Julieann Campbell Sets the Truth Free in Derry~Londonderry

Derry Journal reporter Julieann Campbell discusses her Ewart-Biggs Prize-winning book about the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign

Your book, Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign, is out now, published by Liberties Press. Why do you think the truth has not been heard until now?

Because a lie was propagated in 1972 and the whole world, naturally, believed what they were told. If the truth were told at the time, all this would be unnecessary. To be honest, I think the whole subject of Bloody Sunday would have been brushed under the carpet if it wasn’t for the stubbornness and perseverance of our campaigners in Derry. They refused to accept any less than total exoneration and they kept going until they got it. Well, all but one of the victims, Gerald Donaghey, and his family will continue to campaign to clear his name.

How does the book differ from other books on Bloody Sunday?

It’s the first book to focus on the actual Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign itself, and how the families and survivors – most of whom were still strangers at the time – decided enough was enough and mobilised to campaign for the truth. The idea for the book actually came from one of the relatives, Mickey McKinney. We shared an office when he was the family liaison and I was the press officer before the publication of the Saville Report, and he told great stories.

Where did you begin with the research, and how long did it take you to write the book?

It took just over a year to write, as we were aiming to launch it to mark the 40th anniversary. It began, I’m sure, as most books do, from a few brilliant lines that I’d heard from relatives, and from there became this vast collection of interviews, facts and endless piles of photocopies.

The Museum of Free Derry archives were invaluable, as was some of the material that relatives themselves had held on to. It was just a question of piecing it all together. I think I did 38 interviews in all, not just with the survivors and families, but campaigners, politicians, lawyers, professors – as many people as I could speak to who had a hand in the campaign. Every person interviewed mentioned someone else, and it grew and grew.

You lost an uncle (John Duddy) in Bloody Sunday. How did this affect your family, and how did you receive the findings of the Saville Inquiry?

We grew up knowing all about our uncle Jackie and how British soldiers shot him. There were 15 children in the Duddy house and their mother – my granny, Maureen – had just died of leukaemia at 44, so losing Jackie hit them hard. I doubt they ever got over it. So, to have him then branded a nail-bomber must have been awful for them. My mum never actively campaigned and had a terrible fear of marches, but she always encouraged our involvement.

I remember my mum’s face in Guildhall Square on the day of the Saville Report. She had been locked inside the Guildhall and when we finally saw her, she looked radiant and just burst out crying. It was amazing. The whole family was overwhelmed at how far the report went and at David Cameron’s speech, but I think everyone knew it fell short about Gerald Donaghey’s case and the question of military blame. I was with my brothers on the Derry Walls overlooking the square when Cameron apologised for Bloody Sunday – it was a moment in time I’ll never forget.
In researching and writing the book, did your feelings on Bloody Sunday change at all?

I thought I knew a lot about Bloody Sunday, but I quickly realised I knew very little. It was a real learning curve listening to people, they really bared their souls and wanted to record their experiences. The campaign always fascinated me because I had heard my aunt and uncle talking about it for years, so it was great hearing all these different recollections and trying to bring these stories together in chronological order.
Did you hold back from including anything in the book?

There were certain sensitivities that I was aware of throughout, certain families who prefer to remain private, and that has to be respected without leaving them out entirely. Nobody could ever write the full, unexpurgated story, but the families were keen that we reflect the reality of the campaign, the highs and lows, the fights and the fall-outs. I hope that it does.
You work by day as a reporter with the Derry Journal. Where did you find the time to also research and write a book?

I come from a long line of night owls! I write best in the early hours, and so after I would get my three-year-old daughter Saffron settled, I’d get a few hours in until 3am or so. There was the odd all-nighter too, but I’ve realised I don’t have the stamina I had as a student. It was sometimes hard going, but it was worth it to get it right.
What has the feedback been like from readers – and who is reading it?

I’ve been pretty surprised by the various people who’ve commented on it, obviously a lot of local people who have their own memories of Bloody Sunday and the campaign, but otherwise it’s been a really broad range of people from all walks of life. I’m hoping that everyone loves a story about ordinary folk taking on the impossible and winning.

The book was described as ‘a handbook for lobbyists’ by the Irish Independent. Are you aware of anyone being inspired to action by the book?

Certainly, people seem to take more interest in the families and what they went through, which is great. People tell me they never knew the half of it – and to be honest, I never knew the half of it myself until I started researching it all. Some of the Hillsborough relatives were given copies of the book when they came to see the families in Derry. I was delighted. And another newspaper in the south described it as ‘unashamed partisan prose’. I loved that.
Congratulations on jointly winning this year’s Christopher Ewart-Biggs Memorial Prize. Has the award given the book added validation?

Thanks a million. I couldn’t believe it when I won. I really hope it does give the book more validity. There is always a danger that books addressing a serious subject matter will lack mass appeal and some publishers will shy away. I have defended the book on occasion. One thing that I did notice was that book and literary festivals weren’t interested, which was frustrating as hell.
Have you read Douglas Murray’s co-prize-winning book, Bloody Sunday: Truth, Lies and the Saville Inquiry, and if so, how do you regard it?

I did, long before we won the prize. I thought it was very good, thorough and analytical.
To an international audience, why would you say Bloody Sunday matters today?

Bloody Sunday matters today because there are still Bloody Sundays happening all over the world, and states killing their own citizens. I think because our Bloody Sunday is so widely known and well documented, lessons can be learned elsewhere. In the case of the families, I would like to think that other campaigners might look to them for ideas and inspiration.

What is next for you as a writer?

I’m actually working on a graphic novel now, a joint project between the Bloody Sunday Trust, of which I am vice-chair, and the Verbal Arts Centre. We got funding from Culture Company 2013. My brother, David, is the comic book artist-in-residence at Verbal, so he’s our artist and I’m writing. It’s another way to get Derry’s story out there. I’m also working on my debut collection of poetry, which is due to be published by Guildhall Press sometime next year.

Setting the Truth Free: The Inside Story of the Bloody Sunday Justice Campaign is out now, published by Liberties Press.