Book Review: The King’s War, by Peter Conradi and Mark Logue

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_the_kings_war.jpgThe recent visit to New Zealand by Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, has rekindled the nation’s interest in things royal. This fascination has created images and articles across the years. When there is an Antipodean link, we become even more engrossed. Here is a book to nurture your curiosity on the part played by Lionel Logue.

Movie The King’s Speech, was released in 2010. It told the story of Lionel Logue, the Australian born therapist who worked with King George 6th on his acceptance speech. The King had a stutter which was never cured, but ably managed to allow him to address the public on countless occasions. Following the movie, the story was written by Peter Conradi, a Sunday Times journalist and Mark Logue, Grandson of Lionel. Both the movie and the book were a great success.

The King’s War is an opportunity for this established writing pair, to delve deeper into the story using material uncovered during the making of the movie. Mark inherited four large scrapbooks of information and personal family diaries and letters. This includes correspondence from the King to Lionel from 1926 when they first met, until 1952 when the King died. While the movie reaches a climax with the Coronation speech, this book looks at the growing relationship between Lionel and the King. As well as the letters, much of the information comes from the diaries kept by Lionel’s wife, Myrtle. These record the details of living in London during the war.

The actual book is an historical account of the Second World War and the events which impact on the Royal household, but also on the lives of those living through the Blitz, Dunkirk, the American support and finally peace. I liked the parallel between Logue’s involvement in every major event as he was called in to support and prepare the King for his public appearances, and the detail of family life for the Logue’s and their children, following these speeches.

It was not until after the death of George VI in 1952, that the role played by Logue became public. His was a private task and he always took care to respect this aspect of his work. While Logue had no academic qualifications, his skill in amateur dramatics enabled him to work successfully from his rooms in Harley St.

I enjoyed learning more about the warmth of the relationship between the King and Lionel. This book fills in all the gaps left by the earlier story, The King’s Speech. It is a story of an unusual relationship which we might have missed, but for Mark Logue’s desire to honour his grandfather, Lionel.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The King’s War
By Peter Conradi and Mark Logue
Published by Quercus Publishing
ISBN 9781782065975

Book Review: The Incurable Romantic: And Other Unsettling Revelations, by Frank Tallis

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cv_the_incurable_romanticLove makes the world go round, or so the songs say, but what happens when love goes wrong? This book gives the ordinary person, a secret glimpse into the world of a Psychotherapist. Frank Tallis has already written three works on psychology for the lay reader and is himself a clinical psychologist. By using examples from his experiences, he illustrates the many problems that arise in the name of love. Each chapter deals with a different story and he gives the background research for different disorders. So not only are we drawn into the problem, we are allowed to see the variety of tools available in searching for a solution.

Tallis begins by reminding the reader that love dominates our world through writing, movies, songs and history. His own interest with odd things led him to psychotherapy. As he says, ‘For me, psychotherapy is as much about narrative as it is about science and compassion, perhaps even more so.’

So these stories draw the reader into a strange and unsettling world. Megan, who falls in love with her dentist and becomes obsessed to the point of arrest. The elderly Mavis, unable to cope without her late husband. Tallis discovers it was not their shared interests but something more unusual that bound them together. Each story is told with compassion and the endings are often inconclusive. Years later, Tallis is still wondering how some patients have survived.

I found this book fascinating as love as an obsession was not something I have considered. While there is a lot of background history about the science of treatments, it is a readable book for the ordinary public. Tallis is a gifted writer who captures the essence of the problem and his narratives are sympathetic and informative. I see Ian McEwan endorses the book on the cover and I could see writers of romance or mystery finding the text very helpful in the development of a character. It brought to mind McEwan characters from On Chesil Beach.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

The Incurable Romantic: And Other Unsettling Revelations
by Frank Tallis
Published by Abacus
ISBN 9780349142951

Book Review: London – 24 hours and 160 photos in one city

Available in bookshops nationwide.

London_24hours.jpgLonely Planet continue to produce superb guides for travellers. Once the basic stuff has been covered (and I have well-thumbed copies of many places in Europe and Asia ) the challenge is to take the traveller aside and tempt them with something else.

In London, the something else is to revisit old favourites and discover new treasures. Both photos and text capture another view of the city and enable the traveller to stray behind the scenes. While some of the more familiar places are included such as Kew Gardens, Battersea Power Station etc, the text and images give a slightly different perspective. I loved the 8am section on the full English breakfast. Here we see local pensioners catching up at Formica tables while eating the traditional fare. The text is sympathetic and informative. No judgements are passed on the way of life portrayed. Rather, it suggests that this should be part of your visit and allow you to experience a different side of London life.

Another morning activity is swimming in the Serpentine. This is a long held tradition but as the temperature never exceeds 15 degrees, I suspect most visitors might pass on the opportunity. I sent some suggestions to my nieces who live in London. They tracked down the Nomadic Community Gardens and enjoyed meeting a Kiwi who has a regular plot there.

This book could easily be another coffee table treat, but I think it has more to offer the repeat visitor who desires a little more from their visit. The photos and text work well together to suggest an alternative excursion for the curious traveller.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

London: 24 hours and 160 photos in one city
Published by Lonely Planet
ISBN 9781787013438

 

Book Review: Bobby, the Littlest War Hero, by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper

Available in bookshops nationwide. 

cv_bobby_the_littlest_war_heroNow, 100 years after the Great War, stories are emerging about people and events previously unspoken of. I know with my own family, the stories were not recounted for over 50 years and it was the Grandchildren who became the listeners.

Bobby, the littlest War Hero is just such a story. For me the best part is that the tale comes as a picture book and so is available to an audience for whom the Great War is  distant history. This book makes it real.

Glyn Harper is a war historian and he uses a real event to tell the tale of a canary and his best friend Jack. The use of canaries in mining is well know, but their work during the war with the tunnelers was a revelation. Jenny Cooper brings the story of Bobby to life with the bleak browns of the battlefield and the yellow canary.

As a teacher I find a resource such as Bobby enables wonderful discussions and research. 30 years ago, such books were a rarity and it was difficult to engage my students. This book has been around many classes and I included my World War 1 entrenchment tool, to add another level to their understanding. This came back with my Grandfather and shows the fragility of life in the trenches.

As Anzac Day approaches, Bobby would be a wonderful way for a family to share ideas on war, peace and the importance of friendships.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Bobby, the Littlest War Hero
by Glyn Harper, illustrated by Jenny Cooper
Published by Puffin
ISBN 9780143771876

 

Book Review: Chaucer’s People: Everyday Lives in Medieval England, by Liza Picard

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cv_chaucers_peopleAs an English lit student, many years ago at University, I was fascinated by Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. The trouble was there was not enough information to help the ordinary reader put the people in context

That is no longer a problem. Liza Picard is a social historian and has written about many periods in English history, giving the background and the depth to the actual events. She brings the same academic excellence and readable scholarship to the world of Chaucer. While many writers of historic events put in too much detail and get side-tracked, she avoids these pitfalls. This book is both informative and engaging. It is perhaps not a Summer beach read, but certainly a book I will dip in to and discuss with others.

Picard takes each of the characters form the Tales and puts them in to a group. She then gives us the information about that group. The Wife of Bath comes under the heading of Country Life, but we then get a description of her occupation as a Weaver. The research is meticulous but this is a readable version of the facts. I enjoyed finding out about The Reeve. I did not realise double entry book-keeping was already in existence in the 1300’s. The medical section is so good I kept reading passages aloud to my long-suffering husband. We find out about surgeons, apothecaries, pestilence, women’s problems and mental illness.

‘Most home remedies relied on common herbs, with perhaps some alcohol and faith. A scalded penis (how could that happen?) called for the ashes of burned cloth on a linen bandage. For snakebite take thine own piss and drink it….’. The section on food includes some Medieval recipes, but the suggestion not to try them!

While this book is perhaps more for those with an academic interest in life in Medieval England, it is an interesting tome for the general reader. I worry that we no longer read to widen our knowledge and understanding, but read only for specific outcomes. To me the beauty of a book, is that it leads me in to an unknown world and helps me understand the present by reflecting on the past. Surely, this is the purpose of historical writing.

Liza Picard will lead the reader into a fascinating world behind the characters Chaucer so well presented to us in the Canterbury Tales. You will embark on your own pilgrimage to Medieval England but beware of Cooks, Reeves, Merchants, Knights and above all, the Doctor of Physic!

by Kathy Watson

Chaucer’s People: Everyday Lives in Medieval England
by Liza Picard
Published by Weidenfield & Nicolson
ISBN 9781474606318

Undreamed of… 50 years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, by Priscilla Pitts and Andrea Hotere

Available in bookshops nationwide.

cv_undreamed_of_50_years.jpgArt books, coffee table books, travel books. There are so many out there and they all blur together making it hard to select one. This is not a problem when you come to Undreamed of…50 Years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship. It combines beautiful art, interesting background and a wealth of New Zealand artists and their stories. What more could you ask for?

The Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, established in 1966, supports artists by providing studio space and a stipend for a year. The first fellow was Michael Illingworth. Now it is an established part of the New Zealand art scene.

In 2016/17, the Dunedin Art Gallery and Hocken Gallery exhibited 50 years of work from the recipients of the award. This beautifully illustrated book commemorates the event and the artists involved.

The book begins with three superb articles on the importance of art, the establishment of the fellowship and its impact. I found each of these a work of art in itself. We have Hodgkins commenting on her own art:

‘This present line of work is good… I have got well into the spirit of the place & it is yielding up riches – undreamed of, at first sight…’

This was in 1930 from Flatford Mill where she had a studio and support to enable her to work without financial worries. It is this idea that gave rise to the fellowship, which enabled an artist to focus on their work. The link to the University of Otago was beneficial to the artist who had money and space to work. Julia Morison, Fiona Pardington and Heather Straka were inspired in their work by the Medical school and many artists had their work displayed by the University.

Priscilla Pitts looks closely at the impact of the Fellowship, while Joanne Campbell charts the founding of this award. Charles Brasch preferred to stay in the background but it appears from her research, that he played an important role in the creation and continuance of this grant. It was set up initially to nurture an identifiably national culture though in fact the first two recipients were English emigres. There were two occasions when the Fellowship was in danger from financial strife, as is often the case with awards dependent on sponsorship from outside. In both cases, a solution was found and 50 years of success suggests it will continue to flourish.

Finally, and this is the bulk of the book, come the artists. These are in alphabetical order and include photos, artworks and a biographical summary. In reality, it is a Who’s Who of the New Zealand art world. While the early recipients worked in the more traditional fields of painting and sculpture, the later years include installations, moving image and three-dimensional works. When looking through these pages, it becomes apparent that the selection panel got it right, time after time. The artworks are amazing and I am just disappointed the exhibition did not travel the country and enable us all to benefit from such a rich range of creativity.

I am not sure I will still be here to celebrate 100 years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship, but after reading this book, I am sure it will occur.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Undreamed of…50 Years of the Frances Hodgkins Fellowship
by Priscilla Pitts and Andrea Hotere
Published by Otago University Press
ISBN 9780947522568

Book Review: Good-Bye Maoriland: The Songs and Sounds of New Zealand’s Great War, by Chris Bourke

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cv_good-bye_maorilandOver the past few years, we have remembered many of the events during the Great War, 100 years on. Each battle is commemorated, medals are displayed, letters rediscovered and exhibitions opened to the public. The influence of the Great War on our distinctive New Zealand music was a story waiting to be told. I was delighted to find Chris Bourke has contributed another book to help chart the growth of music in our land. In his previous book, Blue Smoke: The Lost Dawn of Popular Music 1918-1964, he covered a huge range of styles and developments over 50 years. In Good-Bye Maoriland, he looks at the individuals and influences on our New Zealand music as a result of the Great War. Chris Bourke is a writer, radio producer and editor. He is meticulous in his research and I always appreciate the thorough notes that support his writing.

Bourke begins by describing the place of music in the family home. In 1916, 40% of New Zealand homes contained a piano. This is a staggering statistic when you consider the pianos were imported, heavy and very expensive. Music shops flourished selling the latest sheet music and music making was an important part of life for towns and cities. This was the era of Brass bands, the local Choir and Vaudeville Shows, which often travelled the length of the country and included visiting celebrities. However, the idea of making a living from music was still undeveloped for most citizens and the part played by music during the war shows how important it was as in uniting and entertaining the troops. Add to that, the patriotic nature of many songs and we begin to see the influence on the war to the development of New Zealand music.

The chapters follow a logical progression as they include the songs to stir recruits, the memories of soldiers lost, the Concert Parties, Waiata Maori and returning home. Each section shows the changes that occurred as the war advanced. It also charts a maturing of a distinctly New Zealand music. I can see Bourke writing Blue Smoke and realising that the Great War was a rich story on its own. Often it is not until we begin to seek answers that other questions arise.

This book is not just a well-researched history. Every page is illustrated with appropriate photographs. I found these fascinating as formal and informal shots allowed the reader to see the high standing in which music making was held. The cover artwork of many New Zealand written songs could actually make another book in the future. Especially, because so much of this music will be lost as families move and downsize.
This book will inform those interested in both war and the cultural history of New Zealand. It is a source book for anyone working with music of the period and a fascinating read for the generally curious, like me.

Reviewed by Kathy Watson

Good-Bye Maoriland: The Songs and Sounds of New Zealand’s Great War
by Chris Bourke
Published by Auckland University Press
ISBN 9781869408718