t have a favourite author as such but more of a list. I’m an avid reader of the SF classics – Asimov (robots and philosophy), Philip K Dick (so many ideas, so current), Banks (the Culture) and so on. Too many to mention, and always something new in their stories!

Jamie is currently writing a science fiction series in a new setting, which he can’t “wait to release on the world” or maybe “which he describes as the Bourne Identity in space”. For more information, please see  [Jamie Sawyer]

Tim Kiely

Tim Kiely has been part of the London poetry scene since October 2013. In July 2017 he featured at a fundraising event organised by and for the victims of the Grenfell Tower Fire. In February 2018 he performed alongside a range of other spoken word artists as part of the ‘Save the Male’ fundraising event organised by the mental-health charity CALM, and ‘Stick it to Stigma’ organised by the Good Lad Initiative. His poetry and critical writing has been published in a number of journals, online and offline, including: ‘South Bank Poetry’; ‘Under the Radar’; ‘Ink, Sweat & Tears’; and ‘Magma’. He contributed to the 2019 Emma Press anthology ‘Everything That Can Happen’ and has had work commended and anthologised as part of both the 2019 Gingko Prize for Ecopoetry and the 2020 Verve Poetry Festival Competition.

When did you first realise you wanted to write poetry?

I’ve been writing little bits and pieces of poetry since I was in primary school, simply because using the language that way was invigorating and exciting to me, and I’ve never really lost that impulse to play with it. I think it comes from a childhood that was very heavy on Roald Dahl’s ‘Revolting Rhymes’ and ‘Dirty Beasts’, among other things.
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What inspired you to write your first poem?

When I was about 6 I remember trying to write a poem about an eagle, just because I thought it sounded fun. It would be a couple of years before I was then introduced to Tennyson’s ‘The Eagle’ in primary school and realised there were whole other heights of language still to be explored.

How did it feel winning the Indigo Dreams First Pamphlet Competition 2020?

It came as a wonderful surprise. I had spent much of 2020 trying to scrape together my work so far into a collection, and ‘Hymn to the Smoke’ was this weird, offbeat little slip of a thing that was effectively built out of all the poems I liked but which didn’t fit comfortably into any other place. The resulting pamphlet was all about the ephemeral, shifting nature of art, language and experience, and how they play into and inform one another. It was decidedly not the collection I was expecting to be the first to get recognised and then published (for which my thanks to Ronnie and Dawn at Indigo Dreams)!

What did you learn when writing your first poetry pamphlet “Hymn to the Smoke”?

Writing and creating is an act of faith. The poems in that collection were strange, elusive, slippery creatures that sometimes baffled even me when I was trying to tease them out, but I stuck with them because there seemed to be, at bottom, some germ of value in what they were trying to be. Some of them had spent several years being rejected by publishers before reaching the world as part of that collection, and during that time I had to stay faithful to the idea that there was something in there that was worth trying to bring to a wider audience.

What has the journey been like from writing poetry to launching it to audiences?

In some ways, the relationship with the audience has continued much as before, albeit whenever I perform live I now have to find a way to plug my book before I finish my set! The ecosystem of poets and performers where I honed my abilities has continued to be a big part of my creative life, and in fact continued to be the most brilliant network of support and solidarity one could ask for. I was even lucky enough to have a fellow poet and performer, Laurie Eaves, invite me to ‘launch’ my collection for a second time, in front of a live audience at the Miller in Southwark in November 2021, along with a number of other poets who had launched collections during lockdown. I think that my written work is just a continuation, in another performing medium, of the work that gets done on stage or behind a microphone.

How do you juggle being a criminal barrister with being an author?

Fortunately, if you have a notepad or a phone with a keyboard and a few minutes to spare, it’s a lot easier to jot down lines and ideas that come to you!

What is your work schedule like when writing poetry?

As much as I would like to have the capacity for a dedicated ‘schedule’ for writing, usually I just have to make do with whatever time is available to me. I will say though that I definitely write and work more effectively early in the morning, when I am fresh – in law as in poetry!

This year’s World Book Day theme is “You are a Reader” with a focus on children from disadvantaged backgrounds all receiving a book of their own. If you could choose one book/anthology that you would like children to read for this year’s World Book Day what would it be and why?

‘Bedtime Stories for the End of the World’, adapted from the podcast of the same name hosted by Eleanor Penny. It is a collection of six poems by a number of brilliant contemporary writers, (including the most recent winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, Joelle Taylor), re-telling a number of stories from various mythologies and with the writers giving them each a different spin and taking the time to open up their unique dimensions. Complete with the lavish illustrations each piece has been given by Inkquisitive I think that this collection would light a fire under the imagination of any young reader, and bring home to them the sheer fun and acts of daring that can come from being involved in poetry.

What was your favourite book/anthology as a child? ​

The two Dahl collections I mentioned, ‘Revolting Rhymes’ and ‘Dirty Beasts’.

Name one of your favourite poets to date and the reason why you have picked him/her…

You are asking me to exclude a lot of excellent poets to name only one! I have already mentioned Joelle Taylor, and cannot praise her latest collection ‘C+nto and Othered Poems’ highly enough, but at this moment I am also re-reading a lot of Franz Wright, especially his sequence of prose poems ‘Entries of the Cell’. Both these poets, in different ways, use their art to bring home the seriousness of poetry as a means to conceive of, speak of and live one’s own deepest truths.

Hymn to the Smoke is published by Indigo Dreams. You can follow them on Twitter @IndigoDreamsPub [Indigo Dreams Publishing – Tim Kiely]

Hymn to the Smoke available to purchase here: [Tim Kiely Books]


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RLC Book Club

The RLC Book Club which began during Lockdown have so far read an interesting and diverse array of authors moving from the streets of Dublin to the civil war in Nigeria, from the underground world of Bradford to the slums of Mumbai. Books include: “Love” by Roddy Doyle, “Under the Udala Trees” by Chinelo Okparanta, “The Khan” by Saima Mir and “Shantaram” by Gregory David Roberts. The next get together will discuss “The Secret Life of Cows” by Rosamund Young.

The RLC Book Club is open to members, friends and family of RLC as well as external members who would like to participate.

If you would like to join please email: