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A child's view

This week I went to see the film 'Belfast', written and directed by Kenneth Branagh, which has been nominated for seven Oscars - and well deserved in my opinion!

I found it to be a very affecting film. It's important not to forget the terrifying ordeals experienced by so many people through the Troubles, particularly as communities throughout the world are living through such horrors today. 

There was also, though, a powerful sense of community with the bonds of family, friends and neighbours presented with humour and sensitivity. And the artistry of the production, the camera shots, the scene setting, the acting, clothes and music, all made for this to be an uplifting and memorable mix of joy, hope, horror and sadness. What's more the story was told from the perspective of a child, inspired by the nine-year-old Kenneth Branagh. This made it even more poignant and telling as he and his friends sought to make sense of the bewildering and frightening actions of the adults they had grown up trusting.

Another story of childhood was released last week. Justin Webb, the presenter of the BBC Radio 4 Today programme has published a memoir called 'The Gift of a Radio' (scroll down for more details). In this very entertaining and nostalgic book he nevertheless acknowledges that he didn't have a happy time growing up. Indeed his experiences are at times quite unsettling to read. But again he writes with a sensitivity and humour, and the lesson he has learned, which he shares with the reader, is that we are all multi-faceted and we need to treat each other with kindness, understanding and compassion. He hopes, he says, that we can nurture “our ability to look at ourselves and others without condemnation".

And I was interested to read the latest children's book by the presenter and writer Danny Wallace. Called 'The Luckiest Kid in the World', it explores how commercialism today relies on finding the common denominator, the thing which everyone wants. In pursuing this, though, we all risk losing what is special, unusual or creative, and "no one thinks differently or tries different things or is ever truly excited about anything ever again". And it is through the experiences of Joe Smith, "an average kid", that the reader is reassured that "however ordinary we are, we are each of us so very special".

Thank you for reading!

The Gift of a Radio
by Justin Webb

This is a very honest and revealing memoir from the journalist and BBC Radio 4 Today programme presenter, Justin Webb.

He was invited by a website, UnHerd, to recall his school days for a feature piece and was then approached by an agent who wanted to read more. This book is the result. It was published last week, and Justin will be visiting the Felixstowe Book Festival in the summer to talk about it.

Justin grew up in Britain in the 1970s – a time of strikes, inflation and IRA bombings – and family life was similarly stark and grim.

He was an only child with a mother who had undiagnosed psychological problems and a stepfather who was untreated for schizophrenia.

At a Quaker boarding school, Justin experienced gun-wielding school masters and substandard living conditions. And, watching the television news one day, Justin was told, by his mother, out of the blue: ‘That’s your father'.

It was Peter Woods, the BBC newsreader, who had had an affair with Justin’s mother when they were both working at the 'Daily Mirror'. 

Nothing more was said and Justin never met his father. But he did pursue a career in journalism and broadcasting, and he writes of those early days of realising his interest.

It's a brilliantly written book which Justin told me was compiled very much as a stream of consciousness. He sat down during lockdown and wrote whatever memories came into his mind. As a result, it's not just family incidents but recollections of the books, films and music that mattered to him at the time too.

I spoke to Justin for an article which will appear in 'Suffolk' magazine in the coming months and he told me that he hopes the book will appeal to people who have been searching, like him, for an understanding of themselves. He hopes it shows "the immense goodness of people, the willingness of people to be subtle in a world where it seems everyone wants everything to be black and white. Most people are so much more than the interaction on social media or even the letters page of the newspaper."

This is a great read. I've read it twice already!

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.
The Luckiest Kid in the World
by Danny Wallace
Illustrated by Gemma Correll

When Joe Smith is identified as the most average kid in the country, he feels very special indeed.

Another funny adventure from the writer and presenter Danny Wallace, this story makes some serious points about life today!

There's nothing unusual about Joe Smith. He is average height, with an average family, living in an average town (Didcot) and his performance in class is just about average.

But one day being average becomes rather special. 

Joe becomes the centre of attention in a television report and then businesses want him to test their products and services to see how popular they might be to the average customer.

Joe receives loads of amazing gifts - a new bike, new trainers, ice cream and chocolate bars, trips to theme parks and holidays are all on offer to him.

At first it seems great, but Joe has many important matters to address with this popularity. How does he treat his friends and family? How much does he really want all these new things? What about the people and businesses who don't appeal to the average customer, what happens to them?

There are many issues about life today which are addressed in this fun and lighthearted family adventure. 

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group

Monday 28 February 8pm
talking about...

by Andrew O'Hagan

A coming of age novel in Thatcher’s Britain, this has been described as a book about male friendship and male fragility. "A heartbreaking novel of an extraordinary lifelong friendship." Based on the author’s experiences: nearly all true, he says. What will we think of it?

Buy your copy of the book from Browsers in Woodbridge with the book group discount and join in the discussion. There will be details about how to attend the meeting nearer the time.
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