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September 2016

Ben Macintyre Introduces His New Book, SAS: Rogue Heroes
26th September 2016

Ben Macintyre is the bestselling author of several books including A Spy Among Friends, Operation Mincemeat and Agent Zigzag, which was shortlisted for the Costa Biography Award and the Galaxy British Book Award for Biography of the Year 2008. He is a columnist and Associate Editor at The Times.

His latest book, SAS: Rogue Heroes is the first ever authorised history of the SAS, commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Regiment, the most celebrated and mysterious military organisation in the world. The history of the SAS is an exhilarating tale of fearlessness and heroism, recklessness and tragedy; of extraordinary men who were willing to take monumental risks.

Below, exclusively for Foyles, Ben introduces his new book and explains his discovery of how the story of the SAS differs from the myth. Plus, click the link below to read the prologue.





The Meaning of Courage

Everyone has image of the SAS: feats of physical endurance involving over-muscled men yomping across the landscape, soldiers in balaclavas abseiling down the side of the Iranian embassy, news stories of secret soldiers carrying out operations in farflung warzones, long on drama, but usually short on detail.

The true story of the wartime SAS, I discovered, is very different from the myth.

It is an astonishing adventure story, filled with tales of physical endurance, courage and survival.  But it is much more than that.

Many books about the SAS have focused on a single individual, consequently downplaying the impact of others; some veer towards the hagiographic; many are somewhat over-muscled, tending to emphasize machismo at the expense of objectivity, physical strength over the psychological stamina that was the hallmark of the organization in its earliest incarnation. While many members of the wartime SAS exhibited extraordinary qualities, they were also human: flawed, occasionally cruel, and capable of making spectacular mistakes. The SAS has become a legend, but the true story contains darkness as well as light, tragedy and evil alongside heroism: it is a tale of unparalleled bravery and ingenuity, interspersed with moments of rank incompetence, raw brutality and touching human frailty.

Bravery sometimes comes in unexpected forms, and in places far from the battlefield. The wartime history of the SAS is a rattling adventure story, but in my book I have also tried to explore the psychology of secret, unconventional warfare, a particular attitude of mind at a crucial moment in history, and the reactions of ordinary people to extraordinary wartime circumstances.

Rather to my surprise, this turned out to a book about the meaning of courage.

Read the prologue here


A Stinky #FoyesFive!
25th September 2016 - Andi Yates

Foyles Five stinky picture books


Happy Birthday Foyles Birmingham Grand Central!


I can't believe a year has gone by already; and what a year it has been! From our spectacular opening with the amazing Cressida Cowell, to the Storybox Festival this summer with all the amazing authors who took part and helped us become a part of the Birmingham community.


Poo Bum by Stephanie BlakeFor our Birthday Celebration we are celebrating with a rather Poopalicious display! Yes, you heard it right. Poo. Why is this you may ask? Can you guess what our bestselling picture book of the year is?


For those who don't already own a copy, it's Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake!


Here are our Five Favourite Stinky books to keep you going 'euwww!'


Poo Bum by Stephanie Blake

Our best selling picture book this year and we can understand why. Hilariously funny, it appeals to children and adults alike. It's the perfect story to read aloud. This naughty little rabbit will only say one thing... can you guess what it is?




The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew it was None of his Business by Werner Holzwarth

My favourite poo book ever! This poor little mole has something yucky on his head, but what is it? And, who did it? It's up to him to find out get his revenge.


Poo in the Zoo by Steve Smallman

A perfectly disgusting book to read out loud to your children. With brilliant rhymes, and radioactive poo who could resist this little glowing gem?


Where's the Poop? By Julie Markes

Lift-the-flap to find the poo in this funny and factual picture book that reinforces potty training as it shows that every animal has a place to poop, just like us.


Jurassic Poop! By Jacob Berkowitz

A bright, funny non-fiction picture book about ancient dinosaur doo-doo, and what it can tell us about life with the dinosaurs. Who knew poo could tell us so much about history?!



Caz Hildebrand's Top Ten Herbs
20th September 2016 - Caz Hildebrand

Caz Hildebrand is one of the Creative Partners at Here Design. She is the award-winning designer of bestselling cookbooks by Nigella Lawson, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sam and Sam Clark of Moro. In 2010 she created The Geometry of Pasta with Bocca di Lupo chef Jacob Kenedy, revealing the secrets of eating the authentic Italian way.  Now her own book has just been published: Herbarium explores the histories, associations and uses of 100 herbs, as well as providing ideas for both food and wellbeing. Beautifully illustrated, it is a joy to look at and a treasure trove of information.

Below, exclusively for Foyles, Caz reveals her top ten herbs.


Photo of Caz © Mark C O'Flaherty

Images below, top to bottom, Dill, Horseradish, Sorrel, all from Herbarium




Caz's Top Ten All-Time Favourite Herbs


Dill (left) for being so strangely reminscent of all things Scandi, yet equally at home in Middle-eastern and Persian cuisine. 

Alecost I think will be the next big thing to be ‘discovered’ in the herb world.

Chervil 'herb of rejoicing’ I love this for its aniseed-lite delicacy, both in appearance and in flavour. It’s well overdue for renaissance




Horseradish is everything that Chervil isn’t. Strong, hot, to the point of inducing eye-watering heat and powerfully pungent.

Lemon Thyme for a softer thyme scent and taste and a warming Mediterranean lilt.

Lemon Verbena for a restorative and refreshing tisane, day or night.

Elder This has so much versatility and just makes everything delicious.




Sorrel For its citrus tang and earthy nature.

Bay So overlooked, but to me an intrinsic and essential herb.

Flat Parsley Can’t imagine life without this green goodness.



Chitra Soundar on Diverse Picture Books
19th September 2016 - Chitra Soundar

Chitra Soundar is the author of A Dollop of Ghee and a Pot of Wisdom and other stories from India. She lives in London in a flat filled with books, notebooks and the smell of spices. @csoundar

Her latest book Pattan’s Pumpkin, is an ancient previously untold flood story from the Irular tribe that live in the valleys of the Sahaydri Mountains of the Western Ghats, a UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

Below, Chitra talks about some of her favourite diverse picture books that tell previously untold stories.





1. The Black Book of Colours by Menena Cottin & Rosana Faria transcends disability and kindles empathy. It teaches young readers to experience colours through all their senses.


2. Made by Raffi by Craig Pomranz and Margaret Chamberlain is a reminder that peer pressure starts in primary school. It reminds us that no matter what others think, every child should learn to follow their heart.


3. Handa’s Hen by Eileen Browne is a sure favourite of mine because its vibrant colours and the African setting celebrates every day life and its surprises in Handa’s life.


4. My Two Grannies by Floella Benjamin and Margaret Chamberlain is a gift to all kids who grow up in multi-heritage families, different yet equally loving.


5. I Love My Hair by Natasha Anastasia Tarpley and E.B. Lewis, is a reminder for all kids (and perhaps even adults) to know and take pride in their own heritage.


6. Here I am by Patti Kim and Sonia Sanchez is a wordless book that tells the story of how bewilderment could change to belonging. And we all want to belong.


7. Looking for Lord Ganesh by Mahtab Narasimhan and Sonja Wimmer resonates with the maxim I was taught as a child and still believe in - God helps those who help themselves.


8. Immi by Karin Littlewood brought me the magic of finding the colourful wooden bird in a white snowy world. It is all for all children looking for friendship wherever they may be.


9. Shh! We have a Plan by Chris Haughton is a book of many layers and the truths hidden in this book are treasures to find in every reading. And you will read it many times.


10. Amazing Grace by Mary Hoffman and Caroline Binch is filled with creativity, joy and one important truth - every child, black, brown, white, able-bodied or otherwise should know – you can be whatever you want. Go for it!


Peter Wohlleben on the Forest as a Social Network
16th September 2016 - Peter Wohlleben

Peter Wohlleben spent over twenty years working for the forestry commission in Germany before leaving to put his ideas of ecology into practice. He now runs an environmentally-friendly woodland in Germany, where he is working for the return of primeval forests. He is the author of numerous books about trees.

In his new book The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate-Discoveries from a Secret World Peter convincingly makes the case for the forest as a social network. He draws on groundbreaking scientific discoveries to describe how trees are like human families: tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, support them as they grow, share nutrients with those who are sick or struggling, and even warn each other of impending dangers. Wohlleben also shares his deep love of woods and forests, explaining the amazing processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in his woodland. After learning about the complex life of trees, a walk in the woods will never be the same again. Read an illustrated edited extract below.





The Hidden Life of Trees

When I began my professional career as a forester, I knew about as much about the hidden life of trees as a butcher knows about the emotional life of animals. The modern forestry industry produces lumber. That is to say, it fells trees and then plants new seedlings. If you read the professional literature, you quickly get the impression that the well-being of the forest is only of interest insofar as it is necessary for optimizing the lumber industry. That is enough for what foresters do day to day, and eventually it distorts the way they look at trees. Because it was my job to look at hundreds of trees every day—spruce, beeches, oaks, and pines—to assess their suitability for the lumber mill and their market value, my appreciation of trees was also restricted to this narrow point of view.



About twenty years ago, I began to organize survival training and log-cabin tours for tourists. Then I added a place in the forest where people can be buried as an alternative to traditional graveyards, and an ancient forest preserve. In conversations with the many visitors who came, my view of the forest changed once again. Visitors were enchanted by crooked, gnarled trees I would previously have dismissed because of their low commercial value. Walking with my visitors, I learned to pay attention to more than just the quality of the trees’ trunks. I began to notice bizarre root shapes, peculiar growth patterns, and mossy cushions on bark. My love of Nature—something I’ve had since I was six years old was reignited. Suddenly, I was aware of countless wonders I could hardly explain even to myself. At the same time, Aachen University (RWTH Aachen) began conducting regular scientific research programs in the forest I manage. During the course of this research, many questions were answered, but many more emerged.


Life as a forester became exciting once again. Every day in the forest was a day of discovery. This led me to unusual ways of managing the forest. When you know that trees experience pain and have memories and that tree parents live together with their children, then you can no longer just chop them down and disrupt their lives with large machines. Machines have been banned from the forest for a couple of decades now, and if a few individual trees need to be harvested from time to time, the work is done with care by foresters using horses instead. A healthier—perhaps you could even say happier— forest is considerably more productive, and that means it is also more profitable.


I invite you to share with me the joy trees can bring us. And, who knows, perhaps on your next walk in the forest, you will discover for yourself wonders great and small.


****   ****    ****    ****    **** 


Gardeners often ask me if their trees are growing too close together. Won’t they deprive each other of light and water? This concern comes from the forestry industry. In commercial forests, trees are supposed to grow thick trunks and be harvest-ready as quickly as possible. And to do that, they need a lot of space and large, symmetrical, rounded crowns. In regular five-year cycles, any supposed competition is cut down so that the remaining trees are free to grow. Because these trees will never grow old they are destined for the sawmill when they are only about a hundred— the negative effects of this management practice are barely noticeable.


What negative effects? Doesn’t it sound logical that a tree will grow better if bothersome competitors are removed so that there’s plenty of sunlight available for its crown and plenty of water for its roots? And for trees belonging to different species that is indeed the case. They really do struggle with each other for local resources. But it’s different for trees of the same species.


It is obviously not in a forest’s best interest to lose its weaker members. If that were to happen, it would leave gaps that would disrupt the forest’s sensitive microclimate with its dim light and high humidity. If it weren’t for the gap issue, every tree could develop freely and lead its own life. I say “could” because beeches, at least, seem to set a great deal of store by sharing resources.


Students at the Institute for Environmental Research at RWTH Aachen discovered something amazing about photosynthesis in undisturbed beech forests. Apparently, the trees synchronize their performance so that they are all equally successful. And that is not what one would expect. Each beech tree grows in a unique location, and conditions can vary greatly in just a few yards. The soil can be stony or loose. It can retain a great deal of water or almost no water. It can be full of nutrients or extremely barren. Accordingly, each tree experiences different growing conditions; therefore, each tree grows more quickly or more slowly and produces more or less sugar or wood, and thus you would expect every tree to be photosynthesizing at a different rate.


And that’s what makes the research results so astounding. The rate of photosynthesis is the same for all the trees. The trees, it seems, are equalizing differences between the strong and the weak. Whether they are thick or thin, all members of the same species are using light to produce the same amount of sugar per leaf. This equalization is taking place underground through the roots. There’s obviously a lively exchange going on down there. Whoever has an abundance of sugar hands some over; whoever is running short gets help. Once again, fungi are involved. Their enormous networks act as gigantic redistribution mechanisms. It’s a bit like the way social security systems operate to ensure individual members of society don’t fall too far behind.


In such a system, it is not possible for the trees to grow too close to each other. Quite the opposite. Huddling together is desirable and the trunks are often spaced no more than 3 feet apart. Because of this, the crowns remain small and cramped, and even many foresters believe this is not good for the trees. Therefore, the trees are spaced out through felling, meaning that supposedly excess trees are removed. However, colleagues from Lübeck in northern Germany have discovered that a beech forest is more productive when the trees are packed together. A clear annual increase in biomass, above all wood, is proof of the health of the forest throng.


When trees grow together, nutrients and water can be optimally divided among them all so that each tree can grow into the best tree it can be. If you “help” individual trees by getting rid of their supposed competition, the remaining trees are bereft. They send messages out to their neighbors in vain, because nothing remains but stumps. Every tree now muddles along on its own, giving rise to great differences in productivity. Some individuals photosynthesize like mad until sugar positively bubbles along their trunk. As a result, they are fit and grow better, but they aren’t particularly long-lived. This is because a tree can be only as strong as the forest that surrounds it. And there are now a lot of losers in the forest. Weaker members, who would once have been supported by the stronger ones, suddenly fall behind. Whether the reason for their decline is their location and lack of nutrients, a passing malaise, or genetic makeup, they now fall prey to insects and fungi.


But isn’t that how evolution works? you ask. The survival of the fittest? Trees would just shake their heads—or rather their crowns. Their well-being depends on their community, and when the supposedly feeble trees disappear, the others lose as well. When that happens, the forest is no longer a single closed unit. Hot sun and swirling winds can now penetrate to the forest floor and disrupt the moist, cool climate. Even strong trees get sick a lot over the course of their lives. When this happens, they depend on their weaker neighbors for support. If they are no longer there, then all it takes is what would once have been a harmless insect attack to seal the fate even of giants.


 'A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.' Trees could have come up with this old craftsperson’s saying. And because they know this intuitively, they do not hesitate to help each other out.



Photo Credits:

Trees: Aspen, Birch, Pein © Briana Garelli

Peter's Beech Grove © Peter Wohlleben




Andrew Lambert on the Sea and English Identity Post-Brexit
14th September 2016 - Andrew Lambert

Andrew Lambert is Laughton Professor of Naval History in the Department of War Studies at King's College, London. His books include: The Crimean War: British Grand Strategy against Russia 1853-1856, The Foundations of Naval History: Sir John Laughton, the Royal Navy and the Historical Profession, Nelson: Britannia’s God of War, Admirals, Franklin: Tragic hero of Polar Navigation and The Challenge: Britain versus America in the Naval War of 1812, winner of the Anderson Medal of the Society for Nautical Research. Andrew's new book Crusoe's Island: A Rich and Curious History of Pirates, Castaways and Madness charts the curious relationship between the British and a tiny foreign island on the other side of the world: Robinson Crusoe, in the South Pacific, which he links to the construction of Englishness. The island assumed a remarkable position in British culture - most famously in Daniel Defoe’s novel - and played a pivotal role in Britain’s creation of a maritime trading empire. Drawing on voyage accounts, journal entries, maps and illustrations, Andrew reveals the truth behind the legend of the place, bringing to life the voices of the sailors, scientists, writers and artists who visited the island.

Below, exclusively for Foyles, Andrew writes about the sea and English identity, post-Brexit, and contends that Britain is far more intimately connected with South Asia, the West Indies, Africa and a world beyond Europe than it is with the adjacent Continent.






The Sea and English Identity, Post-Brexit

How can we explain Brexit to our European friends? Why did the English, and the Welsh, vote to leave Europe, while the Scots prefer to stay?

Many answers have been offered, from voter demographics, not enough young people voted, to protests against ‘the system’, ‘the establishment’ and ‘experts’. It turns out demographics were far less important than many thought, and the protest requires more analysis. My own thinking was shaped by a month spent working with a Bavarian film crew on Robinson Crusoe Island, off the Coast of Chile, examining why this and other tiny islands mean so much to the English.

 Five hundred years ago the English (pre Act of Union but already ruling Wales) began a conscious process of re-shaping the national identity around insularity, and oceanic opportunity. This was a direct response to the formation of major nation states in Western Europe, France and Spain, while the Habsburg dynasty created a pan-European quasi-hegemonic Holy Roman Empire based in Austria and Flanders. England could not compete with such powers in Europe, so the English shifted their attention to the sea, just as three masted sailing ships armed with cannons made it possible to defend the British Isles – hence the Royal Navy of Henry VII and Henry VIII. Thomas More celebrated insularity and ships in Utopia, an allegory of an idealised England deliberately cut off from the threat of an over-mighty continent. Read in this context Henry VIII’s break with the Roman Church was a question of security and sovereignty, central issues in the Brexit debate. The shift of focus was sustained by a new English mythology of naval and oceanic prowess, King Arthur conquered Iceland and Prince Madoc discovered America, suitable themes for a Welsh dynasty. To sustain these claims Tudor England consciously acquired the necessary navigational and shipbuilding skills, by borrowing, theft and servile copying. Then in 1588 the global hegemon, Imperial Spain, tried to force England back into a European order dominated by the centralising Habsburg dynasty and Catholicism. The defeat of the Armada turned all the mythology into reality, it became the foundation myth of the English nation. The Armada still resonates. Only a decade ago fresh images of the battle were installed in the House of Lords, to join Trafalgar as the expression of a national culture that Shakespeare, who lived through the heady days of 1588, did so much to shape. These stories inspired English imperial expansion long before 1707. Despite the end of empire, Britain remains a global player, while much of Europe appears self-obsessed and inward looking. Other European maritime countries, oceanic, global trading nations like Denmark and Holland, are among the least enthusiastic about Europe. The Danes, like the British, kept their own currency: the Dutch were compelled to vote twice before they gave up the guilder.

 Few contributors to the Brexit debate recognised the fundamental difference of outlook that separates the English from Europe. Speaking at a Commonwealth War Cemetery on the Somme David Cameron claimed the cemetery proved how engaged Britain had been with Europe. His words demonstrated how deep the European vision had penetrated the British political class, and the misguided Eurocentric history that it has promoted. The Commonwealth War Graves contain the remains of thousands of soldiers who came from across the world to save Britain from Europe. Since 1588 England/Britain has engaged with Europe to prevent the emergence of a single hegemonic power that could threaten national security, be it Louis XIV, Napoleon, the Kaiser, Hitler or Stalin: it did not seek to become part of Europe, holding no mainland territory. Excluded from European markets by tariff barriers Britain created the globalised world economy as an alternative economic outlet, and Britain prospered, building a dynamic, technologically advanced economy.  

 In 1719 Daniel Defoe, spy, propagandist, novelist and economic thinker, created Robinson Crusoe, the exemplary Englishman abroad. Liberal, progressive and inclusive, Crusoe fought cannibals, and made his island prosperous and secure. Defoe’s message was clear, his half German hero was an analogue for the new German King, while Crusoe’s island off the Orinoco River linked him with Sir Walter Raleigh, patron saint of English Empire. Defoe’s economic writing looked to a future in which Britain, free from costly European entanglements, and safe behind a dominant Royal Navy, could profit from global trade, while avoiding the human and economic costs of seemingly endless European strife. Between 1688 and 1713 England had known only five anxious years of peace. Defoe’s book helped shape the mental world of eighteenth century Britain, although Crusoe’s island was relocated from the Caribbean to the South Pacific, because readers believed Defoe had re-worked Alexander Selkirk’s four year sojourn on Juan Fernandez Island.

 Today Crusoe reminds us that Britain is far more intimately connected with South Asia, the West Indies, Africa and a world beyond Europe than it is with the adjacent Continent. I am not alone in having blood relatives in the Commonwealth, and none in Europe. Current Eurocentric views of Britain deny those with origins in the Commonwealth any place in the national story. Such distortions do nothing to aid integration or the development of a modern inclusive identity. Crusoe’s Island may be a microcosm of a much larger debate, but this tiny speck of green on the other side of world, an island that was never British, offers a rich and curious insight into a distinctive English identity, one that stretches back over five centuries, and boils down to a profound aversion to being told what to do by foreigners, a luxury made possible by living on an island, and sustained by centuries of naval power.  


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