I've always been a huge admirer of The Big Issue. Not only is it a thumping good read, its purpose is both uplifting and completely unique. It strikes me that handouts, while obviously helpful in the very short term, rarely address the problems which cause and perpetuate desperate situations. The Big Issue is very different. By giving the vendor an income and a useful role it restores self-esteem, hope and something of which to be proud.
In short, when a creative endeavour meets a good cause the outcome is often far more productive and satisfying than a straightforward cash donation. And so it is with the new book by Alex Pearl.
Living in North West London and a self-confessed, short-sighted, 50 year old bloke, for 27 years Alex was a professional marketing and advertising copywriter.
He's also a husband and a dad.
Four years ago Alex lost his job in one of those hideous and painful corporate takeovers so familiar to the modern creative. But before that, as his employer was mired in deathly corporate horse trading, he found time to draft a book for his young son. A manuscript he managed to grab on his way out the door for the final time.
The title was (and is) Sleeping With The Blackbirds.
'Sometimes it's difficult to know where ideas come from, but most of us draw on our own experiences in life' says Alex.
'My son used to spend hours watching birds through his binoculars from his bedroom window. He could see a very large oak tree from his window, a few gardens away. Now, when I was a little boy, my parents used to employ an old gardener who would lean on his bicycle and his fork for support. Despite his physical problems, he was a wonderful gardener. Oh, and he was also an ARP man during the war. These two different memories formed the basic elements of my story. But you'll need to buy the book to discover how they come together.'
There's another, perhaps even better reason to invest in Alex's book. He's donating every penny of the royalties to Centrepoint.
Centrepoint was founded in 1969 when Ken Leech, vicar of St Anne's in London's Soho decided to open the basement of the church as a temporary night shelter for the increasing number of young homeless people sleeping rough in the area. Forty years on, the project has evolved to become a national charity providing services across London and the North East. Today, Centrepoint offers a bed to over 1,300 young homeless people every night. It also generates the personal, social and educational support they need to build their self-esteem and turn their lives around. For these young people, Centrepoint is a real home.
Alex continues, 'When you get to my age, you tend to look back at your life and begin to appreciate how lucky you've been. I had wonderfully supportive and loving parents, went to art school and managed to hold down a reasonable job, get married and have kids of our own. It's been an ordinary kind of life - but one I wouldn't have missed for the world. But the sad truth is that for many young people, the story is very different.'
'For far too many youngsters, a happy and supportive family isn't there for them. It is a bit like having your life support system taken away. And the reasons for this are many and varied. And when politicians talk about our 'broken society', they mean the breakdown of family values. Sadly, it's often children who are its most damaged victims.'
But Alex didn't have Centrepoint or even publication in mind at first.
'When I originally wrote the book it was only meant for my own kids' eyes, and I wanted them to understand that some children didn't have it as easy as them. But as soon as I had the idea of getting the book published, I realised it could actually do some real good by raising money for real youngsters who need help.
If I'm honest, there is another reason. I knew that if the book could raise money for homeless youngsters, more shops would be prepared to stock it and more people would be prepared to buy it. So this would mean more children would read all those words I penned. For someone who's never published a book before, that really was an exciting prospect.
That's why I wanted my share of the book to go to Centrepoint.'
Copywriters are not quite as reviled as politicians and tabloid hacks, but we do attract our fair share of flack for using our abilities to promote, market or simply flog junk that no-one wants. This is a moot point and a debate for another day. However, I sincerely hope that Alex's book and his generosity in passing his proceeds to such a vital and effective organisation, will show at least one copywriter is capable of outstanding sensitivity and generosity.
I can only recommend you buy Alex's book and support his work. In fact, buy two.