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What an honour

There's been a lot of attention this week on recognising achievement through awards, prizes and honours.

Among the more than usually heated debate about individuals included in this year's Honours List, there are some familiar literary names with Suffolk links.

The prolific and talented writer Anthony Horowitz has been given a CBE for his services to literature. Known for his Alex Rider young adult books, his recent murder mystery titles set in Suffolk and his tv dramas such as 'Foyle's War', he has also written James Bond and Sherlock Holmes novels and many tv and film scripts and adaptations. He has an extraordinary output!

Starting out on her literary career, Suffolk resident Kate Sawyer, who spoke to us on the launch of The Stranding, was shortlisted for the best debut novel in this year's Costa prize. While she may not have won, being shortlisted has undoubtedly given her a welcome and deserved profile.

While prizes and titles are lovely to receive - to know that our work and our contribution has been noted and appreciated - few of us will be able to experience or bestow such accolades. And in fact are they always really necessary? Sometimes it's important to realise what a privilege it is to work on something we enjoy doing and where we gain fulfilment from it. And a simple thank you from a stranger out of the blue can be a real blessing.

Thank you for reading.

The Heat of the Moment
by Sabrina Cohen-Hatton

This is a fascinating and enlightening memoir about working in the fire service by an extraordinarily single-minded and determined woman.

I read this book a few months ago but was reminded of it in an interview with the author on the BBC Radio Four programme Saturday Live recently, here.

Sabrina Cohen-Hatton joined the South Wales fire service at the age of 18. She had been homeless for her last few years at school after her father died of a brain tumour. She worked her way through the ranks, and is now the chief fire officer at West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service. 

Sabrina married a firefighter and they have a daughter. Soon after the baby was born, Sabrina undertook a PhD in Psychology and recalls in the book how she completed it two years earlier than predicted. She would get up at 5am to go to the lab, work a full day at the fire station, go home to put her child to bed and then return to the lab, getting home for bed in the early hours. It is an astonishing achievement and, throughout her story, it is evident that she is incredibly determined, driven and single-minded. I'm not sure how easy she would be to work for or with!

She doesn't dwell on the terrible tragedies or awful scenes which firefighters face on a regular basis, though ponders with compassion, empathy and understanding on the lives affected by the incidents they attend. "Our every day is someone's worst day."

The key theme of the book is in analysing the character traits of the firefighters. Her research into the lives of her colleagues and how they respond to such extreme and devastating incidents is fascinating. How does their work affect them? How do they make the life and death decisions necessary in their work? How are the decisions affected by physical and mental exhaustion? How do they respond to stress? 

Her research has identified that 80% of the decisions made by firefighters are due to gut instinct, with the other 20% due to an analytical approach.

There will always be human error in this work, she concludes: "Judge us, and hold us to account, and demand an effective, efficient service, but walk a mile in our shoes too. Know that not a day goes by when we don't ask ourselves if we could have done better. Even when, sometimes, our best would never have been enough." A powerful, humbling and thought-provoking read.

For recommended non-fiction titles, take a look here.
Aaron Slater, Illustrator
by Andrea Beaty
Illustrated by David Roberts

This is the latest in the fabulous Questioneers series of fun and aspirational rhyming stories. Here we meet a young boy discovering the power of telling stories.
Aaon Slater loves hearing stories read to him and would like to write his own. One day his teacher asks all the children in the class to do just that but Aaron can't put a single word on the page.

He has always struggled to decipher letters. These strange squiggles move about on the page. He is dreading his turn to stand in front of the class but then...inspiration strikes. Although he can't write the words, he has another way of sharing his story and it turns his life around.

There are so many elements to this simple but colourful and lively book. In addition to the entertaining and quirky illustrations and the rhyming text, the typeface has been specially designed to help readers with dyslexia. And there is an explanation of dyslexia and a motivational message at the end of the book. Also, Aaron is named after Aaron Douglas, an African American painter, muralist and graphic artist who lived from 1899-1979, and there is a little biography about him too.

I first came to these books when the first two titles were released a few years ago now - 'Rosie Revere, Engineer' and 'Iggy Peck, Architect' - but this is the fifth in the collection and they each appear as picture books, chapter books and activity books. They're great and work beautifully on so many different levels. I hope you'll look them up!

Read about more recommended children's books here.

Browsers Bookshop Book Group

Monday 31 January 8pm
talking about...

Small Pleasures
by Clare Chambers

Compared to the writing of Barbara Pym or Anita Brookner, this is the story of a local reporter in 1950s east London who has been sent to discover the truth behind a rather unusual revelation. Miracle or fraud, the investigation threatens to turn Jean's  life inside out. What will we make of it?

Buy your copy from Browsers Bookshop at the book group discount. There'll be details about how to join in the discussion nearer the time. 
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