Author of the Quarter
What prompted your recent book on Monte Cassino?
Monte Cassino is the most interesting battle of the Second World War in terms of strategy and tactics, and I have long been fascinated by the campaign in Italy. Here, it seems to me, all the common perceptions of the Second World War as somehow faster and 'cleaner' than the First, come to grief.
When I found out more about the battle, what was immediately striking was its terrible scale and duration. Other great battles or campaigns - in Africa, D-Day, the crossing of the Rhine - that are so much better-known, are dwarfed by the suffering and attrition at Cassino. No wonder it is a battle that they would rather we forgot.
I was keen not to write a traditional military history. Instead, I wanted to recreate, as much as possible, the human experience of fighting in such a battle.
The book has many first hand accounts, how did you research the book?
I contacted hundreds of veterans and their families through veterans' associations and letters to local newspapers around the country. The response was overwhelming. It was humbling to hear the incredible stories of those who were there, and to witness the strong emotions - of anger, excitement or grief - that Cassino still causes to rise sixty years later. I was struck by way the veterans' first-hand accounts are dominated by confusion, fear and blunders.
After books on the Battle of Britain and Monte Cassino, have you planned your next project?
I am keen to continue to combine military with social history, to find individuals who can cast a new light on familiar events. I've got a few ideas, but nothing concrete yet.
When writing a book, have you got a preferred place of work and a favoured writing routine?
I work in a small office just down the road from my house in East London. Writing at home is no longer possible now I have three children under the age of five! I wish I had a routine - instead I tend to fidget about until it is almost too late, and then write for twelve hours a day. I find that this submerges me totally in the subject - even my dreams were about Monte Cassino!
Who is your favourite author?
Unfortunately I have little time for reading unconnected to work, but I love Margaret Atwood and Helen Dunmore, amongst others
Which book are you reading at present?
I am reading Brick Lane by Monica Ali for the local interest. Any book hyped so much is bound to be a disappointment and this is no exception. I am also slowly working my way through Eric Williams' classic From Columbus to Castro: The History of the Caribbean. I lived in Barbados for four years during my teens and find the history of the area fascinating. I would love to write about it myself, and not just for the research trips!
Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw
Norman Davies, Macmillan, £25, ISBN: 0755311752
The history of Poland in the twentieth century is a tragic one. Sandwiched between Russia on the East and Germany on the West, the Poles have been victims of their geography.
Nowhere is this more evident than in the cynical division of Poland as agreed in the Nazi-Soviet Pact of 1939, in which two ideologically-opposed nations split the country between them.
Armed with weapons supplied by the West, some 40,000 Poles in Warsaw began an insurrection against their Nazi oppressors. It was to go down in the annals of history as one of the most courageous, but ultimately futile, uprisings ever attempted.
On hearing the news, Himmler told Hitler: `The revolt of the Poles is a blessing. We shall finish them off: Warsaw will be liquidated.
Himmler kept to his word. By the time it was put down on 2nd October 1944, some 250,000 civilians had been massacred. Yet it could have been so different. Firstly, the Russians could have provided them support.
What Do You Known About The Royal Arch?
Reverend Neville Barker Cryer. Lewis Masonic 29.99, Tel. 01455 254433, ISBN: 0853182272
A companion to his Craft book I just Didn't Know That, this handy little volume sets out to answer some basic questions about Royal Arch Masonry which are often asked by many of its members.
Based on a series of ten lectures, it explores the origins of the Royal Arch and its development, not least the interesting variations in the ceremonies in various parts of the country.
It is particularly interesting to discover how the Royal Arch developed following the union between the two former rival Grand Lodges - the Moderns and Antients.
The Holy Royal Arch is described as a Supreme Degree - but is it? And why 'Holy', why 'Royal' and why 'Arch'? The author sets out to provide answers to these intriguing questions.
Originally one had to have been Master of a Lodge to join the Royal Arch, so why the change to allow the Master Mason in?
Read on to find out.
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