Why John Carnochan's book is so readable
In the early days of the Centre when I was going to a lot of meetings and conferences the people who consistently impressed me with their commitment, openness and insight were John Carnochan and Karyn McLuskey of the Violence Reduction Unit. Given what a spectacularly successful job they have done in reducing Scotland’s violence figures, asking them to write a book for our Postcards from Scotland series was an obvious thing to do. They agreed.
By that time John had retired from the VRU and Karyn had taken over so John had more time on his hands. He said he would start the writing. When he gave me the first two chapters I realised that we had to change tack and Karyn supported me on this. John had delivered the first part of a compelling narrative and this would be lost if the book attempted to amalgamate both their experiences and perceptions. Consequently Karyn wrote a moving Afterword to John's book and has agreed to write her story in a future Postcard.
My instinct was right as we’re now getting great feedback on John’s book Conviction. Indeed a number of folk have told me that they sat down to read a few pages and ended up reading the whole book as they found it so compelling.
One of the reasons why Conviction is so absorbing is that it not only has a strong narrative but it actually follows a classic story structure. I learned about this years ago when I had the privilege of earning a place on a BBC Scotland scriptwriting course led by the Scottish playwright Iain Heggie.
I don’t want to spoil the book for those of you who haven’t read it yet so I’ll be careful not to reveal too much in what follows.
What I can say is that it’s the story of a man working in the CID in an area of Glasgow with a high violence rate. He and his colleagues simply think they are awful busy in comparison to some other areas and if they do think about the level of violence they simply think it’s cultural – this is what life is like in this area of the city.
In classically structured stories there is a ‘trigger’ – an event which catapults the protagonist out of his or her ordinary life and into a journey. This journey is usually challenging and forces the main character to develop. By the end of the story, and its resolution, the character has grown and developed substantially by what he, or she, has encountered.
In Conviction the trigger for John is that he starts working for Sir Willie Rae who was at that time Chief Constable for Strathclyde Police. He is an unusual police chief in that he encouraged innovation and collaboration. John also teams up with Karyn McLuskey, ‘a savvy analyst’ as John calls her. The focus of John’s police work then changes from trying to catch and punish folk for violent crimes to figuring out a violence reduction strategy.
The book describes in very interesting detail much of the ensuing journey – a journey whereby John goes from being a pretty ordinary policeman doing regular police work to someone who has to constantly figure out how to work and think differently. By the end of the book our protagonist, John, has grown enormously in compassion, conviction and insight and has made an enormous difference not only to Scotland's violence figures but also to people's lives. If this isn't inspirational I don't know what is.
It is commonplace these days for those eager to see change to talk about the importance of stories but rarely do we get really good stories to help us transform organisations and the way people work together. Happily, Conviction is one of these rare stories.
You can buy a copy of Conviction on our Postcards from Scotland website and on Amazon.
There's a great review by Claire Lightowler on the Centre for Youth and Criminal Justice website.
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