Category Archives: William Collins
As we come to the end of July a real sense of excitement for me as one of my favourite book prizes of the year announcements is just a few days away. The Wainwright Book Prize 2017 in association with The National Trust is an award that celebrates the very best in writing about Nature and the great outdoors. One of my boyhood heroes was Alfred Wainwright and I have spent many hours just reading those wonderful iconic Pictorial Guides to the fells of the Lake District. It is no secret that one of my favourite genres in books is nature and the outdoors and my bookshelves are filled to capacity with some of the great books on these subjects. There is nothing better than being out in wilderness whether that is just being at one with nature or just admiring the stunning beautiful wild places that we have in our countryside from the mountains and islands of Scotland to the fells of the Lakes and the valleys of Wales and not forgetting our hardworking farmers. These are places to rejoice and to treasure now but above all for future generations. We are the caretakers and must preserve for our children and theirs to come.
I was honoured to have been given the opportunity to read all the books that make up The Wainwright Book Prize shortlist for 2017. I am still reading through the books and my personal reviews will appear soon. On the 27th June the shortlist was announced and on Thursday 3rd August direct from the BBC Countryfile live show the judges will announce this year’s winners. You can of course read more about the award and the judges chaired by TV’s Julia Bradbury on the website The Wainwright Prize Ahead of the announcement I thought I would give you just give a little introduction into the seven books that make up the shortlist.
The Wainwright Book Prize Shortlist 2017:
The January Man (A Year of Walking Britain) by Christopher Somerville (Doubleday)
The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel (Doubleday)
Love of Country (A Hebridean Journey) by Madeleine Bunting (Granta)
The Otters’ Tale by Simon Cooper (William Collins)
Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss (Vintage)
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud (Hodder & Stoughton)
Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel (W&N)
Previous Winners of The Wainwright Book Prize.
2016: The Outrun by Amy Liptrot (Canongate Books)
2015: Meadowland by John Lewis-Stempel (Transworld Publishers)
2014: The Green Road into Trees: A Walk Through England by Hugh Thompson (Windmill/Random House)
The 2017 Shortlisted Books
The January Man – A Year Walking of Britain by Christopher Somerville
This is the story of a year of walking around Britain and was in fact inspired by the song of the same name by Dave Goulder. The author sets off on a journey of discovery with memories of his late father walks that would cover all four seasons from all four corners of Britain from the Scottish isles to forests and vales. This in itself is a hope that readers will don their walking boots and grab their walking poles and explore the length and breadth of our country and the rich natural history and landscapes regardless of the vagaries of the British weather.
Rich not only in its descriptions but the exquisite writing of Christopher Somerville who has written thirty-six books.
The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper
For those like me who remember reading Tarka the Otter by Henry Williamson then The Otter’s Tale by Simon Cooper will also surely appeal. Simon bought what was an abandoned water mill in Southern England and then go on to share his home and his life with a family of wild Otters.
What this enabled Simon Cooper to achieve was to observe one of this country most secretive of mammals and he did so at very close quarters. The family allowed the author to become a member of their own family and in turn this gives the reader a personal and unique insight into the lives of the Otters in what turned out to be an extraordinary relationship of trust between Otter and man the close relationship between Simon and the female Otter called Kuschta is incredibly close and personal.
Within this story Simon Cooper also discusses the natural history of Otters here in the UK and a mammal that was once so persecuted that it was very close to being extinct in this country. A year in the life of not only Simon Cooper but also a beautiful insight to a family of Otters that shared the life of the author.
Love of Country – A Hebridean Journey by Madeleine Bunting
Some of my happiest of memories are those when I have been walking on some of the islands of the Western Coast of Scotland. Just mention the names of some of the islands like Jura, St. Kilda, Lewis, Harris, Sky, Rum and so many more. Each rich in their own history and also natural history. Here Madeleine Bunting a former Guardian journalist takes us on a journey that took six years to complete. Each time she would return there was more history and culture to uncover more islands to explore. The history of these islands shapes our countries history even today. The author not only explores but also asks questions. This is a wonderful travel companion if you are heading to one of the islands for a holiday. Read before you go and read while you are there as there is so much to read and learn. A wonderful book.
The Running Hare by John Lewis-Stempel
A former winner of the Wainwright Book Prize this year has two books on the Shortlist, the first titled The Running Hare looks at life on a farmland, the wild animals and plants that life on it and in it. This is an extraordinary piece of writing and you can see why this writer is so acclaimed. With so many species lost, this is a farmer who took a field and farmed it in a traditional way to conserve the wildlife that inhabit our fields. He talks about the birds that feed off the land and microbes that live in the land each having their own battle to survive modern practices. In fast paced modern world can farming go back to old practices to husband farmland thereby protecting the wildlife that also share the same farmland. A Place were the wild Hare can call home and live safely. Beautifully written and profound. A book that will stand the test of time and will be read by future generations to come. This is one of the great nature writers of our time.
The Wild Other by Clover Stroud
A deeply moving memoir from Clover Stroud about a life that was shaped by a tragic accident to her mother when Clover was only sixteen-years-old. Her mother was left with brain damage after a riding accident. Clover found herself from gypsy camps in Ireland to rodeos of Texas then to the far reaches of Russia before the White Horse vale of England brought her home to England. These journeys she took in the name of trying to understand a sense of home that was left shattered and broken. A remarkable and deeply honest account of loss and love. Nature has the power to heal the wounds that seem never to heal and here in The Wild Other Clover Stroud tells her personal story that is full of bravery and a life lived to the full. At times frank Clover reveals all in this haunting memoir that will both move and inspire the reader.
Wild Kingdom by Stephen Moss
Stephen Moss is the acclaimed naturalist, writer and TV producer. Here in Wild Kingdom Stephen Moss at times is frank about this countries disappearing wildlife and asks some important questions about the land we share with the animals the Britain. It is not all bad news, just look at how Otters are now doing. But many others are not faring so well and Moss poses the question how can we bring back Britain’s wildlife. With intensive farming practices and housing developments taking over and wildlife being squeezed out of their natural homes something has to give and the wildlife suffers as a consequence. There has to be room for both man and wildlife to life in harmony. Rewilding is a term we may yet start to hear more of in the years ahead. So many questions are posed here. Moss takes us on a journey from farmland to wetlands from one part of the country to another. He knows what he is talking about and there is so much to understand. Common sense is key. If we care about our wildlife we can make a difference. It is not all bad news there is much to praise but there is not resting on laurels as there is work to do. Generations to come will point to our generation if we do not. This is so well written by a man who is passionate about the future of our wildlife.
Where Poppies Blow by John Lewis-Stempel
Where Poppies Blow is the second book by John Lewis-Stempel in this year’s Shortlist along with his The Running Hare. We all know of the horrors of the Great War. But in this book the author takes the connection between the British soldiers fighting in the Great War and the animals and plants and the relationships between them.
For many soldiers living inside the land they were close to nature as you can possibly get, many soldiers sought solace in the birds and plants around them, at desperate times it provided both peace and solace in a place of sheer hell. Many soldiers indeed were birdwatchers and there are stories of officers and men fishing in flooded shell craters. Here you will read of soldiers planting flower beds in trenches, this sounds truly remarkable but John Lewis-Stempel has researched this book and brings to life the incredible stories of fighting men and nature and in the end the cure that only nature can bring in its purest form. There is a quote on the inside of the book that just sums up what the men went through. ‘If it weren’t for the birds, what a hell it would be’. A remarkable book that will take pride of place among the many natural history books in my book case.
I have been following The Wainwright Book Prize now for a number of years and I believe this has to be the strongest of the shortlists yet. The quality of the writing is just outstanding. I am not sure if it is just me but it just gets stronger and stronger every year. I really do not envy the judges in their decision, but every one of these seven books is a real candidate to win the prize. Could John Lewis-Stempel win the prize again? I just have a feeling The Running Hare is going to be the book to look out for on Thursday. I would love to hear your views on the shortlist and if you have a favourite to win. I will of course be following the prize announcement as and when it happens and will Tweet the winning book as soon as I know over on my Twitter page The Last Word 1962 I will be reviewing each of the books in the coming weeks.
After the Flood by John Nichol
Review Date: 16 October 2015
Author: John Nichol
Release Date: 2 July 2015
Publishers: William Collins
ISBN –10: 0008100314
ISBN – 13: 978-0008100315
Available in Hardback, Kindle and audio
The Last Word Review
A true epic story of incredible courage and sacrifice. An outstanding account of 617 Squadron
As a boy I recall building plastic model kits of the famous aircraft of World War II and one Christmas I was given a special kit of the RAF Lancaster bomber but this was different, it was one from the famous ‘Dambuster’ raids. I did not know much about these raids at the time, but from then on I spent more and more time in my local library researching the history of Bomber Command and the Dambuster raids. Little did I know it at the time that my thirst for knowledge for both World Wars would become a lifelong interest.
Not many would have failed to have heard of the legendary story of the crews of the Dambuster raids, but what became of the crews. In After the Flood by former RAF navigator John Nichol is an incredible researched account of the these brave men that flew on the attacks on the dams.
The mend of 637 Squadron were brought together to train for a specific mission to attack and ultimately destroy a series of dams the Mohne, Eder and Sorpe dams in the heart of the industrial Ruhr, by attacking and destroying these dams it would set back the German military machine by also destroying factories in the Ruhr valley. The question was how to attack these dams, something unheard of. Barnes Wallis had for some time been experimenting with a new bomb specifically designed for attacking these dams, which later became known as ‘the bouncing bomb’
On 17th May 1943 Operation Chastise was launched with 19 modified Lancaster Bombers of 617 Squadron took off under the command of Wing Commander Guy Gibson, the aircraft flew at altitudes of 100 feet to avoid radar detection and carried a single bouncing bomb.
Of the 133 aircrew that took part in the raid on the dams 56 were killed. The results of the attacks was a massive propaganda success for the RAF. The resulting flood waves killed close to 1600 people many were forced labourers of a number of nationalities from a number of European countries and also Eastern Europe.
617 Squadron went on to carry many more daring raids over enemy targets from deep inside Germany to attacking and sinking the Tirpitz the largest German battleship ever built, they also went on missions destroying V1 and V2 factories and launch sites to the catastrophic attack on the Dortmund-Ems canal and also Hitler’s Eagles nest.
Of the entire crews that joined the Dambusters raids only 45 men survived to see the final victory that they fought so bravely to achieve.
Nicholl deserves praise for the immense research that was undertaken for After the Flood including talking with survivors as well as visiting some of the target sites the crews attacked. This is an incredible story about a group of incredibly brave men who put themselves in mortal danger every time they took part in a raid. It is a fitting tribute to 617 Squadron a group of men to whom we owe so much and the likes of which we may never see again.
An outstanding historical account that I am delighted to recommend to anyone with an interest in military history.
Lest we forget.
Meet the Author
During 15 years service in the Royal Air Force John Nichol served as a technician and, after being commissioned from the ranks, as a Tornado Navigator in both the Air Defence and Ground Attack roles. On active duty in the Gulf he was shot down on the first low-level, daylight raid of the first Gulf War. Captured and tortured, he was paraded on television provoking worldwide condemnation and leaving one of the enduring images of the conflict. He returned to active duty and was involved in policing the exclusion zone as part of the UN force maintaining the fragile peace in Bosnia. He has served around the world from the Nevada Desert to the Middle East and Norway to the Falkland Islands.
John is the best-selling author of Tornado Down, five novels, and the highly acclaimed WWII history books, The Last Escape, Tail-End Charlies and Home Run. He is in demand to give motivational lectures and after-dinner speeches and has worked with wide variety of businesses including BT, Shell, Lloyds Bank and The Stockholm School of Economics.
He has written for The Times, The Mail on Sunday and The Observer and is a widely quoted commentator on military affairs. He has also been a consultant and presenter for Newsnight, BBC, Sky & ITV News, World in Action, CNN and Cutting Edge. He devised and presented 2 series of Survivors, interviewing newsmakers who have been through life changing experiences. He recently wrote two major series for the Sunday Express, Heroes and Survivors. John is a member of The Royal British Legion’s Gulf War Group helping veterans with Gulf War Syndrome and a patron of the British Ex-service Wheelchair Sports Association.
Visit John Nichol’s website. http://johnnichol.com/
Between the Sunset and the Sea by Simon Ingram
Review Date: 27 June 2015
Author: Simon Ingram
Release Date: 12 March 2015
Publishers: William Collins
ISBN –10: 0007545401
ISBN – 13: 978-0007545407
Available in Hardback, Kindle & audio download.
Authors Website: http://www.simoningram.net/
The Last Word Review
‘A guided tour of 16 of the UK’s best Mountains. One of the best outdoor books I have read. Rich, and thoroughly well researched’
If like me you are a lover the big outdoors and especially getting up into the hills and mountains, then here is a book that will guide you on a journey of 16 of the most outstanding British climbs. This will appeal to those who look and admire and feel tempted to strap on a pair of stout walking boots and climb your first mountain.
This is a mammoth book at 448 pages covering 16 chapters, interspersed with some beautiful artistic black and white photographs that capture the very essence of life in the mountains.
One aspect of this book I liked is that each chapter is broken down into various themes such as Danger, Weather, Terror, Wilderness, as well as a particular mountain that has been selected as part of the 16 then the author climbs that mountain. Anyone who has climbed any of the ‘Wainwrights’ or ‘Munros’ will salivate at this beautifully written book. Simons’ style of writing not only rich but it takes the reader along on each of his treks. That is some achievement for his debut at writing a book. What I took from each of his mountain treks was respect, for the mountain itself like me when I have climbed you become one with your surroundings and the mountain itself, you talk to it and it talks back. I felt this with all 16 mountains described in his book.
The author has very carefully selected each mountain that I found worked along with each of the chapters, mountains such as Beinn Dearg, An Teallach, Loughrigg Fell and Great Gable are covered. The more I read through this book, the more I came to the conclusion that this was not just a book about 16 mountains it becomes more of a larger theatre, as in covers so much more such as the history, science, travel, History and so on. This is a book that will over time come into its own and may even have set the agenda for writing books about mountains and especially getting out there for yourself and experiencing hill and mountain climbs. Exhilarating just like this book really.
This reviewer is now off to dig his boots out and give them an outing.
Meet the Author:
Simon Ingram is a journalist and author.
He has written dozens of features for award-winning national magazines and websites, principally in the fields of adventure journalism, travel, walking, mountaineering and film.
Publications he has written for include Trail and Country Walking, Empire, The Independent and The Guardian, and he was one of the launch contributors for Outdoor Fitness Magazine.
He is the author of the critically-acclaimed debut Between the Sunset and the Sea (HarperCollins, 2015), an exploration of the British mountains and their enduring fascination.
His photographs have been used extensively in editorial reportage and on the covers of major national publications.
He is a Mountain Leader trainee and has climbed mountains all over the UK, and also the High Atlas of Morocco, Arctic Norway, the French, German and Italian Alps, Slovenia, the Balkans and East Africa.
He lives in Stamford, Lincolnshire.