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Take courage

It's been wonderful to see the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe this week, and for her to be reunited with her husband and daughter.

Former hostage Terry Waite, when interviewed about what Nazanin might expect in the coming days and weeks, said it is important for her to retreat quickly from the glare of publicity and then to talk to someone, to tell her story. The implication is that this might become a book just as he, Brian Keenan and John McCarthy, did so powerfully.

Naturally, many of us will be interested in learning about Nazanin's experience - how she felt, how she coped, her hopes for the future. Despite the fact that we can relate to the horrors of what she went through, and the loss of the time with her daughter growing up, we might still feel distanced from it, though, knowing this is something we are unlikely to experience ourselves.

When are we too close to a subject to be able to immerse ourselves in a memoir or a novel without causing ourselves additional upset or distress?

I started reading 'Uncommon Courage', about the yachtsmen volunteers in the second world war, before the book was published and before the war in Ukraine. Returning to it now feels more challenging. It no longer feels a distant reminder of the heroic efforts of ordinary people rising to a national threat. It is perhaps, though, even more salutary - if we ever need a reminder of the tragedy and destruction of war, and the costs and courage of individuals.

On other matters, we are hoping still to be able to meet in person for a couple of events in the coming days.

This week I will be in Maldon, Essex, hosting the printmaker and illustrator Angela Harding as she talks about her book 'A Year Unfolding' on Thursday 24 March at 7pm. There are still tickets available if you'd like to join us. Take a look here.

And it's time again for this month's book group meeting. We'll be taking all the usual precautions on Monday 28 March so if you'd like to join in the discussion, please reply to this email and I"ll send you the details.

Thank you for reading.

Uncommon Courage
by Julia Jones

When the writer Julia Jones was looking through her attic for some old documents, she came across a suitcase owned by her late father. Inside were papers and diaries he'd kept in the war. She could remember he'd wanted to show them to her when she was a teenager but she wasn't interested at the time. Looking at them many years later, she was moved by his story and inspired to investigate further.

George Jones was a keen sailor and when he could see that war was imminent, he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve to do his bit. 

LIke many others, he was bringing only the skills and experience of what had been a hobby, a leisure pursuit, and yet these men were called on to be involved in minesweeping, taking command of destroyers or submarines, patrolling in gunboats or undertaking surveillance, intelligence or sabotage.

It's thought there were only around 2,000 men in the RNSVR in what was initially a list of 'gentlemen who are interested in yachting or similar pursuits', aged between 18 and 39 who would be prepared to serve as naval officers in case of 'Emergency'.

While Julia's father, George had been a clerk in Birmingham, many of the men were lawyers, businessmen, publishers, teachers. There are many familiar names among them - the ornithologist Sir Peter Scott, authors Nicholas Monsarrat and Nevil Shute, the broadcaster Ludovic Kennedy. Even Ian Fleming worked for the Naval Intelligence Department and a footnote in 'Moonraker' claims that James Bond was in the RNVSR.

Julia traces these experiences as well as those of others who aren't so well known today and all deserve to be remembered for their astonishing contributions.

This is a fascinating and gripping read about a little known aspect of the war effort. It's packed with information about the progression of the war, the naval fleet and the characters and personalities who were so resourceful and courageous.

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.
The Rollercoaster Boy
by Lisa Thompson

Todd and Laurie are on holiday with their Dad. The hotel is rundown and Dad isn't well, and then there are mysterious goings on!

This latest title from the award-winning writer Lisa Thompson touches on difficult themes but without distracting from a classic, fun adventure with resilient and resourceful children. Aimed at readers aged nine upwards.

Todd and his little sister Laurie usually have their mum or aunt to call on when Dad isn't well, but they're both away and Dad wants to go on holiday - in the middle of the night.

Todd can read the signs. One minute his Dad is full of energy and high spirits, the next he's struggling to get out of bed. And Todd knows that Dad hasn't taken his tablets.

They arrive at the seaside hotel to find it very different from how Dad remembers it and his mood plummets. It's clear Dad isn't capable of driving them back home so Todd decides it's up to him to look after the three of them as best he can.

As he and Laurie try to enjoy themselves, they get to know two other children in the hotel who are also having to contend with absent parents. Together the foursome explore the building. There's talk of a weirwolf in room 13 and a mystery associated with room 42. If they can solve the clues to a strange disappearance many years ago, perhaps they can save the hotel from being sold to the horrible Mr Knife?

While there are difficult themes touched on here in terms of mental illness, family breakdown and a poor father-son relationship, they are all handled expertly, with compassion and wisdom. Overarching it all is a warm, amusing, well-paced adventure with a puzzle to solve. The children are great characters and it's a really lovely read.

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group
at St John's Hall, Woodbridge

Monday 28 March 8pm 
talking about...

by Anne Enright

Exploring a mother-daughter relationship, burdened by fame, it is said to be 'darkly funny', 'complex and multifaceted', 'one of the best novels about theatre'. What will we make of it?

There's still time to buy your copy of the book from Browsers Bookshop and read along. If you'd like to join the discussion, please reply to this email to receive all the details.
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