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Archive for April 3rd, 2008

From “Titanic Express” to “Don’t Get Fooled Again”

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“Don’t Get Fooled Again” is a very different kind of book from “Titanic Express”, but there are some common elements. Both, in their own ways, centre around a search for the truth, personally and politically. Both also look at how we can distinguish what’s true from what isn’t – or at least how we can tell a reasonable assumption from a completely nonsensical one – and why it is that these things matter. And both look in some detail at the issue of conspiracy theories, and the damage they can do.

In “Titanic Express”, the conspiracy theories I came across were often all-encompassing – so much so that at one point I was told that my sisters’ killers suspected me of being part of some devilish global plot to discredit them. And in “Don’t Get Fooled Again”, many of the most disturbing delusions I looked at – such as the belief that HIV doesn’t exist or is harmless, seemed ultimately, again, to rest on the belief in some conspiracy or another. What I wasn’t able to do in “Titanic Express” was to look in detail at the features that define a conspiracy theory, what it is, psychologically, that attracts us to such ideas, and the tools that we can use to unravel them – so it was great to have a chance to go into these questions a bit more in DGFA.

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Written by Richard Wilson

April 3, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Titanic Express

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My first book, Titanic Express, was published by Continuum in 2006. It takes its title from the bizarre name of the bus that was ambushed by Burundian rebels in December 2000, close to the capital Bujumbura. One of the 21 victims of the attack was my elder sister Charlotte, who had been working as a teacher in neighbouring Rwanda. Her Burundian fiancé – another Richard – who was travelling with her, was also killed.

It took over a day for the news of Charlotte’s death to reach us. More or less from the moment I heard it, I was consumed by an overwhelming desire to know what had happened to my sister in the last moments of her life. But as time went on, this developed into a much wider interest in the chaotic chain of political events that had led to her death. The Titanic Express massacre was just one among hundreds – if not thousands – carried out by ethnic extremists, both Hutu and Tutsi, in Burundi since the current conflict began in 1993. Yet I’d known almost nothing about it until it had a personal effect on me. One of my reasons for writing the book was to try to make some record of the lives that had been lived – and lost – in a largely forgotten part of Africa.

Although this was always going to be a niche book, the response was immensely heartening. Titanic Express was covered sympathetically in several mainstream newspapers, including the Times, Sunday Times, and Independent, among others. Equally gratifying was the reception it got from many of my Burundian contacts. While not everyone agreed with my recounting of Burundian history – some deny, for example, that a genocide was committed against the Hutu population in 1972, and there was some disquiet over my criticism of the involvement of the current Rwandan government in the war in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the disagreements were much milder than I had expected!

Since Titanic Express was published, I’ve continued to campaign on the issues raised in it, and later this year I hope to be involved in an event in London marking the fourth anniversary of the August 2004 Gatumba refugee camp massacre, which was another of the cases I highlighted in the book.

One of the most moving independent reports about the Titanic Express case was written in French by a Burundian journalist, writing under a pseudonym for fear of reprisals against his family, who interviewed the mother of Charlotte’s fiancé back in 2005. I made a rough translation into English and, not knowing what else to do with it at the time, published it on Indymedia here.

Written by Richard Wilson

April 3, 2008 at 9:57 pm

First post…

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I set up this blog at the prompting of Lee Henshaw at the Independent Book Alliance author’s webday…

Up until now I’d not seen the benefit in creating a separate author’s blog in my own name, partly because I think you need to publish at least two books before you can really call yourself an “author”, and partly because it seems so easy to get it wrong… But I’ve now been inspired by the example of Seth Godin, as eloquently presented in this morning’s presentation by Douglas Smith.

My first book, Titanic Express, already has its own blog, while my second, Don’t Get Fooled Again, will be published by Icon in September this year.

One of the most useful suggestions was that a blog might be a good way of giving exposure to some of the notes, discussions and bits of research that never made it into the final draft of the book. When I was writing Don’t Get Fooled Again I spent hours making notes and digging out obscure facts from old books and internet pages that, many of which for one reason or another, I didn’t end up including. Then there are all the odd bits of old film and audio that I stumbled on when writing the book, such as this extraordinary 1950s information film on “How to spot propaganda”:

Written by Richard Wilson

April 3, 2008 at 2:00 pm

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