Author Archives: thelastword1962
Breaking & Mending: A Junior Doctor’s Stories of Compassion & Burnout by Joanna Cannon
had never felt so ill. I was mentally and physically broken. So fractured, I hadn’t eaten properly or slept well, or even changed my expression for months. I sat in a cubicle, behind paper-thin curtains and I shook with the effort of not crying. I was an inch away from defeat… but I knew I had to carry on.
Because I wasn’t the patient. I was the doctor.”
In this powerful memoir, Joanna Cannon tells her story as a junior doctor in visceral, heart-rending snapshots.
We walk with her through the wards, facing extraordinary and daunting moments: from attending her first post-mortem, sitting with a patient through their final moments, to learning the power of a well- or badly chosen word. These moments, and the small sustaining acts of kindness and connection that punctuate hospital life, teach her that emotional care and mental health can be just as critical as restoring a heartbeat.
In a profession where weakness remains a taboo, this moving, beautifully written book brings to life the vivid, human stories of doctors and patients – and shows us why we need to take better care of those who care for us.
Many will know of Joanna Cannon the author of The Trouble with Goats and Sheep and Three Things about Elsie but before Joanna became an author she graduated from medical school and became a hospital doctor before specialising in psychiatry. Now Joanna Cannon has penned a powerful memoir Breaking & Mending: A Junior Doctor’s Stories of Compassion & Burnout about her time working on the wards.
What Joanna Cannon has created here is a window into her own world back in the days when she graduated and suddenly everything became real. From attending seminars an and all the studying now suddenly Joanna was faced with pressures of being a junior doctor and seeing real patients with real medical problems, all of them want to be seen and made well. Then there is attending the first post-mortem. We have all been patients in one form or another but many of us would run a mile at the thought of becoming a junior doctor and the sheer pressure of just the job title would be enough to frighten many of us. It takes a very special person to hear the calling of wanting to go through all the training and studying to become a junior doctor and then enter the NHS that is creaking under so much pressure and cut-backs.
I have only met Joanna Cannon once but I have known Joanna on Social Media since before her first novel was released. There are some people who a just destined in their lives to help others and Joanna is that person. Her compassion for her fellow man has been clear since those early days and a heart that cries out to help others. When I was reading Breaking & Mending I was so moved by her own story of being a junior doctor and at times moved me to tears.
When we are broken in one way or another we enter hospital to be mended and we see nurses and doctors constantly under pressure. When a junior doctor or anyone else working in medicine is broken who is there for them? That is a question many of us will have asked ourselves when we have been in hospital but never see. They are human just like we are and they break but in a way that we may never see or hear. But reading Joanna’s powerful memoir those stories are here contained on each page. Those that work in medicine deserve our respect and also our understanding.
The stories that Joanna shares with us are incredibly emotional and at times utterly heart-breaking. Yet this is one of the most beautiful and heartfelt books I have read this year. I am so very grateful for being given the chance have read Breaking & Mending and is a book I would recommend to everyone.
I have held back this review as Joanna Cannon is appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Monday 7th October at 6.30pm.
There are just a few tickets remaining at the time of writing this. For more details: Please visit: Cheltenham Literature Festival 07.10.2019 Event
My thanks to Profile Books for the review copy of Breaking & Mending: A Junior Doctor’s Stories of Compassion & Burnout by Joanna Cannon.
Breaking & Mending: A Junior Doctor’s Stories of Compassion & Burnout by Joanna Cannon was published by Profile Books (Wellcome Collection) and was published on 26th September 2019 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Ring the Hill by Tom Cox
It is a book written around, and about, hills: it includes a northern hill, a European hill, some hills from East Anglia that can barely be called hills at all. Each chapter takes a type of hill whether it be knoll, cap, cliff, tor, bump or even mere hillock as a starting point for one of Cox’s characteristically unpredictable and wide-ranging explorations.
These can lead to an account of an intimate relationship with a beach, a journey into Cox’s past or a lesson from an expert in what goes into the mapping of hills themselves. Because a good walk in the hills is never just about the hills: you never know where it might take you.
Over recent years I have become a bit of a fan of Tom Cox’s writing, I pick up one of his books and I am lost for the entire day. Now just released by Unbound is his latest offering. Ring the Hill. This is a book about hills! So for someone like me who loves hills and mountains (though mountains are not included in the book) the first thing I did when a copy of Ring the Hill arrived was to Google: What constitutes a hill? The answer is really quite simple according to the National Geographic. A hill is a piece of land that rises higher than everything around it. So there you have it. Armed with this I settled down to what turned out to be a real gem of a read.
So what is Ring the Hill all about. In Tom’s own words A knoll, cap, cliff, tor or even just a bump, Tom is going to take you the reader on a trip across the country and even a European hill.
The first thing that I have to say is what a glorious cover design and Glastonbury Tor on the cover. I was sold straight away and talking of Glastonbury and its Tor, it does take centre stage for me in the book as Tom takes us around the mystical town and surrounding parts of Somerset that have mystery just around every corner. I hold Glastonbury Tor very close to my heart it is a very special place but I just don’t know why. It has history of course as the last About of Glastonbury Abbey, Richard Whiting was hanged, drawn and quartered along with two of his Monks on the 15th November 1539.
There is so much to rejoice in Tom’s writing as he makes it look so easy (I am sure he would argue with me over that) and it is a real pleasure to read as he takes us across the land to hills and bumps and Knolls. And there is great humour in Tom’s writing while on his adventure to discover the hills and the towns around them.
Ring the Hill is the sort of book you want to pack in your rucksack and head off to climb a few hills one Sunday and them find a cosy pub with a log fire and settle down with your favourite tipple and I promise you time will just disappear while you read this joyous book.
Now get your walking boots on! Highly recommended.
#RingTheHill @cox_tom @unbounders
Thank you to Unbound and also Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the review copy of Ring the Hill by Tom Cox.
Ring the Hill by Tom Cox was published by Unbound and was published on 3rd October 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal by Horatio Clare
As November stubs out the glow of autumn and the days tighten into shorter hours, winter’s occupation begins. Preparing for winter has its own rhythms, as old as our exchanges with the land. Of all the seasons, it draws us together. But winter can be tough.
It is a time of introspection, of looking inwards. Seasonal sadness; winter blues; depression – such feelings are widespread in the darker months. But by looking outwards, by being in and observing nature, we can appreciate its rhythms. Mountains make sense in any weather. The voices of a wood always speak consolation. A brush of frost; subtle colours; days as bright as a magpie’s cackle. We can learn to see and celebrate winter in all its shadows and lights.
In this moving and lyrical evocation of a British winter and the feelings it inspires, Horatio Clare raises a torch against the darkness, illuminating the blackest corners of the season, and delving into memory and myth to explore the powerful hold that winter has on us. By learning to see, we can find the magic, the light that burns bright at the heart of winter: spring will come again.
Released on 3rd October is The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal (Elliott & Thompson) in Paperback. Written in the form of a diary that starts in October and works its way through from autumn through the winter months. This is a repost of my review for the hardback edition which was released in November 2018.
I am someone who loves the outdoors and all things nature, the dark winter months trapped in an office has often left me feeling tired and exhausted and then come the weekend I cherish every moment of the hours of daylight.
Here in Horatio Clare’s excellent diary, he talks openly of how he to suffers as we move from kicking our way through the autumn leaves and then as the days grow shorter and then into November one of the darkest months of the year. I really found Horatio’s open and honest account to be very reassuring. Many of us suffer in silence especially in the workplace.
The excitement of Christmas comes to Horatio Clare and his family, with memories of childhood and now with his own family. But silently he suffers knowing that there is a tax bill and other debts to be paid and how he is going to find the money to pay all this. It is during the winter months he becomes more or less withdrawn to save money. At times there is a little tension in the household.
Seasonal depression is not something anyone should suffer in silence with (all except me apparently). Nature too shuts down but there is joy to be found in nature during the darkest months. The joy of chilly frosty morning walks at the weekend. There is so much we can enjoy about winter but we have to appreciate its beauty. The Light in the Dark is a moving and poetic look at this time of year and one book I rejoice in. This is a torch to guide us through the dark winter days until Spring’s first rays of light warm us. I am delighted to highly recommend The Light in the Dark: A Winter Journal.
#TheLightInTheDark @HoratioClare @eandtbooks
The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival The 70th Anniversary 4th – 13th October 2019
The Times and The Sunday Times Cheltenham Literature Festival 2019
The 70th Anniversary
4th – 13th October 2019
Salt & Time: Recipes from a Russian Kitchen by Alissa Timoshkina
I am delighted as part of The Times and Sunday Times 70th Anniversary Cheltenham Literature to bring you a little taste of Russia. For my part on the celebration of the 70th Anniversary of the Cheltenham Literature Festival I am bringing to the Blog Tour a Russian recipe from Salt & Time: Recipes from a Russian Kitchen by Alissa Timoshkina. Alissa will be appearing at the Festival on Thursday 10th October. Details can be found below on how to purchase tickets. My grateful thanks to Charlotte Cooper at Midas PR for this guest post by Alissa Timoshkina.
I don’t know about you but I love to experiment with recipes from different parts of the world, but I have to admit I have not tried any from Russia.
Alissa has selected one of the recipes from her book to share with you a little taste of Russia. I hope this inspires you to have a look at the book (details below) and may be try some of these in your own kitchen.
Borsch to Eastern Europe and Russia is like hummus to the Middle
East. We all eat it, we all love it, yet we simply can’t imagine that
any other country owns the rights to it. It has its origin in a hogweed
soup commonly consumed by the Slavs from the 15th–16th century
in territories occupied today by Poland, Ukraine and Russia. There
are so many variations of the soup, not only in each country but in
different regions within those countries, that borsch often becomes
synonymous with Eastern European soup. As much as I love a good
traditional borsch, and to me this means a passionately red beetroot
soup, cooked with a soffritto base as my Jewish–Ukrainian greatgrandma
would do, I sometimes struggle eating a plateful of chunky
discoloured vegetables that have given all their best to the broth.
So here I am taking a bit (okay, a lot) of creative licence, offering my
own take on the iconic dish, which consists of a rich red broth, raw
sauerkraut, roasted vegetables and baked red kidney beans. Lovers of
traditional borsch recipes look away – this one is pretty iconoclastic!
If you can make the broth 24 hours in advance, you will be
rewarded with an even better tasting soup, but a few hours of resting will also do the trick.
unrefined sunflower oil,
for frying and roasting
1 large onion, finely diced
1 carrot, peeled and grated
6 raw red beetroots
2 red peppers
2 tablespoons tomato purée
2 litres cold water
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon black
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
4 garlic cloves, peeled
bunch of dill
small bunch of flat leaf parsley
2 garlic cloves, grated
500g Red Sauerkraut
with Garlic & Chilli
(see page 159)
2 tablespoons pomegranate
1 red onion
1 tablespoon brown sugar
400g can red kidney beans
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
4 tablespoons soured cream
Heat up a tablespoon of sunflower oil in a large pan and fry the
onion and carrot for about 8 minutes until golden. Meanwhile, peel
and grate 2 of the beetroots and core, deseed and thinly slice 1 red
pepper. Add the vegetables to the pan together with the tomato
purée and a splash of water. Season with salt to taste and fry for a
further 5–8 minutes.
Top with the measured cold water, add the bay leaves along with
the peppercorns and all the seeds, whole garlic cloves and half the
bunches of dill and parsley. Season with a tablespoon of salt and
bring to the boil. Reduce the heat, add the grated garlic and half the
sauerkraut with its brine and simmer, covered, over a low heat for
40 minutes–1 hour.
Turn off the heat and let the borsch rest for another hour, while
you prepare the rest of the elements.
So far, so good, but here is where the recipe starts to deviate
from the norm quite a lot: to prepare the vegetables that will grace
the plate and also add extra flavour and texture to the soup, you will
need to do a bit of roasting.
Start by preheating the oven to 160°C fan/Gas Mark 4.
Peel the remaining 4 beetroots, cut into wedges and dress with oil, salt and
the pomegranate molasses. Peel the red onion, cut into wedges and season
with salt and the brown sugar to bring out their sweetness and promote
caramelization. Place on a roasting tray with the beetroot and roast together
for 30 minutes. Drain the kidney beans, then dress them with salt, oil and the
smoked paprika. Core and deseed the remaining red pepper, then cut into thin
strips and dress with salt and oil. Roast the beans and pepper together, as they
will need only 10–15 minutes.
When ready to serve, strain the broth through a sieve or a muslin cloth,
discarding the solids. All we need is that rich broth! Reheat again if necessary.
Next, create layers of texture and flavour in each bowl by adding a heaped
tablespoon of the remaining sauerkraut to each, as well as a handful of roasted
beetroot, onion, kidney beans and red pepper. Top each bowl with the hot broth
and add a dollop of soured cream and a generous sprinkle of the remaining dill
and parsley, chopped. The intensity of the flavours and textures of this dish is
beyond words, while the look of the bowl will seduce the eye without a doubt.
Alissa Timoshkina will be appearing at the Cheltenham Literature Festival on Thursday 10th October between 12 and 2pm. Tickets are still available at £30.00 plus a booking fee that include a two course lunch and a glass of wine. For further details: Flavours of Russia
Tickets for the 70th Anniversary Cheltenham Literature Festival are now on sale. But be quick some of the events are selling out fast. Cheltenham Literature Festival
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Dave Thomas: Guiding Me Home & Away. The Autobiography by Dave Thomas
Socks rolled down and minus shin pads, Dave Thomas was the winger Don Revie once referred to as ‘the most exciting prospect in British soccer.’ Dave’s speed and crossing ability entertained fans of Burnley, QPR, Everton, Wolves, Vancouver Whitecaps, Middlesbrough and Portsmouth. After a fascinating career which included eight England caps, Dave lost a good deal of his confidence and independence when he was registered blind in his 50s. This is the uplifting and emotional story of how he regained control over his life again when paired with his faithful guide dog, Hannah.
I am very grateful to Midas PR for the copy of Guiding Me Home and Away (Hornet Books) by Dave Thomas. His autobiography. Being a massive football fan in my young days I had the real privilege of seeing Dave Thomas play when he came up against my team. I also recall collecting football cards and swapping them in the school playground. Somewhere in my loft I still have these and among them will be Dave Thomas himself. This is his story and how it all began.
Even in his very young days the promise being showed by Dave Thomas was clear to see. He was signed by Burnley as a junior but it was Leeds United and especially Don Revie who saw what Thomas was capable of. Even to the point of meeting Dave Thomas’s parents and then the following day a Rolls Royce arrived at the family home and it was Review and the owner of Leeds United, they were determined to get their man even to the point of offering them cash there and then. But his father was a proud and honest man. He kept his word to Burnley and that was that.
Thomas made his league debut for Burnley during the 1966/67 season but it was an 8-1 defeat. But Thomas was not going to let this get him down and he went on to make 157 appearances scoring 19 goals for Burnley. Thomas then signed for Queens Park Rangers in 1972. It was the 1975/76 season that Thomas and QPR very nearly won the First Division Championship, losing out to Liverpool by just one point after leading the First Division for most of the season.
Dave Thomas went on to represent England (1974/1975) playing eight times for the Three Lions. He went on to play for Everton and then Wolverhampton Wanderers, then a short spell playing a single summer season with Vancouver Whitecaps, then home again to play for Middlesbrough and finally Portsmouth. Dave’s playing career came to end in in 1984. A career to look back on with real pride.
Fast forward to 2008 and Dave Thomas is now registered blind after progressive sight loss. Now with the help of his guide dog Hannah and also his wife Brenda. This is just a wonderful read and an insight to a footballer I recall from my younger days and also an inspirational story. Written with David Roberts (Hornet Books) after many face to face interviews. All his royalties from this book will be donated to Guide Dogs and Dave Thomas has already raised over £72,000 for the charity.
Thank you to the Amber Choudhary (Midas PR) for the review copy of Dave Thomas: Guiding Me Home & Away by Dave Thomas.
Dave Thomas: Guiding Me Home & Away by Dave Thomas was published by Imperial War Museum and was published on 5th September 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle
Autumn 1943. Realising that his feelings for his sweetheart are not reciprocated, Major John Overton accepts a posting behind enemy lines in Nazi-Occupied Albania. Arriving to find the situation in disarray, he attempts to overcome geographical challenges and political intrigues to set up a new camp in the mountains overlooking the Adriatic.
As he struggles to complete his mission amidst a chaotic backdrop, Overton is left to ruminate on loyalty, comradeship and his own future.
Based on Anthony Quayle s own wartime experience with the Special Operations Executive (SOE), this new edition of a 1945 classic includes a contextual introduction from IWM which sheds new light on the fascinating true events that inspired its author.
Many will know of Anthony Quayle the actor nominated for many awards for his roles in Lawrence of Arabia, Ice Cold in Alex and The Guns of Navarone to name just a few. But I had no idea of Anthony Quayle the author. In WWII Quayle was a British Army Officer and later served in the Special Operations Executive (SOE) and served in Albania. The experiences so affected him that he found it hard to talk about. In Eight Hours from England first published in 1945 the story became a fictionalised account of his time in the SOE.
The story follows Major John Overton who is putting his personal life behind him and now has agreed to go behind enemy lines in Albania which is under the thumb of Nazi occupation.
When Overton arrives he is confronted by the task ahead of him, he has to organise the resistance and fight the German forces but there is plenty of in-fighting within Albania and too much focus on their own civil war. What our man Overton has to overcome is the terrain and the weather conditions and despite the promise of supplies these do not arrive.
What I found from Quayle’s words was that he was relieved to get out as he did in early April 1944. The situation was deteriorating with too many factions within the country and Partisans fearing not only certain death but total destruction of their villages. For Overton the need to get out of this situation and also Albania at the same time was real.
This is a compelling account of real life SOE agent although fictionalised it really becomes clear to the reader just what agents had to face when they were sent to the Balkans.
Anthony Quayle went on to continue to serve with the armed forces until the war ended and then went on to star in many films and also many stage productions and was Knighted in the New Year’s Honours in 1985. Sir Anthony Quayle died at his home in October 1989.
Thank you to the Imperial War Museum and also Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the review copy of Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle.
Eight Hours from England by Anthony Quayle was published by Imperial War Museum and was published on 5th September 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17-25 September 1944 – by William F. Buckingham
Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17-25 September 1944 by William F. Buckingham
On 21 August 1944 German Army Group B was destroyed in Normandy and Allied troops began pressing east from the beachhead they had occupied since the D-Day landings. Within days British troops had liberated Brussels and reached the Dutch border. Encouraged by seeming total German collapse, the Allies gambled their overstretched resources on a high-risk strategy aimed at opening the way into Germany itself crossing the Rhine river.
On the afternoon of Sunday 17 September British tanks advanced into Holland in concert with 1,534 transport aircraft and 491 gliders. Their objective was a series of bridges across the Rhine, possession of which would allow the Allies to advance into Germany. In the event the operation was dogged by bad weather, flawed planning, tardiness and overconfidence, and ended with the Arnhem crossing still in German hands despite an epic nine-day battle that cost the British 1st Airborne Division over two thirds of its men killed, wounded or captured.
Arnhem, the Battle of the Bridges combines analysis and new research by a leading authority on Operation MARKET GARDEN with the words of the men who were there, and provides the most comprehensive account of the battle to date.
With the German army driven out of France and Belgium, the allied forces decided on a bold and brave risk. To take the bridges at Arnhem and thus pave the way into Germany which could prove decisive and shorten the war. 2019 marks the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. I have held back from publishing my review of Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17th – 25th September 1944. By William F. Buckingham (Amberley Publishing) until now to coincide with the anniversary.
British Paratroppers on their way to Arnhem
It was Sunday 17th September 1944 and the first British tanks started to make the journey into Holland along with over 1500 aircraft and nearly 500 gliders the race was on to capture and hold the bridges over the Rhine which would give the allies a foothold into Germany. This was a bold and brave gamble by General Montgomery his idea of a ‘Single Thrust’ into Germany.
Everything about Operation Market Garden was based on split second timing and there could be no mistakes no delays. Take the bridges and hold until relieved. Not everyone in the Allied Command HQ backed Monty’s plan indeed everything was put into Operation Market Garden including nearly all the fuel was re-directed for the effort. Such a huge operation was fraught with danger and possible failure. In the end it was an epic battle but one of great heroism by the men who fought at Arnhem.
Three major airborne divisions were to take part in Operation Market Garden, from the US the 101st and 82 and from the British the 82nd. They would pave the way for the armoured division of the Guards to race ahead. Everything depended on split second timing and the superior German forces along with SS Panzer divisions practically destroyed the 1st Airborne division. The who operation was sadly doomed to failure. There are many reasons as to why Operation Market Garden failed and military historians for years have written pieces on how and why it failed. Allied Casualties were close to 18,000 as well as around 500 civilians.
Operation Market Garden was a complete failure with around 2,500 British trooped managing to escape back across the river. Many were captured along with the wounded who could not be evacuated. It would be another four months before the allies would cross the Rhine to defeat Germany and bring the war to an end.
I have read many accounts of Operation Market Garden since my younger days but Buckingham’s account is nothing short of meticulous. Absolutely nothing is left out. It is a hefty book at 624 pages but if you want to know everything there is to know about Operation Market Garden then this is the book you want. It is an epic account. The research is astonishing as well as the memories of those who fought an in the battle for the bridges and the civilians who witnessed the battle. There are also many photographs from Operation Market Garden. My thoughts are with the many brave men who fought bravely and never came home. Highly Recommended.
My thanks to Amberley Publishing for a copy of Arnhem: The Complete Story of Operation Market Garden 17-25 September 1944 by William F. Buckingham. Released in Hardback on 15th March 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Plenty Under the Counter by Kathleen Hewitt
London, 1942. Flight-Lieutenant David Heron, home on convalescent leave, awakes to the news that a murder victim has been discovered in the garden of his boarding house. With a week until his service resumes, David sets out to solve the murder. Drawn into a world of mystery and double-dealing, he soon realises that there is more to the inhabitants of the boarding house than meets the eye, and that wartime London is a place where opportunism and the black market are able to thrive. Can he solve the mystery before his return to the skies?
Inspired by Kathleen Hewitt s own experience of wartime London, this new edition of a 1943 classic includes a contextual introduction from IWM which sheds light on the fascinating true events that so influenced its author
There is something about an old wartime classic murder mystery unlike any other similar murder mystery of any other time period. Plenty Under the Counter by Kathleen Hewitt was originally written at the height of WWII and is now re-released by The Imperial War Museum for a new generation to discover.
London during the blitz and FL David Heron is resting at one of the many boarding houses after rescued from the channel. A body has been discovered in the back garden of a man and it is murder.
What does David Heron do, does he let the police investigate or does focus on his health and get back to fighting the Germans in the skies above London. The city is in the mist of the blitz and London at night is a dark and sinister place. Ideal for criminals and crime is rife especially in the black market. So now David decides to take on the investigation for himself and the owner of the boarding house Mrs Meake is convinced the house was all locked up and secure and David slept through. There are a few red herrings in the story to keep you guessing as well as a host of great characters who each play their part in this crime caper. This is wonderful crime story of the time and our intrepid investigator really does play the part very well.
The storyline keeps the reader entertained all the way through. Kathleen Hewitt (1893 – 1980) wrote 23 books and many were of the crime genre. With the release of four Wartime Classics by the Imperial War Museum to commemorate the outbreak of World War Two. A chance for a new generation of readers to read novels from writers who came through the war years either in the forces or living through the blitz.
Thank you to the Imperial War Museum and also Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the review copy of Plenty Under the Counter by Kathleen Hewitt.
Plenty Under the Counter by Kathleen Hewitt was published by Imperial War Museum and was published on 5th September 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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The Secrets We Kept – Lara Prescott
- A celebrated Russian author is writing a book, Doctor Zhivago, which could spark dissent in the Soviet Union. The Soviets, afraid of its subversive power, ban it.But in the rest of the world it’s fast becoming a sensation.
In Washington DC, the CIA is planning to use the book to tip the Cold War in its favour.
Their agents are not the usual spies, however. Two typists – the charming, experienced Sally and the talented novice Irina – are charged with the mission of a lifetime: to smuggle Doctor Zhivagoback into Russia by any means necessary.
It will not be easy. There are people prepared to die for this book – and agents willing to kill for it. But they cannot fail – as this book has the power to change history.
One of my all-time favourite films has to be Dr Zhivago, so what an absolute thrill to have received a review copy of The Secrets We Kept (Hutchinson) by Lara Prescott. This is the secrets about how Boris Pasternak’s masterpiece was eventually smuggled out of the old Soviet Union.
This is a historical fictional account of how Dr Zhivago came to the West and to think it could have never seen the light of day. We head back to the time of the Cold War during the 1950’s when the West and the Soviet Union had a real mistrust of each other that could have spilt over to WWIII at any moment.
The story switches between Olga who is Boris Pasternak’s mistress who is picked up and sent to the Gulag and two typists from the CIA who assisted the smuggling of the book out of the USSR. The extraordinary lengths many went to get Pasternak’s masterpiece out of the country before the Communist authorities got hold of it. This is a compelling novel and a story that will have you reading long into the night.
With the story moving from East to West you get a real perspective of how each side was desperate to get the book out or find the spies and stop the book from leaving the country. You have to feel for Olga and the appalling way she was treated in the Gulag despite her condition at the time. But Olga was strong a lot stronger than many of the other woman there.
It is an incredible story behind Dr Zhivago that I had no idea even existed. The sheer impact of the novel both here in the West and then when the book was published and later sent back to the USSR and read by many. The impact this must have had on its citizens. Boris Pasternak went on to receive the Nobel Prize in October 1958 and was warned by the Soviet’s that if he travelled to collect his award he would never be allowed back into the country.
For anyone who loves the story of Dr Zhivago I can only highly recommend The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott. This is a real eye opener. I will not reveal any details of the end of the book. This you will have to discover for yourself. When I next watch the film I will be thinking back to the story of how it was smuggled out and the people involved.
Thank you to Hutchinson Books and also to Anne Cater (Random things Tours) for the review copy of The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott.
The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott was published by Hutchinson and was published on 5th September 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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Trial by Battle – David Piper
October 1941. Twenty-one-year-old Alan Mart is posted to India and taken under the wing of the dogmatic, overbearing Acting-Captain Sam Holl. Following the Japanese advance on Singapore, the men are deployed to Malaya. What follows is a quietly shattering and searingly authentic depiction of the claustrophobia of jungle warfare and the indiscriminate nature of conflict.
Based on David Piper s own wartime experience in South East Asia, this new edition of a 1959 classic includes a contextual introduction from IWM which sheds new light on the dramatic true events that so influenced its author.
As part of my review for Trial by Battle by David Piper I am most grateful to Tom Piper for writing this Guest Post about his father and how the war affected him. Tom went on to design the Poppy installation at the Tower of London. This is a wonderful piece and something I will long treasure. On a persona note, my grandfather who passed away at the age of 104 two years ago was taken prisoner by the Japanese and survived the POW camps unlike many of his comrades. Some of my grandfather’s stories were extremely upsetting and have lived with me all these years.
Trial By Battle. Pacifism and Poppies.
Guest Post by Tom Piper
My father, David Piper, died in 1990 shortly after the fall of the Berlin wall, and so lived to see the ideal of a united and peaceful Europe gain further momentum. Always a keen European, before the Second World War he had taken teenage cycling holidays in Germany, then gone to Cambridge to study languages. Here he helped put on and perform in a pacifist play ‘The War in Troy will not take place’ by Jean Giraudoux, where he met my future mother. Like so many of his generation he was forced to decide whether his pacifist principles still held true as the War broke out and Germany invaded Poland. He decided to join up, spent what must have been a final agonising three days with my mother before leaving for Burma and then Singapore, where he proposed by letter. In his post war life he shunned attention and quietly supported my mother, who campaigned against the nuclear bomb, even though he probably owed his survival to the Japanese surrender it had precipitated.
His novel, Trial by Battle, originally published under the pseudonym of Peter Towry, is a thinly veiled autobiographical account, of how an urbane intellectual can be transformed by the horrors of war into a man capable of killing and being prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice. The book differs from his actual experience in that he was captured during the fall of Singapore. He had initially escaped, wading for two days through mangrove swamps to the supposed safety of a remote village, only to be sold to the Japanese for a packet of cigarettes. That episode and his near death in a prisoner of war camp, gave him a profound awareness of the fragile chance nature of life and a deep appreciation of how miraculous it was that he survived and was reunited with my mother after an absence of 5 years.
I read the book and his wartime diaries ‘I am Well, Who are You?’, in my twenties at the same age he had been when he went to war. It was almost impossible to imagine what he had been through and it certainly explained why he never spoke about his wartime experiences. His writing seemed to act as certain therapy, but my older sisters would attest to how difficult, despite the joys of marriage and parenthood, he found the return to civilian life. His father advised him not to burden his family with his experiences and he made a pact with my mother that she would deal with all the difficulties of everyday social interactions. He began writing in the late fifties, the door to his room open to hear his three girls playing, perhaps only able to begin to deal with this experiences once new and vibrant life was so evident. No doubt today we would say that he was suffering from PTSD.
I was born as a bit of an afterthought to the family in the mid sixties which coincided with his move to head the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. By all accounts this immersion in a vibrant university town in the late sixties was a transformative moment in his life, the austerity and trauma of the immediate post war years began to fade, although his physical heath never really recovered. He was diagnosed with emphysema in the mid seventies, but went on to run the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford and publish many art historical works. Before I read the war books I was blissfully unaware of so much of his history, all I had to worry about were the peaceful preoccupations of life, love and following a career of my own which in my case veered away from Biology to the precarious prospects of theatre design. I am still shocked to think what he endured at such a young age.
Throughout my teenage years my peers and I regarded the poppy as a militaristic symbol that you only wore if you were a paid up member of the Conservative Party. We were protesting against the Falklands, following the activities of the women of Greenham Common and supporting CND. So years later it was with some trepidation, when initially approached by the Tower, that I decided to get involved with the Poppies project. I suppose subconsciously my father’s appalling experiences made me feel that I couldn’t possibly have the authority to be part of creating a memorial to those who had lost their lives fighting. I had been spared that fate through the many sacrifices of my parents’ generation. My father’s extraordinary novel was born out of direct lived experience. Would it be possible for me to create an authentic work without having experienced war? But in many ways this is the curse of the theatre practitioner. We are always trying to put ourselves into other people’s heads to imagine their lives and feelings and make a space that allows their stories to be told.
So for me ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, became another form of storytelling, theatre even. Those volunteers who came to ‘plant’ the poppies, as well as the viewers standing above the moat, became involved in a shared dialogue of discovery of their own families’ losses from the First World War right through to current conflicts. Paul Cummins’ idea of a single poppy representing a single life transformed the symbolism of the poppy in my eyes. It no longer represented a generalised idea of sacrifice but, rather, every viewer could invest a poppy with their own relative’s history. We were bearing witness to the lost energy and spirit of all those individuals who died, we were grateful for their sacrifice and trying to give dignity to their memory. The more theatrical metaphor of the poppies cascading like blood from the window and flowing to break in a wave over the entrance way helped enhance the true horror of the vast numbers involved, a sea of blood created out of 888,246 lives.
I remain a pacifist and a European, taking the legacy of my parents’ struggles forward in my own way and am proud that I was able to be part of something that seemed genuinely to have moved the nation. It caused us collectively to pause and think: why do we go to war, was it worth it and should we not do all in our power to avert it? In the same way that my father’s book should not be seen as a glorification of war, I wanted the public to see the poppies as the terrible tragedy of those lost lives. I can only hope, as we seem to drift towards a small minded nationalist populism, that the sacrifices and warnings have not been in vain and that my children and their generation should not have to undergo a trial by battle.
Originally published in 1959 Trial by Battle by David Piper is an outstanding rediscover by The Imperial War Museum as part of their Wartime Classics Series now available as part of the commemorations for the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War Two.
The story is set in the sweltering heat of jungle warfare and based on the authors own experiences in South East Asia during the war. During October 1941 a young Alan Mart is based in India when the Japanese army start the offensive on Singapore. Between December 1941 and May 1942 What was then the British Empire suffered a huge series of defeats from Hong Kong to Burma all fell and then the Japanese overran Singapore.
We follow Alan Mart as he is taken under the wing of Sam Holl and to show Alan how the Indian Infantry Battalion will be run. The they are posted to the Malayan jungle to fight the Japanese.
Some of the most vicious campaigns in WWII was the in the unforgiving steaming jungle. This story is so real and visceral that when you have read Trial by Battle it will linger with you for some time afterwards. It was William Tecumseh Sherman who said “War is Hell” speak to any surviving member of the army who fought in the jungle they will confirm that it was indeed the closest to hell you will get. I highly recommend Trial by Battle this will give you a real first-hand account of war in South East Asia.
Thank you to the Imperial War Museum and also Anne Cater (Random Things Tours) for the review copy of Trial by Battle by David Piper.
Trial by Battle by David Piper was published by Imperial War Museum and was published on 5th September 2019 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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