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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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THE 2019 WAINWRIGHT GOLDEN BEER BOOK PRIZE SHORTLIST
At 9am on the 2nd July the shortlist for this year’s Wainwright Golden Beer Shortlist was announced. Now in its Sixth year, The Wainwright Book Prize is my favourite book prize of the year. This is a book prize which celebrates the best writing about nature, the outdoors and UK travel.
Never before has writing about nature and the great outdoors been so significant and important. Our landscape and the natural world is under increasing pressure from many areas. So how wonderful it is to see the Wainwright Book Prize grow year on year.
This year there are seven titles that make up the shortlist.
Underland by Robert Macfarlane (Hamish Hamilton)
Wilding by Isabella Tree (Picador)
Time Song by Julia Blackburn (Jonathan Cape)
Our Place by Mark Cocker (Jonathan Cape)
Thinking On My Feet by Kate Humble (Aster)
Out Of The Woods by Luke Turner (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
The Easternmost House by Juliet Blaxland (Sandstone Press)
So lets take a closer look at the titles that make up this years outstanding shortlist:
Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Discover the hidden worlds beneath our feet…
In Underland, Robert Macfarlane takes us on a journey into the worlds beneath our feet. From the ice-blue depths of Greenland’s glaciers, to the underground networks by which trees communicate, from Bronze Age burial chambers to the rock art of remote Arctic sea-caves, this is a deep-time voyage into the planet’s past and future. Global in its geography, gripping in its voice and haunting in its implications, Underland is a work of huge range and power, and a remarkable new chapter in Macfarlane’s long-term exploration of landscape and the human heart.
I reviewed Underland in issue 34 of Word Gets Around.
Just imagine for one moment the world beneath your feet. In Underland best-selling writer Robert Macfarlane author of many books on our natural world including The Wild Places and Landmarks and also The Lost Words now takes us on an adventure deep underground. This is a book were past and its future are all here. From the Bronze Age burial chambers of the Mendips in Somerset to the glaziers of Greenland, the catacombs of Paris, Arctic sea caves to a point deep sunk hiding place where nuclear waste will be stored for 100,000 years.
The much-anticipated sequel to The Old Ways Robert Macfarlane now takes the reader on an unforgettable voyage exploring our relationship with darkness and what lies beneath. There is wonder, loss, fear and hope deep within the pages of Underland.
‘Into the underland we have long placed that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save…’
It is hard to imagine a world that exits deep beneath us but that is exactly what there is. A truly remarkable book of discovery the reader will explore many themes including myth and literature as we travel the globe and discover a whole new world. Robert Macfarlane’s writing is both lyrical and breath-taking. A book that has opened even my eyes and will have a profound effect on how we see our precious world. The powerful cover was designed by the acclaimed artist and writer Stanley Donwood.
Wilding by Isabella Tree
In Wilding, Isabella Tree tells the story of the ‘Knepp experiment’, a pioneering rewilding project in West Sussex, using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife. Part gripping memoir, part fascinating account of the ecology of our countryside, Wilding is, above all, an inspiring story of hope.
Forced to accept that intensive farming on the heavy clay of their land at Knepp was economically unsustainable, Isabella Tree and her husband Charlie Burrell made a spectacular leap of faith: they decided to step back and let nature take over. Thanks to the introduction of free-roaming cattle, ponies, pigs and deer – proxies of the large animals that once roamed Britain – the 3,500 acre project has seen extraordinary increases in wildlife numbers and diversity in little over a decade.
Extremely rare species, including turtle doves, nightingales, peregrine falcons, lesser spotted woodpeckers and purple emperor butterflies, are now breeding at Knepp, and populations of other species are rocketing. The Burrells’ degraded agricultural land has become a functioning ecosystem again, heaving with life – all by itself.
Personal and inspirational, Wilding is an astonishing account of the beauty and strength of nature, when it is given as much freedom as possible.
Time Song: Searching for Doggerland by Julia Blackburn
Julia Blackburn has always collected things that hold stories about the past, especially the very distant past: mammoth bones, little shells that happen to be two million years old, a flint shaped as a weapon long ago. Time Song brings many such stories together as it tells of the creation, the existence and the loss of a country now called Doggerland, a huge and fertile area that once connected the entire east coast of England with mainland Europe, until it was finally submerged by rising sea levels around 5000 BC.
Blackburn mixes fragments from her own life with a series of eighteen ‘songs’ and all sorts of stories about the places and the people she meets in her quest to get closer to an understanding of Doggerland. She sees the footprints of early humans fossilised in the soft mud of an estuary alongside the scattered pockmarks made by rain falling eight thousand years ago. She visits a cave where the remnants of a Neanderthal meal have turned to stone. In Denmark she sits beside Tollund Man who seems to be about to wake from a dream, even though he has lain in a peat bog since the start of the Iron Age.
Time Song reveals yet again, that Julia Blackburn is one of the most original writers in Britain, with each of its pages bringing a surprise, an epiphany, a phrase of such beauty and simple profundity you can only gasp.
Our Place: Can We Save Britain’s Wildlife Before It Is Too Late? by Mark Cocker
Environmental thought and politics have become parts of mainstream cultural life in Britain. The wish to protect wildlife is now a central goal for our society, but where did these ‘green’ ideas come from? And who created the cherished institutions, such as the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, that are now so embedded in public life with millions of members?
From the flatlands of Norfolk to the tundra-like expanse of the Flow Country in northern Scotland, acclaimed writer on nature Mark Cocker sets out on a personal quest through the British countryside to find the answers to these questions.
He explores in intimate detail six special places that embody the history of conservation or whose fortunes allow us to understand why our landscape looks as it does today. We meet key characters who shaped the story of the British countryside – Victorian visionaries like Octavia Hill, founder of the National Trust, as well as brilliant naturalists such as Max Nicholson or Derek Ratcliffe, who helped build the very framework for all environmental effort.
This is a book that looks to the future as well as exploring the past. It asks searching questions like who owns the land and why? And who benefits from green policies? Above all it attempts to solve a puzzle: why do the British seem to love their countryside more than almost any other nation, yet they have come to live amid one of the most denatured landscapes on Earth? Radical, provocative and original, Our Place tackles some of the central issues of our time. Yet most important of all, it tries to map out how this overcrowded island of ours could be a place fit not just for human occupants but also for its billions of wild citizens.
Thinking on My Feet: The small joy of putting one foot in front of another by Kate Humble
Thinking on My Feet tells the story of Kate’s walking year – shining a light on the benefits of this simple activity. Kate’s inspiring narrative not only records her walks (and runs) throughout a single year, but also charts her feelings and impressions throughout – capturing the perspectives that only a journey on foot allows – and shares the outcomes: a problem solved, a mood lifted, an idea or opportunity borne. As she explores the reasons why we walk, whether for creative energy, challenge and pleasure, or therapeutic benefits, Kate’s reflections and insights will encourage, motivate and spur readers into action.
Also featured are Kate’s walks with others who have discovered the magical, soothing effect of putting one foot in front of the other – the artist who walks to find inspiration for his next painting; the man who takes people battling with addiction to climb mountains; the woman who walked every footpath in Wales (3,700 miles) when she discovered she had cancer.
This book will inspire you to change your perspective by applying walking to your daily endeavours.
This is a book I am currently reading and thoroughly enjoying. I can see why so many people really took this book to their hearts.
Out of the Woods by Luke Turner
(Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
After the disintegration of the most significant relationship of his life, the demons Luke Turner has been battling since childhood are quick to return – depression and guilt surrounding his identity as a bisexual man, experiences of sexual abuse, and the religious upbringing that was the cause of so much confusion. It is among the trees of London’s Epping Forest where he seeks refuge. But once a place of comfort, it now seems full of unexpected, elusive threats that trigger twisted reactions.
No stranger to compulsion, Luke finds himself drawn again and again to the woods, eager to uncover the strange secrets that may be buried there as he investigates an old family rumour of illicit behaviour. Away from a society that still struggles to cope with the complexities of masculinity and sexuality, Luke begins to accept the duality that has provoked so much unrest in his life – and reconcile the expectations of others with his own way of being.
OUT OF THE WOODS is a dazzling, devastating and highly original memoir about the irresistible yet double-edged potency of the forest, and the possibility of learning to find peace in the grey areas of life.
The eEasternmost House by Juliet Blaxland
Within the next three years, Juliet Blaxland’s home will be demolished, and the land where it now stands will crumble into the North Sea. In her numbered days living in the Easternmost House, Juliet fights to maintain the rural ways she grew up with, re-connecting with the beauty, usefulness and erratic terror of the natural world.
The Easternmost House is a stunning memoir, describing a year on the Easternmost edge of England, and exploring how we can preserve delicate ecosystems and livelihoods in the face of rapid coastal erosion and environmental change.
I really envy the judges trying to find a winner from this years incredible shortlist. Seven books that are all worthy winners.
This years winner will be announced on August 15th at the BBC Countryfile Live at Castle Howard, Yorkshire.
Last years winner was won by Adam Nicolson for The Seabirds Cry (William Collins).
2014 – The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thomson
2015 – Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field by John Lewis-Stempel
2016 – The Outrun by Amy Liptrot
2017 – Where Poppies Blow: The British Soldier, Nature, The Great War by John Lewis-Stempel
2018- The Seabird’s Cry by Adam Nicholson
The 2019 Judges:
Chair: Julia Bradbury
Waterstones Non-fiction buyer: Clement Knox
National Trust Publisher: Katie Bond
Publisher at Unbound and Blacklisted Podcast Host: John Mitchinson
The Urban Birder: David Lindo
Creative Partner for And Rising
Follow news about The Wainwright Golden Beer Book Prize on Twitter: @wainwrightprize
The Exhausting Summer of São Martino
by Simon Carr
Narrated by Steven Pacey
Prospero is the mayor of a small town that has escaped the attention of the modern world. In Tapoli, news still travels by word of mouth – and it travels fast, since everyone knows everyone else in the town’s latticework of narrow streets. We first encounter Prospero at a local summer festival, where his attention is caught by a visiting Englishwoman who seems oddly familiar. As the couple embark on a curious friendship, and then an even more curious love affair, Prospero discovers the woman’s connections with his own past. As his personal life grows complicated, so does his role as the town’s mayor – especially when strangers arrive, rubbing up against the entrenched local community and against local traditions. Prospero’s own role as mayor comes under growing public scrutiny as he struggles with the conflicting advice of his head and his heart.
My second Audible book review and what a beautifully narrated story this is. You the listener are transported to the heat of the day in Tapoli. Life has always been in a time warp of bygone sleepy long summer days. The modern era has not reached this town in Portugal.
Prospero is the Mayor of Tapoli and all he wants is the town to become successful and modern as well as a town that remains quintessentially still of a time gone by feel. This is a challenge for Prospero as the town is reluctant to wake up to the modern ways of the world. Imagine going to buy your bread at the bakery and getting the local news of the day at the same time. This is Tapoli. Like all towns there are the usual issues to solve but not like anywhere else though. Then there is the Englishwoman who visits the town and Prospero and the woman begin a friendship that leads to love but what is it about the Woman that seems familiar?
This is a story written by Simon Carr who moved to Portugal some years ago so this is a story he has wanted to write about the home he has adopted. There is humour in the story which is so wonderfully told by Steven Pacey as he plays each role so wonderfully. I just loved the gentle style of how the story flowed that you could almost feel the heat of the day and the sound of crickets in the background. You are transported to Tapoli through the words of Simon Carr and gentle narration of Steven Pacey.
About the author
Simon Carr was for a dozen years the parliamentary sketch writer of the UK national newspaper the Independent. His retirement – earlier than expected – ultimately led to an abandoned smallholding in the depth of central Portugal. With the help of a digger, a tractor and with the long-suffering support of the Medelim community, he developed the wild, bramble-covered property into an idyllic little domain.
About the narrator Steven Pacey.
Steven Pacey needs little introduction. A star from our screens, radios and audiobooks, he has played and read an extraordinary number of parts. You may know him for his roles in musical theatre – such as La Cage Aux Folles (2009) or Spamalot (2012/13) – or from his appearances in shows such as King Lear (2013/14) and Peter Pan (2011). More recently, he has become a prodigious narrator, turning his voice to an array of books across genres: fiction, children’s novels and more. In his own words, the great joy of audiobooks is ‘that you get to play all the parts that you wouldn’t possibly be considered for visually’. He does so here with characteristic vivacity and verve.
Thank you to Phoebe Swinburn (Midas PR) for the review copy of the audio book of The Exhausting Summer of Sao Martino by Simon Carr. Available now via Audible.co.uk
The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine
Released in paperback on 7th March is the latest best-seller by Barbara Erskine. The Ghost Tree (Harper Collins). The main character Ruth Dunbar has returned to Edinburgh after the death of her father. Now she is faced with sifting through all his belongings.
Ruth is having a tough time after the break-up of her marriage and also losing her career. The death of her father has come as a latest blow. Sifting through her father’s she now comes across a cupboard full of possessions belonging to her mother among them are letters and documents and also diaries kept by her mother’s ancestor Thomas Erskine. Thomas really lived a life but as she reads she begins to feel she is not alone in this isolated room at the top of the house.
As the name of the book suggests this is also a ghost story. But it is not just the ghost of Thomas Erskine that Ruth can feel, as she discovers more about Thomas’s past she also realises that he had his enemies and now she feels the presence of not only Thomas but also his enemy.
Ruth now must count on her friends who have experience in dealing with the paranormal. This is not really a scary ghost story but you find this novel dealing with aspects of trying to rid the house of the ghostly existence.
The story moves between the past and the present and this historical part of the novel I enjoyed more especially as Barbara Erskine brought into the novel her great-great-great-great-great grandfather Thomas Erskine who she heard so much about through her own family.
It is not only the past that contains enemies but also the present for Ruth, one such person is Timothy one man that really is not at all pleasant and is seriously questioning Ruth’s inheritance.
If you are a fan of Barbara Erskine then this really is for you.
Thank you to Charlotte Walker from LoveReading for the review copy of The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine.
The Ghost Tree by Barbara Erskine was published by Harper Collins and was published on 7th March 2019 in Paperback and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Ghost Tree – Blog Tour
Bram Stoker’s Dracula
The London Library
Thursday 7th February 2019
Dracula comes home to St. James Square
Bram Stoker was a member of The London Library between 1890 and 1897 and it was during this time that he spent time at the library researching for his novel ‘Dracula’ and recently Philip Spedding, Development Director at the library discovered a number of books that Bram Stoker used to research his novel and these include notes and annotations by Stoker himself. An incredible find and so Bram Stoker used the resources to create this masterpiece of writing.
To think that Bram Stoker was present in this very quiet St. James Square and created Dracula himself which is known throughout the world in books, cinema and small screen.
And so it was that Dracula has returned to its rightful home at The London Library in the form of a quite stunning and remarkable play thanks to Philip Marshall, Director of The London Library and Creation Theatre and what a setting. Thursday 7th February was also the birthday of another literary giant Charles Dickens and Dickens himself used The London Library to write and research for some of his most famous of novels. Arriving on this very evening walking in the footsteps of the greats, there is a very special feeling. No wonder they call this London’s best kept secret.
This is the first time in The London Library’s 178 -year history that they have put on a play and it is thanks to the hard work of the staff that they set up the each of the performances and then return it to its library glory in time for the next morning.
The Production of Dracula is thanks to Creation Theatre and its Director Helen Tennison and Kate Kerrow who is responsible for its adaptation. There is a cast of two in the play: Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert and what an outstanding performance by them both. The setting of the Reading Room at the library is perfect. It was as if Bram Stoker himself was present. There shelves floor to ceiling packed with books and its feel. This evenings performance in the presence of theatre critics and some celebrities.
And so the lights dim and the anticipation grew and the play began as we saw as Jonathan and Mina Harker who not long married appear. Jonathan who has recently returned from Transylvania and yet something about Jonathan is not right as Mina realises. But Mina is obsessed by her cousin Lucy who died very suddenly. But why did Lucy die and what was it that she has witnessed. Children have been disappearing but what has become of them. I just became engrossed in the performance of Bart Lambert whose enthusiastic grasp of multiple roles was just brilliant and for Sophie Greenham who also played multiple roles gave a superb balance.
Bats wings against the window panes deep red eyes seem to appear through the blinds and is that Lucy above us on the ceiling and crack on thunder and flashes of lights and then darkness. This was gripping stuff. And so to the cemetery to Lucy’s grave. But is Lucy dead or is she un-dead? Spine-tingling and darn well creepy.
If you are hoping for an appearance of Count Dracula himself then he is not here, this is the adaptation, purely focussing of Jonathan and Mina as well as Van Helsing, Lucy and Dr Seward. All played by Bart and Sophie. There are hints of sexual tension between Jonathan and Mina. I cannot think of a better setting than The London Library for Bram Stoker’s Dracula. The setting and the aroma that is all the old books. A heady mix. Dracula really has come home to St. James Square.
For someone like me who read the book when I was young and saw the films, this combined with viewing of Bram Stoker’s books on display made for a remarkable evening. My hope now is that there are future plays connected to writers from The London Library performed here. FIVE STARS.
Performances take place between 2nd February to 3rd March 2019. Tickets are still available. Performances start at 7.30pm. There is also a display of The London Library books that Bram Stoker used for his research which include notes and annotations as well as Bram Stoker’s official membership form when he joined the library. For more information and tickets: The London Library/Dracula
The London Library.
The London Library was founded on the 3rd May 1841 by Thomas Carlyle and in 2019 celebrates its 178th anniversary. The list of those who have made The London Library their home is like the who’s who in literature. Charles Dickens, Charles Darwin, George Eliot, Arthur Conan Doyle, Bram Stoker, George Bernard Shaw, Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie, Ian Fleming. With current writers such as Sebastian Faulks, Jessie Burton, Kazou Ishiguro, Robert Harris and Sarah Waters making The London Library their home. It has been the home for 10 Nobel Prize Winners and 4 Poets Laureate’s. In 1948 Winston Churchill became honorary Vice-President. Laurence Olivier and Edward Elgar also made the library their home.
On over 17 miles of shelving you will find over 1 million books. Some of the most important documents and books dating as far back as the 1500’s is found here.
My thanks to Laura Creyke from Mark Hutchinson Management, Philip Marshall, Director of The London Library and the staff for their kind invitation and warm hospitality on what was a five-star evening.
The London Library: The London Library
Creation Theatre: Creation Theatre
Mark Hutchinson Management: Mark Hutchinson Management
The Long Night – Ernst Israel Bornstein
I am so very grateful to Noemie Lopian. Noemie is the daughter of Ernst Israel Bornstein and back in December she contacted me about her father’s book The Long Night. This is his first-hand account of what Ernst endured and witnessed in seven concentration camps. January 27th 2019 is Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom HaShoah) and a day we remember the six million of Jewish men, women and children who were murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
Ernst was just 17-years-old when the Nazis arrived at their Polish home in March 1941 and arrested him and in front of his fearful mother he was beaten and marched off to a labour camp. Glancing up at the window of their home was his mother. He was not sure when he would see her again. For Ernst this was the start of years of one concentration camp to another and the death marches were many were murdered while being marched from one camp to another.
The vision of seeing his tearful mother from the window of their home stayed with him. He was never to see his mother again. I read that from an extended family of 72 only six survived the Holocaust one was his sister.
To survive seven concentration and the murderous death marches was nothing short of a miracle for Ernst. Witnessing those close to him and the friends he made being killed would live with him forever. Ernst learnt how to survive in the concentration camps from one day to another it was a strategy that kept him alive. Keeping alive deep within him his love for his family. A burning desire deep inside to survive and see them again. But as time passed and stories of mass murder at other camps he was never sure were his family was or if they were still alive.
Gross-rosen Concentration Camp, Lower Silesia
I have over the years read many books on the Holocaust and also survivors own stories. The Long Night deserves a place in history purely because of how Ernst Israel Bornstein describes in his own emotional words. It is the historical accounts from survivors of the Holocaust that are important as they tell the reader what it was actually like because they were there and witnessed the horror on a daily basis not knowing that as a new day dawned if they would ever see the sun go down that evening. These are their words.
The Long Night for Ernst lasted from the time the Nazis invaded Poland until he was liberated by the American Army. It was a Long Night that lasted over 5 years. Ernst Survived and lived to tell the world his story. It is hard to imagine how anyone could remember so much and in great detail. How he watched those around him being cut down or reduced to just nothing as they were given so little to eat yet treated brutally day and night.
It was survival of the fittest and they would fight for a scrap of food not knowing when they would get to eat again. Some reduced to eating blades of grass to try and survive.
Survive Ernst did and after the war he went to medical school and became a loving father. Survivors of the Concentration Camps have to then survive life after the camps and learn in their own way to survive. Many cannot speak of the time in the camps until many years later. It was in 1967 that Ernst published his account of life at the hands of the Nazis with ‘Die Lange Nacht’ in Germany.
Ernst Israel Bornstein died in 1978 of a heart condition. His daughter Noemie with the help of a translator published the English edition The Long Night (The Toby Press) in 2015 with a prefaced later by the then Prime Minister David Cameron.
Both Ernst’s parents and two sisters perished at Auschwitz.
I will continue to share the stories of Holocaust survivors through my blog as I have always beleived it is important to keep their stories alive for future generations.
Thank you Noemie Lopian for a copy of your father’s book The Long Night.
The Long Night by Ernst Israel Bornstein was published on 21st January 2015 by Toby Press LLC and is available through to order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 – Lia Leendertz
Do you like me follow the path of the seasons through each month of the year? I have been since my youth as the seasons turn from Winter to Spring and then the long days of Summer. I could not resist buying a copy of The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 by the award winning writer Lia Leendertz (Mitchell Beazley).
This just has to be one of the most beautiful books of 2018. Each month is guides to nature, when to look out for the first of our birds that brighten our summers. But also if like me you are a keen gardener then this gem of a book will be perfect for you. Many are now enjoying growing their own vegetables and Lia’s handy sized book will be a handy book.
Through each month are recipes to try out and stories and folklore. There is even a cheese of the month which will appeal to all cheese aficionados like me. But overall it is the beautiful presentation and the cover and illustrations by Celia Hart that give The Almanac its real warmth.
Harking back to days gone by I found The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 just turned the clock back to seasonal almanacs I read as a boy.
It read like a scenic journey through the year. This would make the ideal gift for Christmas and I have already bought a number of copies for friends. Highly recommended.
The Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2019 by Lia Leendertz was published by Mitchell Beazley and was published on 6th September 2018 and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Lies Between Us
I have known Ronnie Turner for quite a while on Twitter, a fellow book blogger, so when Ronnie announced that she had written a book and it was going to be published via HQ Digital I was absolutely delighted. This was one of those really great positive news stories. One us (book bloggers) was going to be in print. So to be asked if I would review for Ronnie, this was probable more nervous for me than Ronnie herself. What would happen if I did not get on with the plot? Well I am delighted to say that Lies Between Us is a real cracker of a psychological thriller.
Three different characters, three different timelines. The main characters are Miller, who is a chilling character, controlling even at a young age. Miller has some serious issues and Ronnie Turner really plays a blinder with Miller. Maisie Green is a nurse in ICU. She really cares for her patients and those loved ones who are worried at their bedside. But despite her wonderful happy life with Ben, Maisie hides a secret even from her beloved Ben. This she carries with enormous guilt. Then finally there is John who is a writer. A life lived and worked hard for. John could not ask for anymore a wife he adores. Until one-day John’s daughter Bonnie goes missing. Both John and his wife Jules are shaken to the core at the thought their daughter has been kidnapped. Then things get worse for them both as it becomes clear the person behind knows both John and Jules. Is their daughter still alive? Can the Police find her before it’s too late?
Each of the three stories are connected, and it is a really compelling psychological thriller that is addictive, it can be uncomfortable when the story is talking about Bonnie. But what is the connection between all three. What is Maisie hiding and her latest patient she is taking a real interest in the wife of the patient.
The reader may make up their own mind as the story progresses, but be warned some thrillers do not go the way you think, same old secrets and lies? This one will test you and make you think. For a debut novel this is incredibly plotted and character driven. Congratulations Ronnie and a fantastic debut.
Thank you to HQ Digital for the review copy of Lies Between Us by Ronnie Turner.
Lies Between Us by Ronnie Turner is published in paperback on 13th December 2018 and the eBook is available now and published by HQ Digital.
Lies Between Us – Blog Tour.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris
“I will live to leave this place. I will walk out a free man. If there is a hell, I will see these murderers burn in it”
Over the years I have read many book on the Holocaust and every book has me asking the same questions about man’s ability to reach the levels of inhumanity. Just recently I have been reading about The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris. The story of one man Lale Sokolov. By the end of this book I was in tears not just at Lale’s story but man’s shocking brutality. My words here will never do justice to such an important subject. All I can do is to just ask you to read it for yourself. Lale’s story will stay with me and those who have read The Tattooist of Auschwitz.
Lale Sokolov’s was a smartly dressed intelligent man in fact a lady’s man. All that was to change in April 1942. Lale was born into a Jewish family and he volunteered himself to save his other family members. Of course at this time Lale had no idea what was coming or where he would go to work for the Germans. They were crammed onto cattle wagons and the train then set off to the Nazi death camp that was Auschwitz. On arrival he was tattooed with the number 32407. No longer would he be known by his name but only by his number.
Like many others he was put to work at Auschwitz in building the blocks that would eventually house the many thousands that would end up at the death camp. Within a short time Lale became very ill and was cared for by a French man called Pepan, this was the very man who tattooed his number on arrival.
After Pepan was taken away and never to be seen again Lale being intelligent and speaking many languages was given the role of ‘Tätowierer’- The Tattooist and would be responsible to tattooing the numbers of the thousands of new arrivals that would be working at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Those not selected were sent to the gas chambers.
It was on one of those days that he was tattooing the women as they arrived that he met one particular young woman and her name was Gita she was given the number 34902. In the hell that was Auschwitz-Birkenau Lale fell in love with Gita. Lale was determined to survive and also that Gita was to survive and they would both one day be free. Over the coming years Lale manged to survive being sent to his death. He was indeed a survivor. Because he was given the role of ‘Tätowierer’ he was seen by many as collaborating with the SS as this role was directly working for the Political Wing of the SS and meant that he was protected to a degree. But others had come to trust Lale and he helped many by giving them food. If caught, he would face certain death. Lale will do things to survive that he would normally never consider. Thousands were being murdered in the gas chambers or just murdered because a guard said so. Death stalked everyone at Auschwitz. From one moment to another you never knew if you were going to die. ‘If you wake up in the morning, it is a good day’
The sheer horror of life at the Nazi death camp that is Auschwitz-Birkenau and the scale of the killing is something no-one can comprehend but survive both Lale and Gita did despite being separated towards the end of the war as Auschwitz was cleared because of advancing of the Russian army. The was near its end and the Nazi’s were in their final death throws. Both Lale and Gita survived and found each other and later married.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz reads like a novel because that is exactly how Lale wanted it to read and is based on the many interviews between Heather Morris and Lale himself. For all these years Lale himself kept his secret, and it was only after the death of his beloved wife Gita in October 2003 did he feel the time was right to finally tell his story that he kept a secret to protect his family and this is when Heather Morris started to spend time with Lale and for Lale to trust her. And so he began to tell the story, his own story a remarkable and life-affirming story of daring to live while in Auschwitz.
Heather Morris has written an incredible story of Lale and Gita’s survival. How she manages to portray the evil that went on inside the death camp on a daily basis. The despair that must have prevailed the pain and hunger. Knowing death was just moments away.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a powerful and deeply moving story of survival and also a remarkable love story. Both Lale and Gita’s story will stay with me forever as these stories must be told for future generations to understand and to learn. Let us remember and let us never forget. Ludwig “Lale” Sokolov died in October 2006. HIGHY RECOMMENDED.
Such has been the demand for this story there have been a number of bookshops that never received stock in time and that a second print run is now underway.
January 27th marks Holocaust Memorial Day. On this day I light a candle to remember the six million Jews murdered during the Holocaust. The day marks the anniversary of when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by the Russian army in 1945.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris is published by Bonnier Zaffre and was published in the UK on 11th January 2018 and is available to through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley
Delighted at last to discover the writing of Gwendoline Riley and her latest novel First Love which you may think could well be a love story, actually this is something yet more terrifying in an all-consuming little book that I devoured on a train journey to London at times brutal and visceral we see a couple’s marriage falling apart and every sinew of human emotion exposed on every page.
We are introduced to Neve who is a thirty something writer and she is married to Edwyn who is older and is suffering from an illness which means he is pain a lot of the time and this is something that is constantly there. To understand Neve we have to turn the pages of time back to when she was a child and watched her parent’s marriage fail and then the ensuing divorce. Neve decided that she wanted distance from both parents especially her bullying father yet at the same time she cannot cut the ties with him. By the time she was in her twenties alcohol played a part in her life and bounced through friendships and partners and yet there is a sense of loneliness at the same time even when she spent time France.
Now with Edwyn that sense of loneliness is still present as Edwyn is a controlling character who recognises that he can control Neve by throwing childish tantrums to get attention and can become moody at the toss of a coin, there is obviously something missing from this marriage and that is Love in all its forms. For Neve one senses that she misses any form of affection as there is nothing there even sex is non-existent in the marriage. Is the Neve’s family past being played out in their own marriage or is this just Edwyn covering for his own failures and is he trying to get Neve to just accept that that is the best she is going to get in life? Despite the gloomy scenario there are some amusing parts in the story which Neve as the narrator takes the reader on the journey with her.
There is also a sense that you get when reading First Love is that Neve is not only trying to understand herself but the life around her and how best to cope as their marriage hits the rocks one minute then the next everything is OK.. She must have looked at her life as we look at a snow globe after it has been shaken.
First Love is one of those novels that is raw and human in that it exposes what life is like behind the closed doors of some people’s lives as we are invited into Neve’s world. At times it is shattering yet Riley’s writing is dazzling as she explores human frailties and at the same time incredibly moving.
Thank you to Granta Books for the advanced review copy.
First Love by Gwendoline Riley is published by Granta Books and is available through Waterstones, Amazon and all good bookshops.