Category Archives: Non-Fiction
The 2018 Wainwright Book Prize – Longlist Announcement
It does not seem that long ago that we were gathered at Blenheim Palace and the Countryside Live event and watching as John Lewis-Stemple became the first winner to receive the Wainwright Book Prize for the second time with Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War.
Time has really moved on so quickly that on Wednesday 6th June the official announcement of the Longlist for the 2018 Wainwright Prize was released to the press. And such is the strength of the prize now we have 13 books on the longlist instead of the usual 12. The judges for this year’s prize are for the second year will be chaired by Julia Bradbury, and her fellow judges are: TV presenter Megan Hine; Waterstones non-fiction buyer Bea Carvalho; National Trust publisher Katie Bond and ex-chairman of the campaign to protect rural England, Peter Waine.
The 2018 Wainwright Book Prize Longlist:
21st Century Yokel by Tom Cox (Unbound)
A unique and personal look at our links with the landscape around us. There is much to love contained with the pages, a mix of humour, memoir, a book on nature and there is a great deal of Devon folklore as well as cats! Illustrated through the book by Tom’s photographs while he was out walking the countryside and linocuts by his mother. So there is a real personal feel to the book.
Hidden Nature by Alys Fowler (Hodder & Stoughton)
Written by award winning Guardian writer, Alys Fowler explore the canals and waterways of Birmingham via a Kyak. A book of real beauty where she explores and finds nature in places many would not expect. But this is now just a nature book, it is a personal journey of losing and finding and opening up. Nature as well as a personal journey.
Outskirts by John Grindrod (Sceptre)
A social history of Britain’s green belt landscape. Conservationists and developers as well as politicians have come into conflict since the post wat years as more and more land is sought after. Hidden in the landscape that John explores are nuclear bunkers, landfill sites and on his journey meets those who fight for the protection of green belt land and those who seek to exploit it. This is a fascinating insight into today’s Britain and its social history.
Islander by Patrick Barkham (Granta)
Two large islands and 6,289 smaller islands. From island such as The Isle of Man to the Isles of Scillies to the much smaller islands that are uninhabited and deserted such as St Kilda. Patrick Barkham explores the islands that make up Britian and seeks their special uniqueness that are special places for wildlife and also for the people that live and make a living on these islands. From Nuns to Puffins Patrick explores and gives his own personal account. I reviewed Islander by Patrick Barkham in December 2017 Islander – A Review
The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young (Faber & Faber)
Welcome to the very secret lives of cows. Many of us have stood and watched cows in a field but how many of us have often thought of who they actually are and what they get up to. This is a very special book about the private lives of cows. They don’t just spend their days chewing grass. Often they can be seen playing. A bestseller.
Owl Sense by Miriam Darlington (Guardian Faber Publishing)
Owls have been a favourite with people for seemingly forever. Seen as birds of wisdom and also doom. The author with her son Benji explores the UK seeking and finding every British Owl species. But it does not end there. She then seeks to see every European Owl species. This is a story of her travels and sometimes elusive Owl species. During the time of writing the book her son succumbs to a disabling illness so her quest is mixed with Owls and seeking a cure for her son. This is a remarkable personal quest and her journey takes her from the UK to the frozen landscapes of the borders with the arctic.
The Dun Cow Rib by John Lister-Kaye (Canongate)
I have long been a fan of John Lister-Kayes writing since Song of the Rolling Earth was published in 2003. With his latest book that has made the longlist this is his memoir of growing up and finding that the natural world was about to become his life. From finding nature to founding the Aigas Field Centre in the Highlands, this is John’s memoir to this countries natural landscape and heritage.
The Last Wilderness by Neil Ansell – Tinder Press
Alone with nature in some of the remote parts of Britain. This is Neil’s personal account of time in solitude. A time spent as one with the natural world at a time when he was losing his hearing the sound and birdsong slowly are lost to him. A captivating memoir.
The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (Michael Joseph)
This is the true story of a couple who lost everything just days after learning that her husband was terminally ill. Everything they have worked so hard for is gone. With little time left they set about walking the entire 630 miles of the SW Costal Path. Coming to terms with what they have lost and what is to come, this is a deeply honest and life-affirming account of a couple and a journey. Nature has the power to cure and with every moment on their walk around the coastline they find beauty in the land, sea and sky.
The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicholson (William Collins, Harper Collins)
There are ten chapters and each one is dedicated to ten seabirds. Charting their ocean travels and is set in the Scottish Shiant Isles a group of Hebridean islands in the Minch. With artwork by Kate Boxer this is look at these wonderful seabirds, with numbers now crashing this is timely and well researched book from a writer that has spent many years studying these wonderful seabirds. Were once the numbers where in many thousands they are now at a shocking level that one day soon could be lost forever and we will be left recalling reading about them in books. And that day could be very close.
The Wood by John Lewis-Stemple (Doubleday)
Twice winner of the Wainwright Book Prize has made the shortlist with his latest book about his time managing Cockshutt Wood. Written in diary format this is a story of his time together with the wood and the wildlife that made the wood their home. It also proves to be a sanctuary for the writer himself. Interspersed with some recipes that John uses while working with the wood. A personal account of his time with the trees and the inhabitants of Cockshutt Wood. I reviewed The Wood in May. The Wood – A Review.
A Wood of One’s Own by Ruth Pavey (Duckworth Overlook)
Ruth Pavey spent many years living in London and it was while she was exploring the Somerset Levels she discovered some land lost to time. She bought four acres and over time she planned and planted a wood tree by tree. This would bring plants and animals to her wood. This is her story and that of the landscape that is the Somerset Levels. Interspersed with her own drawings. An inspiring account of creating her own wood.
The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris (Hamish Hamilton)
Overtime there have been words from the natural world that have been lost to children. Robert Macfarlane writes the poems that tells of those lost words that meant so much to those of us who grew to learn them and Jackie Morris provides the stunning artwork. An enchanting book that has now gone into many schools around the country. A wonderful book that has already won many accolades.
For the first time in the longlist that was announced there is a children’s book The Lost Words by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris. I have been a lover of the outside world and nature and nature writing since I was given a copy of the Observer Book of Birds when I was very young. There is a sense within nature writing that it can take a reader to places and to explore from the very comfort of their armchair and to encourage those to go out and explore nature in all its forms. Nature can cure and by the same right nature writing can also cure. My personal library contains books on nature writing going back decades and thanks to the Wainwright Book Prize we have seen a rebirth in nature writing and the quality of writing is just incredible now.
The shortlist will be announced on Thursday 5th July at an event at Waterstones Piccadilly and the winner will be announced at the BBC Countryfile Live at Blenheim Palace on Thursday 2nd August.
When the shortlist is announced I will be running a prize draw to win an entire set of the books on the shortlist. This really will be worth looking out for. This will be run in conjunction with Mark Hutchinson Management. My thanks go to Laura Creyke at MHM for all her help and assistance.
Looking at the longlist it is going to be hard work reducing the list down to six or seven books.
The Wainwright Book Prize is named after the Lakelands much loved Alfred Wainwright, and is supported by White Lion Publishing (publisher of the world famous Wainwright Guides), Wainwright Golden Beer, the Wainwright Estate and in Partnership with The National Trust. The winner receives a cheque for £5,000.
2014: The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thompson
2015: Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stemple
2016: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
2017: Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stemple.
The Language of Kindness: A Nurse’s Story by Christie Watson
I have an admission to make. When I started to write this review for The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson I really struggled to put the words on paper. Whatever I write it will not do justice to a memoir about nursing. This book had me crying. Yes, there were also times when it made me smile and made me laugh. One thing it really did do as if I needed to was to really appreciate the profession that is nursing and the dedication that nurses put into their daily roles.
There are personal stories of patients contained within the book that many will be moved by. Watson has one problem when she starts her training to be a nurse and that is the sight of blood. It makes her want to faint. This is something she will have to overcome. Mistakes are made along the journey to become a nurse. She manages to overcome the hurdles in training and starts to make her mark in the intensive-care wards for children and then to progress further.
There are many stories that Watson tells and throughout the book it is her quiet and gentle prose that makes this memoir really shine. Watson also rages about what is happening with the NHS of today. When we think of nurses we think of them dispensing medical care and medicines to make us better, but reading this will give you a much greater understanding. It is more than that, it is about talking and being with those who need medical care. From just assisting a patient and helping them do the basics to singing to a new born baby who sadly then sadly dies. This is pure emotion. I have nothing but admiration and pride for the nurses who work so tirelessly in our NHS. So many stories that I could share here but that would detract from the incredible memoir. Nursing is an undervalued profession but many like me believe they are all angels.
Christie Watson also wrote a novel Tiny Sunbirds Far Away that won the 2011 Costa First Novel Award. Following this Watson left nursing after two decades and decided to become a full-time writer.
What I have written here about The Language of Kindness will never do it justice. This is a book that deserves all the accolades. Lyrical and moving this is a book that I highly recommend.
Thank you Sophie Lambert at Conville & Walsh or the review copy of The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson.
The Language of Kindness by Christie Watson is published by Chatto & Windus and was published on 3rd May 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear by Lev Parikian
Men and birds, (the feathered type). What is it about why we become keen birders. I don’t just mean feeding our garden birds but actually going birding and trying to find birds in their natural habitat. Oh it does not end there, then we have lists and hi-tech bins and scopes that cost thousands not to mention cameras and then there is the lists. The birds you have seen in a calendar year. Lists for garden and your local patch and then you go chasing those very special rare birds that arrive on our shores during the Spring and Autumn. Welcome to the world of an avid birder. Yes, I have been there. Seen it and got the t-shirt. I want to introduce you to Lev Parikian. Lev is a very notable conductor and a birdwatcher. In Lev’s new book Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear (Unbound) he takes us through his story of when he was young he loved going birding and seeing new birds (or not as it transpires) and then he stopped only when he was fifty did his loves of birding return. This is his story of a year of birds, family, music and a look back through his younger days.
My library is stuffed full of bird books and stories of that writers birding year, some are really good and entertaining and some just do not cut it at all with me for a number of reasons. But Lev Parikian’s book is just that most wonderful read it is a riot of laughs and nostalgia. Starting in January 2016 this is his story of a lapsed birdwatcher aiming to see 200 birds in a year, that is REALLY seeing 200 birds in a year not ones he thinks he is seeing. Yes, Lev I have been there too.
When Lev was twelve-years-old he loved birds and birdwatching but like any keen young birder there is that urge to think you have seen a bird that in the cold light of day was not the bird you thought it was. Claiming to see a bird when actually you did not. But then after a few years and growing up the birding stopped and other things in life took over, like his love of music which in life became much more than an interest. Then of course there is cricket and girls.
There is something uniquely different about the way Lev has gone about writing about his birding year. His absolute pleasure at discovering his love of the outdoors and his love of seeing and finding birds again really shines through. But there is still that target of wanting to see 200 birds in a full calendar year. Does Lev actually achieve his target?
Sometimes seeing something really very special is something that should be shared with someone close to you. You will experience that in this glorious read. Together with Lev we travel the length and breadth of this beautiful country seeking birds in their own natural habitat. From woods to estuary and the lowlands to the highlands and a barrel of laughs along the way.
What shines through for me is the love Lev has for his family and his music and that he has found the real beauty in nature again. It is a gift for each of us to enjoy and treasure. I just loved Why Birds Suddenly Disappear and it now takes pride of place along with the very best nature books in my library. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
Thank you to Lev Parikian and Unbound for the review copy of Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear.
Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear is published by Unbound and was published on 17th May 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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On Courage – Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders by The Sebastopol Project
It is a great honour to have been asked to become involved in the launch of On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders by The Sebastopol Project. The book is a collection of 28 stories of those who have been awarded The Victoria Cross or The George Cross. Each of the stories is introduced by a personality. Alexander Armstrong, Baroness Hale, Bear Grylls, Bill Beaumont, Bobby Charlton, Katherine Grainger, Kelly Holmes, Derek Jacobi, Eddie Redmayne, Frank Bruno, Geoffrey Palmer, Jeremy Irons, Joanna Kavenna, Joanna Lumley, John Simpson, Joseph Calleja, Julian Fellowes, Kate Adie, Ken Dodd, Margaret MacMillan, Mark Pougatch, Mary Berry, Michael Whitehall and Jack Whitehall, Miranda Hart, Richard Chartres, Tom Ward, Will Greenwood, and Willie Carson.
I am delighted to talk about one of those stories from the book introduced by John Simpson CBE – Group Captain Leonard Cheshire VC.
The word ‘hero’ is used far too easily in our lives today what On Courage will to the reader are twenty-eight real heroes who bravery and self-sacrifice despite everything that is against them is nothing more that moving and inspirational.
Leonard Cheshire VC was a shy man who never really spoke of his time during the war but his heroism while serving in the RAF in WWII spoke volumes of the man. A man who courage saved many a fellow airman during the war. He was awarded the VC not for a specific action but for the time from 1940 to 1944. He had completed four tours of duty in the RAF and had completed 100 sorties over enemy territory with selfless bravery.
John Simpson details the life of Leonard Cheshire VC and makes for incredible and moving reading. Leonard Cheshire VC had a life of two halves after the war he married for the second time to Sue Ryder who herself was a wonderful humanitarian. For Leonard Cheshire after the ended he found it difficult to adjust to normal life and so began his charitable work that would become his second half of his life. In 1948 The Leonard Cheshire Disability Charity was founded and operates here in the UK and in many parts of the world to this day. He also went on to found other charities with his wife Sue Ryder.
I was left incredibly humbled just reading this one story of twenty-eight in the book. Stories that should be told so that future generations can learn of the selfless acts of heroism and bravery.
On Courage contributors:
Introductions to the stories in the book have been provided by the following public figures: Kate Adie, Alexander Armstrong, Bill Beaumont, Mary Berry, Frank Bruno, Joseph Calleja, Willie Carson, Sir Bobby Charlton, Bishop Richard Chartres, Sir Ken Dodd, Lord Julian Fellowes, Dame Katherine Grainger, Will Greenwood, Bear Grylls, Baroness Hale, Miranda Hart, Dame Kelly Holmes, Jeremy Irons, Sir Derek Jacobi, Joanna Kavenna, Joanna Lumley, Margaret MacMillan, Geoffrey Palmer, Mark Pougatch, Eddie Redmayne, John Simpson, Tom Ward, Michael Whitehall and Jack Whitehall.
About The Sebastopol Project
The Sebastopol Project is a charitable endeavour aimed at inspiring the public with stories of the diverse and courageous acts of men and women awarded the Victoria Cross and George Cross. Its ambition is to raise funds for the benefit of current and former members of the British armed forces and their dependents through the publication and sale of On Courage.
About The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association
The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association represents all living holders of the Victoria Cross and George Cross. The Victoria Cross (VC) is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy” to members of the armed forces. The George Cross (GC) is awarded to those who have displayed the greatest heroism or the most conspicuous courage whilst in extreme danger. vcgca.org
The Victoria Cross and George Cross Medals.
Thank you to Kate Klevitt from Four – Colman Getty for the review copy of On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders by The Sebastopol Project.
On Courage: Stories of Victoria Cross and George Cross Holders is published by Constable and imprint of Little, Brown and was published today 17th May 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
About Combat Stress
Combat Stress is the UK’s leading charity for veterans’ mental health. For almost a century, the charity has helped former servicemen and women deal with trauma related mental health problems such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). combatstress.org.uk
I am delighted to announce that in conjunction with Four-Colman Getty I am running a free prize draw to win a copy of On Courage. This is a free to enter prize draw and is a UK based competition. The draw will close at 6pm Sunday 20th May. Head over to my Twitter page @thelastword1962 and RT and Follow the Prize Draw Tweet. I will draw a winner and they will be notified via a DM. The prize will be issued by Four-Colman Getty. This is book that you will not want to miss. Good luck.
The Wood – The Life & Times of Cockshutt Wood
by John Lewis-Stempel
The standard of nature writing over recent years has just got better and better, we are so fortunate to have so many great nature writers in the UK and twice winner of the Wainwright Prize for Nature Writing. (2015 & 2017) John Lewis-Stempel returns with his best book to date. The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood is an intimate account of John’s last year managing this three and half acres of mixed woodland in Herefordshire.
Lewis-Stempel’s latest has been written in a diary format and takes us through the four season and the changing face of Cockshutt Wood, the flora and fauna of this working wood comes to life through the poetic words of a nature writer at his very best. We meet the Tawny Owl who is affectionately known as ‘Old Brown’ the various animals from pigs to sheep who mad the wood their home to keep the dreaded bramble at bay.
The book starts in December when the days are at their shortest but even now when the trees are dormant there is still life in John’s working wood. The sheer beauty of this book is how John brings the history, poetry and even recipes (some of which I will be trying through the course of the year) There are recipes ranging from Acorn Coffee, Chestnut Soup and Elderflower Champagne.
John comes from a farming family that dates back to the 13th Century and is ideally placed to write about countryside as he sees it, his passion for everything in the countryside and its history and future. As the season moves from Winter to Spring, Cockshutt Wood wakens from its deep winter sleep, animals and amphibians that have slept through the cold and dark winter months now feel the warmth of Spring and waken from their slumber. The mixed woodland now starts to come to life, the sap is rising with the temperature.
The poetry is just wonderful and carefully selected and really works to bring the wood alive. The sights and sounds and even the smell of the wood just seep from every page not to mention the recipes. John ends his tenure managing the wood in the month of November with the words “I though the trees belonged to me, but I now realise I belonged to them” As he left the wood there is a sense of pain at leaving the wood and its inhabitants behind. The writer at one with the countryside and a book that deserves the plaudits. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
The Wood – The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood by John Lewis-Stempel is published by Doubleday and was published on 8th March 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Reading Cure: How Books Restored my Appetite by Laura Freeman
Laura Freeman is a freelance writer and has written for magazines and newspapers such as The Spectator, Standpoint, The Times, TLS, and Slightly Foxed to name but a few. Laura has recently released her first book and what a read this really turned out to be. Not hard to see why I have always enjoyed reading Laura’s writing. The Reading Cure: How Books Restored my Appetite is a memoir. Laura at the age of fourteen was diagnosed anorexia and his is her story, a journey of how books and reading helped her on her road to recovery.
I know at first hand as a family member suffered from anorexia for many years with little or no help apart from the love of her family around her. For Laura Freeman like all who have suffered from anorexia, they come to loathe themselves and will avoid eating and any situations that will involve food. For more than fifteen years Freeman has been a recovering from this dreadful illness. There was one part of Freeman’s life that she continued to enjoy and that was her love of literature and through reading she discovered food and learned to start enjoying food through the pages of her favorite books.
The journey to recovery is never an easy journey to take and not always a successful one as she writes in her memoir, Laura’s mother fought very hard to keep her out of a clinic and looked after her while on bedrest at home. she read Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man and this tells of him devouring boiled eggs and cocoa. So this was the beginning of the road to recovery for Laura Freeman. Then she progressed onto Dickens and we all know of how well food is talked of in Dicken’s novels. From here she clearly could see that there was a better life to be had.
Freeman writes just beautifully and it is inspiring. She openly talks of her younger life and how her anorexia started and the chaos that her life became, her descriptions of food are just bountiful that you can almost taste the fare on offer. Freeman’s joy of literature and reading is there to be enjoyed and to rejoice at. The optimism of how she copes on her journey is just breathtaking. This is her story of hunger and also obsession, there is happiness here to. The Reading Cure is a brave account of her recovery. Books and reading can cure. Here is the proof if it was ever needed moving and evocative. Delighted to recommend The Reading Cure by Laura Freeman.
Thank you to Rebecca Fincham and Weidenfeld & Nicolson for the advanced review copy of The Reading Cure: How Books Restored my Appetite by Laura Freeman.
The Reading Cure: How Books Restored my Appetite by Laura Freeman is published by and was published on and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
The London Cage by Helen Fry
Walk around Kensington Palace Gardens today and you will be forgiven to think what beautiful part of London it is with its salubrious Georgian buildings and its wealth. But turn the clocks back to the Summer of 1940 and all was a little different for behind one of these buildings lay a top secret World War II facility for interrogating captured German officers.
The London Cage, Kensington, London.
Indeed, such was the secrecy no-one knew it existed apart from the British Secret Service. Operating from 1940 to September 1948 prisoners brought here were subjected to “Special intelligence treatment” to break them down and gather vital intelligence, sleep deprivation, beatings and water treatment were dished out to those who refused to co-operate. And it also transpires that truth drugs were also used to extract confessions.
Some of those German war criminals that passed through The London Cage were responsible for murdering Canadian POWs and also 50 British Airman who escaped from Stalag Luft II (The Great Escape). Some of the German’s that went onto trial tried to complain about the treatment they received at the hands of the British Secret Service but these seemed to be ignored in an attempt to convict those German Officers of war crimes and also their part in running concentration camps. The entire operation at The London Cage was overseen by Commander Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Scotland and it is through his ‘watered down’ memoirs that the Historian Helen Fry drew on to write this powerful and incredible book London’s interrogation centre.
Now Seventy years on, many who have read about The London Cage were shocked that these events took place, but to understand what happened here is one for historians to debate for many years come. One thing that we all must understand is that those brought to the cage were the most ardent and brutal Nazis who refused to co-operate even after the war ended. Some totally unrepentant of their involvement or deeds. Even after the war a team of British investigators were looking for any who were involved in atrocities and any that were located were then brought to The London Cage for interrogation.
Scotland ran The London Cage with a rod of iron and was determined to break those who were involved in atrocities. It is important to note that it was not just German’s who were brought here but as the war drew to a close and even after anyone who was involved in war crimes ended up at The London Cage.
This is an outstanding and well researched book by Helen Fry that opens the door to a secret and some may say controversial intelligence facility. Anyone who is interested in WWII and the British Secret Service will gain a lot from reading The London Cage. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
My thanks to Rebecca Fincham and also Yale University Press for the review copy of The London Cage.
The London Cage by Helen Fry is published by Yale University Press and was published on 1st September 2017 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
Helen Fry will be talking about her book The London Cage today Sunday 11th March at 2pm and tickets are still available by visiting the website: JEWISH BOOK WEEK – HELEN FRY