Saturday, 23 June 2012

Book Review-Scram by Harry Benson

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Having followed the Falklands War as a school kid and read quite a number of other books on the subject from many differing participants; I eagerly looked forward to reading this unique account. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed, though the ‘memories’ presented do seem to get a little blurred occasionally.

So why is it a ‘unique’ account? Well as far as I’m aware, this is the only version of the Falklands War written through the eyes of the helicopter pilots, or as I now know them, the ‘Junglies’. The author, Harry Benson was a young, 21 year old helicopter pilot straight out of training. As a result, Harry didn’t sail with the task force but went in one of the later waves of pilots sent down to the battle, only arriving towards the end of the conflict. As a result, his own experiences of the war largely concern his immensely slow and frustrating voyage down there and then his flying in the last couple of weeks of the war.

The lack of personal experience doesn’t detract from the story as Harry has spent a significant amount of time interviewing his former colleagues, many of whom have never told their story before. He now presents a chronologically correct account of helicopter operations from the task force setting sail to the Argentine surrender and beyond.

Many of the stories told are pretty rivetting such as the landing of SAS troops on the Fortuna glacier on St Georgia and their subsequent evacuation with the loss of two out of three of the helicopters involved. Descriptions of the rescue operations of the Welsh Guards after the attacks on Sir Galahad and Sir Tristan in Bluff Cove are particularly poignant.

A major takeaway from the book is the number of errors made by our own forces along with the lack of organization, leadership and co-ordination of resources that occurred. There are also details of a ‘friendly fire’ incident involving an Army Gazelle helicopter that I wasn’t previously aware of.

Notwithstanding the lack of leadership, the bravery of the Junglie crews comes through, especially as the war progressed. This is where Harry’s own story comes to the fore; flying night time rescue missions on the battlefield right up to the front line to ferry back the wounded from both sides whilst under artillery fire. It shows how adrenalin can often overtake experience.

One of the scariest moments was a sortie on Mount Tumbledown. They found themselves in an incredibly exposed position on the ground for, “little more than a minute but it seemed like an eternity”; they were being fired upon and could clearly see the heads of enemy soldiers moving around in their trenches. Only when they reached their debriefing were they informed, it had been an operational error - they had been sat right in full view of the Argentine front line.

A particularly obvious theme throughout the book is that of the inter-service rivalry that exists in our armed forces, I noted there being a particular lack of respect between the ‘Junglies’ and the ‘Pingers’ (anti-submarine helicopter pilots). Another neat put-down by Harry was of the RAF’s efforts to bomb the runway at Port Stanley via the long range Vulcan raids, the implication being it was just a token effort and a complete waste of time!

There is a level of bitterness in the book from the author with a recurring feeling that he was cheated out of a proper war by his late arrival on the frontline. Overall though, this doesn’t detract from what is an immensely readable and enjoyable book.

Mark Bowden

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Writing A Novel-The Chicken Run by Lynne Whelon

Lynne at the launch
Lynne is a member of my writing group and has just had her first novel published. She has kindly agreed to do a guest post here about how the novel came about. Sadly I was in France, or more accurately on my to France, when Lynne had her book launch. However, I'll be joining the group for our third anniversary dinner on 27 June and look forward to toasting Lynne's achievement with her then. Details of how to buy her book at the end of this piece. Now, over to Lynne: 

I have always dreamt of writing a book as many of us do, so when I first held the paperback in my hand two months ago it was a wonderful moment – slightly spoilt when I looked through it and found about seventy mistakes. Of course it had to be returned but it was still a glorious feeling!

I began to write ‘The Chicken Run’  about twenty years ago. This may seem like an incredibly long time but it was only when I retired from full-time work three years ago that I looked at it again and thought,  ‘I may be able to do something with this’.

I was inspired to set ‘The Chicken Run’ in East London as, when I worked there in 1960’s, it was one of the happiest times of my life, changed my whole way of thinking and made me a completely different person. I learnt the importance of loyalty, sense of community and humour and have as a result tried to uphold them all my life. I also recognised how privileged my upbringing had been. My life chances would never have been available to any of the people I had met during those years. Life certainly is a lottery.

Anyway I am waffling, back to the book.

I worked with a lovely lady called Elsie in Hackney. Every day, when the air raid sirens were used to signal lunch break at the factory opposite the nursery where we worked,  her whole body trembled so much she had to sit down.

‘She was at the disaster at Bethnal Green Station during the war,’ one of the nursery nurses explained. ‘Her sister died.’

‘So why do they still use the sirens?’ I asked. ‘If it upsets people like that?’

She shrugged her shoulders. No-one ever thought to question it and no-one in authority had the sensitivity to stop it.

I had never heard about the tragedy. It was only years later I read an article in a newspaper about this, the worst civilian disaster of the Second World War.

I knew then that Elsie would be in the book that one day I WAS going to write!  I had my setting and one of my main characters.

I had always worked with children. In day nurseries, nursery schools, holiday camps, nanny work, many years as a nursery stewardess on cruise ships, playgroups and in my work for the last thirteen years in a primary school. When I did any other job I missed them so I figured children would be necessary in my story but these wouldn’t be ‘cosy’ middle class children. They would be street kids, bad language an’ all but with all the qualities mentioned above.

Back in 1955, the year in which ‘The Chicken Run’ is set, there were very few people with televisions, certainly no computers or playstations. Kids played out all day with their catapults, footballs, bows and arrows (all home-made) and go-karts – oh and not forgetting, their incredible imaginations! Parents didn’t have a clue what their children were doing. They only came home for tea.

In ‘The Chicken Run’ you can see exactly what they got up to.

The adults too, were far removed from the children’s lives. The kids were told nothing. They never knew about the secret desires of their parents or anything about their poverty stricken pre-war childhoods in the depression of 1930’s. Yet they were no different really from adults today except there were more consequences to their actions. The strict moral code of the 1950’s ensured most of them stayed on the straight and narrow but there were exceptions and most of my characters will fall into that category. It would have been a very boring book otherwise.

So now I have my characters. What will my main plot be? My inspiration was an old black and white film ‘Whistle Down The Wind’ starring Hayley Mills and written brilliantly by her mother Mary Hayley Bell. Although her story was set in the Yorkshire Dales and the farming community, those children in the fifties had the same imaginations as my little street kids. So I needed a plot. Misunderstandings between adults and children, keeping the truth from children and the children’s great imaginations. These lead to the children in Whistle Down The Wind mistaking an escaped prisoner for Jesus Christ and almost culminated in a violent ending. So this was what I set out to do with ‘The Chicken Run’.

As for any more planning than that – not really!  I never had a strict writing schedule and my story just seemed to unfold as I wrote, characters became alive and often did things I wasn’t planning on them doing. ‘Old Bones’ only came into the story after a workmate complained about her ‘old bones aching’ What a great name for a character I thought. He became an important part of the book. I knew my ending very early on and I knew I wanted it to be positive and optimistic.

I also wanted people to accept that it wasn’t all friendly folk and jollity in those days. There were many things that needed changing and fortunately some have. I wanted ‘The Chicken Run’ to be real, not cosy. There is some strong language but I believe it to be necessary and make no apologies for it. Not that I ever swear of course!

I do agree with whoever said that everyone’s first book is total self-indulgence. That is not the same as an autobiography. Having said that, a little bit of me and most of the people I have ever met will be found, probably in every character.

After sending my manuscript to about five publishers and waiting, often up to six months for a standard rejection letter, I decided to publish myself and last November my novel was on Amazon Kindle. I had already gained a lot of very valuable feedback on the first chapters from a writing site called

At the launch with fans!
Before self- publishing in paperback I did pay to have a professional critique. I took most of their advice and the fact that they told me ‘The Chicken Run’ was ‘comparable to published works and had genuinely original qualities’ encouraged me to go ahead.

I held a book launch at a hotel near my home and invited everyone. I sold out and had to order more copies. It was a lovely afternoon and my friends all brought cakes with them so my Weightwatchers diet went out of the window!

The great thing about self-publishing now is that it can be done at almost no cost on sites like Feedaread and I really was very pleased with the quality. Waterstones in Lancaster are looking at ‘The Chicken Run’ now and fingers crossed that they will have it on their shelves soon.

The easy bit of ‘The Chicken Run’ was the writing, the last year has been mainly about editing and proofreading with the help and suggestions of a friend who has advised me from the beginning and a great amount of technical help on the computer from one of the girls in my writing group!

I have had some great feedback  and have been asked if I will be writing a follow-up. I think I may have to. I’ve got quite attached to my characters and would like to intrude into their lives for just a little while longer.

As I’m sixty three now I’d better get a move on in case this one takes twenty years!

Now, what to do for a new plot...

Thank you Greg for asking me to guest on your blog! ‘The Chicken Run’ is now available on Amazon paperbacks at £7.99 and Amazon E Books at £1.97

Many congratulations Lynne, a wonderful achievement!

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Social History

History is my subject, I love it. I particularly love modern history and reading or listening to peoples' accounts of their lives, be it friends and aquaintances, who are much older I must add, or wonderful oral history projects such as that at the Manchester Jewish Museum, where hundreds of Jewish migrants were interviewed about their lives in Manchester and Salford in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

A friend in my writing group has recently published her mother-in-law's memoirs about life for a working classe family in 1920s agricultural Britain. I have read excerpts and am looking forward to reading the whole, it is such a change from the usual work about poor people in the industrial heartlands.

The book is entitled My Life in Cottage Homes in the 1920s. Click on the link to find out more and to buy on Amazon Kindle..

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Christmas Books

Two friends in my writing group in North Lancashire have books out on Amazon Kindle. They are both debut books and well worth a read.

Lynne Freeman's book is Out In The Sticks.

Sara is a young girl straight from High School with a passion for animals. She goes to work at a boarding kennels in Cumbria with a menagerie of creatures in her care.

This funny, sometimes moving book is full of lively anecdotes about country life among the animals, some sad, some surprising and some just plain silly. All of them are true.

Buy It Here

Lynne Whelon's book is The Chicken Run.

Kate Potter has kept her secrets from the past but they keep coming back to haunt her. She is now living on an estate in East London with her husband Alfie and son Jimmy.

The kids and the adults on the estate lead almost separate lives. But then the colourful imagination of the kids clashes with the monotonous reality of adulthood in post-war London and events begin to take a sinister turn.

Buy It Here

Times are hard and both of these books would make ideal, affordable and highly entertaining stocking fillers for friends, family and colleagues. As well you will be supporting new writers who are driven by their love of writing.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Shortworks at the Contact Theatre, Manchester

Contact's partner writing group Scriptworks will host a mix of performance and script in hand readings by four inspiring new playwrights. Shortworks is a showcase of 10 minute extracts of new pieces created by Matthew Duffy, Lee Thompson, Lily Dong and Sarah Speak.

Each performance will be followed by Q&A sessions with the writers, directors and cast

Suitable for 18+.

Full details about this event and other events visit the Contact Theatre website.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

For The Fallen-Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Twitter Poem

Gordon Brown is finished
That does sound good
Might have to try that for breakfast this week
Back from the launderette, still raining
Read about the demise of the UK
Political tribes
Set your goals high, and don't stop till you get there
Good morning world
Still raining in Lancashire
Why does it always rain on bank holidays?
Is the UK dying?
Eric Cantona-Genius!
History never looks like history when you are living through it
London is great but good to be back in Carnforth
Back from London
Sister married, great time
The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation
It's raining again!
Sister's wedding tomorrow
They've only been together 30 years. A bit rash!
Defeat is not the worst of failures. Not to have tried is the true failure