Friday, 29 January 2010

The Hostage Handbook - Anthony Grey

I have written a feature for Let's Talk magazine's March issue about Anthony Grey's new book The Hostage Handbook Also posted feature below

The Hostage Handbook

Anthony Grey cut his journalistic teeth on the EDP in the early 1960s, before heading behind The Iron Curtain as a Reuters correspondent, covering The Cold War in East Berlin, Prague, Warsaw, Bucharest, Budapest and Sofia. He went further east in March 1967 as the only UK correspondent in China at the height of the Cultural Revolution. But Anthony soon fell foul of worsening diplomatic relations between Britain and China, was imprisoned by The Red Guards for more than two years in a tiny slogan daubed room in his house, and became the first modern western hostage.

During his confinement Anthony managed to keep a secret diary, composed in shorthand, chronicling the day-to-day psychological battle to survive in his 8ft by 8ft prison. He also managed to write a series of short stories and created crosswords, playing a vital part in his ongoing struggle.
Following his release in October 1969, he wrote Hostage in Peking in six weeks. "Everything was so fresh in my mind then, that I scarcely needed to refer to the diaries in writing the book. I did quote from the text of the entries in a few places to add immediacy to the story," explained Anthony.
Hostage in Peking was published in seven countries and sold well, fuelled by the international publicity surrounding his experiences in China. The short stories appeared as A Man Alone, republished in 2008 as What is the Universe In? and were soon followed into print by the crosswords.
The diary was eventually transcribed in 1971 and placed in a deed box and deposited at Anthony’s bank. Meanwhile he developed his writing career, initially producing espionage thrillers, before embarking on a series of historical novels in the 1980s and early 1990s. Saigon, Anthony’s flagship novel, has sold an estimated 1.5 million copies worldwide in nine languages and 15 countries. The San Francisco Chronicle described it as ‘The War and Peace of our age’.
He came home to Norwich in the late 1990s and launched The Tagman Press, a publishing imprint focussing on books that challenge convention. The writings of the exiled Iranian Dr Fereydoon Batmanghelidj, including the best-selling Your Body’s Many Cries for Water, became Tagman’s lead publications. Then a merger in 2006 with the CLE Print Group in St Ives, Cambridgeshire, gave Anthony the opportunity to republish his novels under The Tagman banner.
His thoughts turned to the original diary. "I hoarded the secret shorthand diaries like a miser in the deed box at my bank. I always felt instinctively they might be of value one day if they were transcribed into an entire book."
Publishing the diaries has not been an easy experience for Anthony. The project has taken three years to come to fruition. He added a commentary, interpreting his entries and agonised over the book’s value to a 21st century audience. Raking over his past led to periods of deep depression and Anthony was forced to seek professional help to confront his 40-year old Chinese demons.
"I always felt there might be some inspiration or insights in my diaries which readers would see – and above all I hoped with my added commentary that they might be found uplifting, despite the awfulness of two years in virtual solitary confinement. So at long last on the 40th anniversary of my release, they are finally in print….And it does feel good in a way I can’t define."
"It’s a bit like a second freedom for me too. The experience now feels like some kind of delayed action privilege – a great reminder to me and perhaps to readers too, about how precious is the freedom we often take for granted, and how greatly we should always appreciate and enjoy every second of it."
The Hostage Handbook is a remarkable publication. It is a gripping drama. You are with Anthony all the way as he wins his little victories over the guards – moments of great triumph and celebration. The joy of getting a fresh apple to eat, or the return of his cheque book, receiving post from home or being able to send cables or cards to the outside world.
Then there are moments of classic British understatement and humour and longing for sex and booze…and the plans and plans. Anthony made lots of plans to keep him going by the day, week and month. Trying to control his relationship with the guards, learn yoga, keep fit with a regular exercise regime, write his diary and short stories and compose the crosswords.
He often castigates himself for reading too much into slight changes of routine, thinking that his release was imminent. This plunged him into deep despair. Difficult meetings with British diplomats, allowed by the Chinese to check on his wellbeing, hugely frustrate both hostage and reader. But the order and the personal plans return – Anthony’s mechanism for coping with his very difficult circumstances.
Moments of great excitement, especially in the final months when conditions changed and Anthony was allowed out of his tiny cell to go upstairs to his study, are wonderfully uplifting. His radio works and he soon hears The Beatles new single Get Back and news about the American flight to The Moon.
These were the sounds of freedom, tantalisingly near and soon to be in his grasp. Anthony Grey’s survival teaches us to appreciate the senses of freedom – the walk along the beach, the trips to the pub, friends, family and laughter, autumn colours, sunrise and sunset. The rhythms of our lives that we should never take for granted.

The Hostage Handbook is published by The Tagman Press, price £12. Available online at, tel. 0845 6444 186. Also on sale at Jarrold’s Norwich and The Book Hive, London Street, Norwich.

Spring Lambs Arriving at Wroxham Barns

The spring lambs are arriving at Junior Farm Wroxham Barns Daily indoor bottle-feeding sessions are scheduled to begin on Saturday, February 13. Photograph shows Eileen Calverley, Junior Farm Manager with new arrivals.

Wroxham Barns’ lambs are all the smallest of triplets from local farms and will consume more than 5,000 litres of milk during the bottle-feeding season up to the end of July. Ewes find it difficult to look after triplets, so Junior Farm visitors who feed the lambs are helping out as surrogate mums. Admission to Junior Farm is £3.95 (under three free), open 10am to 5pm.

The farm was runner up in the National Farm Attractions Network’s Farm of the Year competition in 2008, has Countryside Education Visits Scheme (CEVAS) accreditation and has the learning outside the classroom quality mark from the Council for Learning Outside the Classroom.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Raveningham Gardens Snowdrop Spectacular

Raveningham Gardens opens for the snowdrop season from Tuesday, February 9 to Friday, February 19. Drifts of snowdrops in the main garden will be on display daily from 11am to 4pm (weekdays) and 2pm to 4pm on Saturday and Sunday (dusk if earlier). Admission is adults £4, concessions £3.50 and children under 16 free; all proceeds go to Priscilla Bacon Lodge, a centre for specialist palliative care services in Norwich.

Raveningham Hall is the home of Sir Nicholas and Lady Bacon. It was Sir Nicholas’ mother, Priscilla Bacon, who added snowdrops to the garden.

Visitors on Valentine’s Day, February 14 will have a special treat – tea and homemade cakes will be on offer during the afternoon.

The 18th century Walled Kitchen Garden with its large glasshouses will be open and visitors will also be able to enjoy views across the new lake established at the turn of the Millennium and the contemporary sculpture in the gardens.

Raveningham Gardens (NR14 6NS) is 10 miles south east of Norwich, signposted off the A146 at Hales, then B1136, tel. 01508 548152,

Holocaust Memorial Day at The Forum, Norwich

I will be at The Millennium Library, The Forum, Norwich on Wednesday 27 January, Holocaust Memorial Day giving a Miracle in Kigali talk, 6pm to 7pm - just me not Illuminee.

Monday, 4 January 2010

Fairhaven Garden - Gold Award - Green Tourism Business Scheme

Congratulations to Fairhaven Woodland and Water Garden, South Walsham, for achieving the Gold standard in the Green Tourism Business Scheme, the national sustainable tourism scheme for the UK, Fairhaven is the first visitor attraction in Norfolk to receive a Gold award, which follows the garden’s Sustainable Tourism accolade in November’s EDP Tourism in Norfolk Awards.

The Green Tourism Business Scheme audit report stated that: "Fairhaven is a very eco related gardens attraction. The buildings have incorporated some of the most progressive green elements including heat pumps, rainwater harvesting and sustainable construction methods. The garden areas are very natural and include walks for disabled with a braille trail for visitors. Fairhaven has an excellent craft shop with a great many local and environmentally sourced products. The café area has a strong focus on providing and promoting local food. Overall a good Gold award winning business."

Fairhaven was also a finalist in East of England Tourism’s England for Excellence Awards 2009, Sustainable Tourism category, was highly commended in the CPRE Norfolk Awards 2008 and was winner of the Business Waste, best practice category in The Norfolk Waste Partnership Awards 2008.