Category Archives: Uncategorized
The Postcard Murder: A Judge’s Tales by Paul Worsley QC
This is a vintage whodunit set in Edwardian London at a crossroads in time, as social revolution and psychiatry posed new questions for the Law and for the first time the Media were co-opted to run a killer to ground.
The year is 1907: 22-year-old Emily Dimmock lies murdered in her Camden Town flat, her head all but severed from her body. With not a thread or stain or fingerprint to point to the perpetrator, a young artist is manoeuvred into the shadow of the scaffold.
The tale is told verbatim by witnesses presided over by the author, who draws on his own experience as a Judge at the Old Bailey to get inside the mind of the outspoken but irresolute Mr Justice Grantham. The result is as compelling today as it is definitive of the era in which the murder was committed.
The book is illustrated with two maps and 27 photographs, 10 of which are in full colour.
Guest Post by Paul Worsley QC:
Having sat as a Judge at the Old Bailey for over ten years I am used to preparing written trial documents, ruling on submissions to admit or exclude evidence. Likewise the Summing Up to the jury requires careful preparation. The jury needs to be told the Law – which they must accept from the Judge. But then a summary of the factual issues and a reminder of salient pieces of evidence in a coherent and chronological manner is required. Thus as a Judge over the years I have gathered some experience of writing a document called ‘the Summing Up’ for the jury. Often they receive part of the summing up in written form to help them when they retire to consider their verdict.
As a Judge in retirement one is freed from the pressures that each case brings. But there is a sense of missing the courtroom, the ushers, clerks and colleagues, the taking of a verdict and then perhaps deciding upon the fate of a convicted killer. So it seemed to me to be a natural step in retirement to turn to writing about True Crime. It has long held a fascination and indeed it was probably those old cases where miscarriages of justice had occurred that enticed me into a murky world of motives and murders. Writing about a case, against the background of the law as the framework, seemed not unsurmountable. Then mastering the evidence and the rival arguments came next. It seemed natural to approach the case from the point of view of the Judge. Only when I started researching the case of Robert Wood did I realise that this was a novel approach not adopted before by other writers. By reading in the transcripts of the Judge’s rulings, observations and Summing Up it was not too difficult to get into the mind of an old-fashioned, blunt, reactionary Judge. Then using my experience of how witnesses give evidence, how the public gallery can react and how counsel go about their task made the story come alive. The Prosecution’s task is to seek to make a jury sure of guilt. The Defence seek to raise doubts. The case then unfolds against the backdrop of the scaffold, whose shadow hung heavy over any trial for murder in the early 20th century.
To set about the task in earnest it was necessary to read round the case. Several books have been written about the trial or it has figured as a chapter in books about the Old Bailey or defence advocate Marshall Hall. Then to the National Archives at Kew to read the actual transcript of the evidence taken down as it was given in 1907. Then a decision as to how to present the evidence. Chronologically? Witness by witness? Subject by subject? Issue by issue? How to prune the days of evidence and speeches into something readable?
How to capture the sense of the moment and the atmosphere of the courtroom? I turned to the newspaper cuttings of the trial. Most helpful in this respect were the scrapbooks of cuttings which Marshall Hall KC kept of all his cases. There were reports from different daily newspapers of the same case and the same detailed proceedings. It must have been a monumental task to gather each daily paper and find the report on the case, then cut it out and place in a scrap book. It says perhaps something about the ego or even feeling of insecurity of the collector, wanting to see his name in newsprint and his successes emblazoned in the headlines.
Then how to approach the retelling of the tale? I decided to adopt an old device of narrating it to a third party, in this case the Judge’s son who questions at different stages the old Judge’s preconceptions. How to make it a page turner by not simply accepting the verdict but coming up with a solution that fitted the evidence and showed that the jury got it wrong.
Then perhaps a Postscript to suggest how the case might have been tried in the 21st century with the powerful tools now at the disposal of investigators and lawyers. Would the verdict have been the same if Wood was tried today, with the evidential aids of CCTV and DNA to help the investigators? Finally letting the reader sit as a 13th juror and decide what the verdict would have been had they themselves tried the case of Robert Wood for the Postcard Murder.
Paul Worsley QC retired in 2017 as a Senior Circuit Judge at the Old Bailey and lives in North Yorkshire. His career, which spans over forty-five years in the Criminal Law, began in 1970 after reading Law at Oxford University. He first practised at the Bar from Chambers in Leeds, contesting many murder cases, often characterised by the rural area in which the crimes took place and the people who inhabit the vast wilderness of the North York Moors and Wolds to the south. In his first case in 1982, he secured the liberty of a farmer’s son who shot dead both his parents: they had treated him as a slave and made him sleep in the dog kennel. Six years later, he appeared for Yvonne Sleightholme, who famously went blind after being arrested for shooting dead her ‘love rival’ in a remote Yorkshire farmyard. Later, he successfully prosecuted ‘Wearside Jack’ (John Samuel Humble), who derailed the Yorkshire Ripper Investigation after sending hoax letters to the investigating officer (thence to the press), claiming to be the Ripper, In retirement, Paul is outspoken about the death penalty and trial without jury, and draws interesting parallels between the postcard murder case and today’s legal controversies. The 1907 case was the first in which the media was co-opted to run a killer to ground. Today, TV’s Crimewatch does that all the time to great effect. But there have been cases (Wearside Jack and the Cliff Richard ‘production’, for example) where collaboration between police and media did not serve justice so well. Then there is the question as to how far the law should reflect public opinion, as topical today. The influence of public opinion on Mr Justice Grantham in the postcard murder case had disastrous consequences, causing him to change his mind part way through his summing-up (an event without precedent). As a result, the jury discharged a guilty man. The case suggests that in every era public opinion has its blind spots and what we need is absolute judgement in Law. Is it not the job of judges to apply the Law and not decide what it should be? The author is a practised speaker and is available to roll out a series of talks at public forums, including law colleges and university faculties, and wherever his new book might take him.
Thank you Midas PR for the review copy of The Postcard Murder: A Judge’s Tale by Paul Worsley QC.
The Postcard Murder: A Judge’s Tale by Paul Worsley QC was published by Pilot Productions and was published on 14th November 2019 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
Ness by Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood
Somewhere on a salt-and-shingle island, inside a ruined concrete structure known as The Green Chapel, a figure called The Armourer is leading a ritual with terrible intent.
But something is coming to stop him.
Five more-than-human forms are traversing land, sea and time towards The Green Chapel, moving to the point where they will converge and become Ness. Ness has lichen skin and willow-bones. Ness is made of tidal drift, green moss and deep time. Ness has hagstones for eyes and speaks only in birds. And Ness has come to take this island back.
What happens when land comes to life? What would it take for land to need to come to life? Using word and image, Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood have together made a minor modern myth. Part-novella, part-prose-poem, part-mystery play, in Ness their skills combine to dazzling, troubling effect.
A shingle spit of land off the Suffolk coast lies Orford Ness now it is reclaimed by nature but years before it played a part for nearly seventy years as scientists carried out secret military research covering from WWI to nuclear weapons. Ness (Hamish Hamilton) by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood is more than just poetry and words it speaks from the shifting winds that change the landscape of Ness.
There on this shingle land is a concrete building called The Green here there is a figure who is called the Armourer who is conducting a ritual and it is a ritual with terrible meaning soon there are forms that are more than just humans and their intent is to stop him from carrying out his intent.
It is a landscape for birds and this landscape is coming back to reclaim it back for nature. This is poetry, this is a novel, it is prose. You can judge how you wish to view this astonishing short book. Like Ness itself it is just magical and beautiful. Now it is quiet except for the sound of the wind and the sound of the birds that have reclaimed Orford Ness and the sound of shingle underfoot.
A Hagstone is when water and other elements pound the stone so that eventually a hole appears. It is folklore that says to view through a Hagstone is to look at the past, or the future. This is beautiful book of under 100 pages.
Thank you to Hamish Hamilton for the review copy of Ness by Robert Macfarlane & Stanley Donwood.
Ness by Robert Macfarlane and Stanley Donwood was published by Hamish Hamilton on 7th November 2019 and is available to pre-order through Waterstones, Amazon and through your local independent bookshop.
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.
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
Follow the Cheltenham Literature Festival Blog Tour
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.
Follow the Blog Tour
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.