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June 2019

'Inspired by exasperation and optimism'—Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible
10th June 2019 - Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené

'Inspired by exasperation and optimism'—Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible

Slay in Your Lane paperback

The inspirational Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené have created the book to guide black women through the 21st century. It features interviews with some of Britain's most successful black women, shares their experiences and celebrates their  achievments. Below we have an exclusive introduction to the book's creation from both Yomi and Elizabeth, and an extract from Slay in Your Lane.


Yomi Adegoke

We have several hopes and dreams for the book, and they continue to grow and change daily. But our most basic and fixed hope is that our book actually, tangibly helps people. We hope it helps black women manoeuvre tricky situations in work, dating, education etc, through the practical advice and tips. There are a host of wonderful books out there that aid women in tackling certain issues head on - we hope that black women will be able to find specific, tailored advice where those books weren’t able to provide it. 


We hope it helps black women articulate their unique experiences that are so often invisibilised. For us, it was really important to ensure that we helped highlight and give credence to things that so many of us have sensed but have felt unable to verbalise or prove. With a combination of statistical evidence and data, as well as the anecdotes from our roster of incredible interviewees, we aim to ensure genuine concerns and experiences are not ever again written off as a mere “chip on a shoulder”.


We hope this book helps black women unlock their potential and find comfort in seeing themselves and their identities reflected back at them. Several of our interviewees have said in order to achieve it, you have to see it - Slay In Your Lane ensures that black British women (and girls) are given the opportunity to see they can truly be whatever they want to be, despite the limitations society seeks to set.


And finally, we hope it helps those living outside the black and female experience in the UK understand what that experience is. And furthermore,  how they can be true allies. Several times, white men have asked whether they too can read and enjoy this book, and we hope Slay In Your Lane ushers in a future where this question isn’t even asked. As women who have read about the experiences of white men our whole lives, we believe this book is crucial reading that everyone can learn from.



Elizabeth Uviebinené

Slay in Your Lane was inspired by exasperation and optimism. 


Firstly, exasperation because as black women when we first enter a workplace we can often discover unwritten rules for getting ahead that we struggle to understand, let alone follow, and therefore, unlike our white male or female counterparts, we can’t hit the ground running, even with all the enthusiasm and ambition in the world. We can sometimes often find ourselves shut out of the informal networks that help white men and women find jobs, mentors and sponsors, and through no fault of our own, we then fail to navigate these spaces successfully. I therefore sought advice where so many women do: in books. I bought Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and although there were parts that I learned from and related to, it failed to address the uniquely challenging experiences faced by me and women like me. And why would it? Sandberg can only speak to one facet of my being, my womanhood, which, for me, is wholly intertwined with my identity as a black woman. I spotted that black women weren't widely represented in these genre of books and something needed to be done to broaden the conversation in this category to include our voices. 


Alongside this I was also optimistic and positive about the black female experience and I met successful and inspiring black women from a variety of industries at networking events. 


This all led me to call Yomi who’s my best friend and a journalist. I said “Why don’t you write a book that will speak to young black girls, not just myself? We later decided to work on the book together and established that even though we didn’t have all the advice, we’d go out and ask black British women in a range of fields how they got ahead in their careers. During that conversation it became apparent that it wasn’t just going to be about work, it was also going to be fleshed out into various facets of life from education to dating to health and money management. It essentially became a black girl bible.



‘It’s Always a Race Thing With Her’



‘Work twice as hard to be considered half as good’ was a saying that I, like most black women, grew up with. But it was only as I began my twenties and started to experience more of the world that it really started to hit home.


Slay In Your Lane is the love child of exasperation and optimism. I can’t pinpoint the exact incident that tipped me over the edge – the various microaggressions start to blur into one after some time – but after one particularly frustrating week at work, I realised I was done. Done with feeling conscious of my blackness and femaleness and apologising for just existing. Like me, my black female friends have the ambition and drive to succeed within spaces that were not initially set up for us to excel in, but we have all found that navigating them has proved to be a challenge at times.


I sought advice where so many women do: in books. I bought Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, and although there were parts that I learned from and related to, I felt it failed to address the uniquely challenging experiences faced by me and women like me. And why would it? Sandberg can only speak to one facet of my being, my womanhood, which, for me, is wholly intertwined with my identity as a black woman.


So I went looking for black women at networking events who could speak to my experience, and advise me on how best to navigate my way through the challenges I saw ahead of me. I still felt optimistic and positive about the black female experience and I met successful and inspiring black women from a variety of industries – from a tech entrepreneur turning over six figures to a Magic Circle lawyer carving out her place in a male-dominated field. We shared stories about the challenges we encountered and the triumphs we could see on the horizon. These women were not the finger-snapping stereotypes from a TV series, to which society often reduces the black female experience. They were not monolithic; they were awe-inspiring, amazing and relatable. But something just didn’t add up: why were they only celebrated at ticketed events with limited numbers of seats? I would leave these events feeling reassured that I wasn’t alone, but also saddened that this sense of sisterhood ended with the event. This longing led me to call my best friend, Yomi, who is a journalist, to persuade her to be the one to take on the challenge of amplifying these women’s voices and utilising their priceless advice on a bigger scale. I asked her to write a book that spoke to me, and other young, black, twenty-something women navigating life. Later, we decided to work on this campaign together.


Role models matter to the next generation more than ever, and black British women and girls have them in vast amounts, but you wouldn’t guess that from a glance at the shelf of your average bookstore. We need a movement that amplifies the voices and increases the visibility of black women who have been made thoroughly invisible by the mainstream. That’s what Slay In Your Lane hopes to be; we hope to offer confidence and inspiration, but also, most importantly, support to other black women who are in the process of building their own foundation and who will, if the world has its way, be constrained by the limitations society tries to place upon us.


There is a saying: ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ but how about 39 of the most trailblazing black women in Britain? Slay In Your Lane is the personal-development course I never knew I needed; as you read this book I hope it gives you the tools and support to be in the driving seat of your life and not a mere passenger. Slay In Your Lane is #BlackGirlMagic personified. It is exactly what we’ve been waiting for: a chance to revel in the achievements of those who ran so we could fly, as well as to encourage those who are just about to take flight.



I owe a great deal to the TV medical comedy, Scrubs.


In an episode in Season 3, the white female doctor Elliot Reid turns to the black male doctor Christopher Turk and says he has ‘no idea how hard it is’ being a woman in their profession. ‘I have no idea?’ he says, eyebrow raised. ‘Look, I’m not gonna fight about whether in medicine it’s harder being black or a woman,’ she responds. ‘Black!’ Turk shouts. ‘Woman!’ Elliot retorts. At that very moment, a black female doctor passes them slowly. ‘Much props, Dr Rhodes,’ says an awkward Turk. The pair shuffle on the spot.


Something that my then 13-year-old self had already frequently experienced but had never been able to articulate was perfectly captured in a 30-second skit: that the different facets of my identity – being black, being a woman – impact on who I am, and what my experience in this country is. It explained why I only somewhat related to stories focused on black men and white women. It highlighted why seeing my identity and my experience reflected mattered. Scrubs had just explained what, years later, I would realise went by the name of ‘intersectionality’ – and I immediately felt seen.


Being black and British, people know our parents are from somewhere else before we even open our mouths. Or if not our parents, our grandparents. Or great grandparents. We are tattooed with our otherness. We are hypervisible in predominantly white spaces, but somehow, we often remain unseen. Growing up, I felt keenly the dearth of visible black British women in the stories our society consumed and it made me feel all sorts of things. It made me feel as if I was invisible, too. It made me feel frustrated. It made me feel annoyed, upset and, most of all, restless. Restless, because I knew (or at least hoped) that when I was old enough, I’d one day be a part of changing things.


I attempted to do something about it when I turned 21, breathlessly starting up a publication aimed at young black girls in the UK. Birthday Magazine was the primordial goop from which Slay in Your Lane was indirectly spawned. Its aims were similar: to outline the black female experience as well as excellence, and offer equal amounts of realism and optimism. It was a small-scale attempt to uplift; its distribution was local and the team was small, but its impact was larger than I expected. Slay In Your Lane was the next logical step that I didn’t see coming, but Elizabeth did, animated by the very frustration, annoyance and restlessness that my younger self had felt.


Now, at 26, the same sense of restlessness has begun to set in, but this time it is without the anger, or even the upset. The current overriding emotion I feel is unbounded hopefulness, because black British women in 2018 are well past making waves – we’re currently creating something of a tsunami. From authors to politicians, to entrepreneurs to artists, black women in the UK continue to thrive against all odds and well outside of the world’s expectations. Women who look and talk like me, grew up in similar places to me, are shaping almost every societal sector, from the bottom and, finally, from all the way up at the top. All a younger Yomi would’ve wished for was the ability to learn from them; an older Yomi wishes for pretty much exactly the same thing.


If white women fear the glass ceiling, black women fear a seemingly impenetrable glasshouse. We’re blockaded from all sides and there is little to no literature on offer to advise us as to how we’re supposed to push on. So much is currently happening on an individual level to combat this, and it’s of paramount importance that it is recorded, noted and passed on. We almost never hear of the persistence, perseverance and drive that fosters such success. Perhaps more importantly, we rarely hear of the failures, the flops and the insecurities that black British women have managed to push through to get to where they are today. We rarely hear about black British women, full stop. And this silence can be just as damaging as the negativity of which we’re so often on the receiving end.


Throughout my teenage years I was a keen reader, and I am no anomaly – findings from a 2014 study by the National Literacy Trust show that black girls are more likely to read than any other ethnic group in the UK. Yet books rarely touch meaningfully on the black British experience – and even less so the black British female experience. As a part of this group, I have a vested interest in Slay In Your Lane that goes beyond simply wanting to write a book. I guess you could say that Elizabeth and I are writing this as much for ourselves as we are for other black women. Just like our peers, our friends and our sisters, we are still learning how to navigate the workplace, the dating world and life in general.


We’re not here to tell you that if you simply go for gold, put your mind to it and believe, that you can will yourself out of systemic racism. As pointed out by Elizabeth, even your parents would’ve no doubt once said that you’d have to work ‘twice as hard’ and meritocracy is a myth – and stats continually prove this. But what we are saying is that there is much empowerment and inspiration to be gained from the many women who have jumped over the very hurdles that you too will find yourself up against. There are practical ways to aid you to win, and admitting that there will be difficulties and challenges along the way doesn’t mean submitting to defeat. It means coming to battle armed and prepared.


Author photo

Yomi Adegoke is an award-winning journalist and senior writer at The Pool. She writes about race, feminism, popular culture and how they intersect, as well as class and politics. In 2013 she founded Birthday Magazine, a publication aimed at black teenage girls and this year was listed as one of the 200 Women Redefining the Creative Industry by The Dots. She was also named as a 'frontline pioneer' bringing the fight to 'a new generation' by the Evening Standard.

Elizabeth Uviebinené is a Marketing Manager at a leading global brand. She graduated from Warwick University in 2013 with a Politics and International relations degree and specialises in creating marketing campaigns that are both culturally progressive and commercially relevant.




Read an extract from Notes to Self by Emilie Pine
7th June 2019

Read an extract from Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

Notes to Self by Emilie Pine

Notes to Self is a brutally honest and personal collection of essays that will undoubtedly resonate widely. Emilie Pine’s debut cuts to the core of difficult and taboo topics — such as infertility, female bodies, sexual violence — with an openness and straightforwardness that makes the book all the more powerful. There’s also a poignancy and wisdom in her writing that allows for hope even in the direst of circumstances.

Read on for an extract from the book.


From 'Notes on Bleeding and Other Crimes'


As I think about the confluence of bodies and silence, I remember back to when pain was something to talk about, when our bodies were the subject of a show-and-tell. Aged seven, I would roll up my trouser leg and narrate the scars – from the dog bite, or from jumping off the shed roof, or from the rusty nail scratch that got infected. Those childhood scars were not just signs of pain, but badges of honour, external proof of internal daring. But as adults our biographies have become rational stories in which we focus on what’s in our heads and ignore what’s inscribed on our bodies. We might roll up metaphorical sleeves and talk about our heartbreak, our sadness, or our stress. But our bodies are silent, and I think this is perhaps as true for men as it is for women. 


It is time to recapture the childhood acceptance of our bodies as a sign of who we are, of what we have done. My body is healthy, it has survived some challenges. It is a body that makes me feel good more than it makes me feel bad. My body enables me to do things. My cellulite thighs are strong, they have carried me up mountains, and I love them. And when I see my lumpectomy scar, a pale white line across my right breast, it makes me happy. The scar is not a sign of weakness, it is a symbol of how I reclaimed my body. I need this scar because I need the reminder that I am the owner of this body. 


Sometimes it is hard to look in the mirror. Sometimes it takes years – in my case, decades – to look at ourselves fully. Sometimes the most courageous thing is to look at ourselves without mirrors at all. This kind of nakedness takes work. Getting naked, after all, is not just about how we look on the outside, but admitting how we feel on the inside about how we look on the outside. It is about reversing the dialogue, about throwing out the pretence that I am small and flat and quiet. It is about recognising that my body is not a source of grief, but that all too often the story I have told about it is.


What if my body could tell the story? What would it say?


I think it would talk about blood. Its mesmerising flow and its ebb. About ending and renewing. I think it would talk about the touch of my fingers and my hands and another’s lips. The feel of skin on skin. Wet and slow. Soft and hard. The shock of cold, the pleasure of warmth. I think it would talk about the delight of orgasm and the delight of laughter and the delight of sating hunger. About tasting sharp and spicy, soothing and creamy. I think it would talk about looking out and pulling in. I think it would talk about perfume and stink. About clean and dirty. I think it would talk about illness and recovery, about fortitude and growth. I think it would talk about loss and grief. About standing solo and holding together. About longevity and transformation. About satisfaction. About happiness. About joy. 


I think it would sound strong. I think it would sound loud. I think it would sound proud. 


And I am listening. 


And this, this is what it looks like when a woman bleeds onto the page.


Emilie Pine author photo

Emilie Pine is Associate Professor of Modern Drama at University College Dublin, Ireland. She has published widely as an academic and critic. Notes to Self is her first collection of personal essays and the winner of The Butler Literary Award 2018.



The Rapture: Claire McGlasson on a Very English Cult
6th June 2019

The Rapture: Claire McGlasson on a Very English Cult

The Rapture by Claire McGlasson

The Rapture is Claire McGlasson’s remarkable and unsettling debut. It’s based on the fascinating history of The Panacea Society, a real-life English cult that grew up in the 1920s around a woman known as Octavia who believed she was the long-awaited child of the prophetess Joanna Southcott, and that the Garden of Eden was to be found in suburban Bedford. The Rapture follows one member of the cult, Dilys, and her burgeoning relationship with a young woman she recruits. McGlasson captures the claustrophobia and fearful atmosphere of this increasingly enclosed group, and the inner turmoil of wavering faith. 

Read on for an extract from the novel and for an insight into the author’s research for it.


In the dining room of a Victorian house on Albany Road in Bedford I sat and waited for an archivist to return with the first box file. On the walls, framed posters warned of ‘Crime and Banditry, Distress and Perplexity’; in a glass cabinet were leather­bound volumes of the nightly messages Octavia believed she had received from God. Inside that first file I found a jumble of sealed envelopes, each marked ‘For the Divine Mother: If unopened please burn’. I took Octavia’s paperknife and I opened them one by one, reading the confessions of members of the real Panacea Society. Just as their leader had commanded, every detail of life had been preserved – room upon room of brown parcels cataloguing every business and spiritual transaction. With the kind permission of the Panacea Charitable Trust, which maintains the archive, I was able to plunder its secrets over a number of months. The sections of the novel printed in bold are quoted from source material, including letters, society instructions and case notes relating to Mabel’s psychiatric treatment.


Among the many diaries and albums was a photograph of the Panacea ladies taking tea on the lawns of ‘the Garden of Eden’. While those around her chatted, a young woman was looking up, straight into the lens of the camera. It was a photograph of Dilys Barltrop and – already fascinated by the society –  I became intrigued to uncover her story, and The Rapture began to take shape. Parts of this story were written in the homes and gardens in which it is set.


As the ageing members of the Panacea Society began to die, their rooms were sealed up and their belongings kept just as they had left them. Everything was made ready for the day they would return with Jesus by their side. Today Octavia’s house and her Garden of Eden are open to the public. The Panacea Museum still keeps the secret of the location of the ‘real’ box believed to contain Joanna Southcott’s prophe­cies. That box has yet to be opened.





Winged Messenger


A devil had flown in through Her bedroom window. That was Her first thought. His eyes were black glass: as dark and deep as  Lucifer’s soul.


‘It was very surprising, I can assure you, to see his little head parting the lace curtains and looking into the room,’ Octavia tells us over breakfast. But now She thinks of it, She remembers seeing him yesterday, sitting atop the high wall that keeps us safe inside the Garden. He had stayed for nigh on half an hour, watching as we took tea and waited patiently for Jesus.


Octavia looks flustered. The string of pearls which always decorates Her neck is absent; Her hairstyle has fallen a little short of perfection; and She is late, a very unusual occurrence. Octavia is never late. If a chiming clock dares to accuse Her, She is quick to enter a counter­charge: it is running fast or the congregation has gathered too early. Have you no more pressing purpose than to sit here gossiping? But this morning I sat in silence with Emily and Peter for a full twenty minutes before She joined us at the table. That is, I was silent and they compared notes: listing the transgressions they had witnessed in others, each sin recorded neatly in their pocket­ books, ready to be shared with Octavia when they are called to give evidence every fortnight.


We must all keep an inventory of each other’s failings, and our own. How else will we improve ourselves in time to receive the Lord?


I’m certain my name is on their charge sheet. Dilys Barltrop, underlined, above a long list of inadequacies and oversights. But I didn’t get the opportunity to find out. Octavia interrupted without apology, and began her story without delay. She had been dressing when She saw a large bird sitting on her windowsill. Her first impulse was to cover Herself: perhaps it had come to spy on Her nakedness.


‘Devils can disguise themselves in many forms, and of course its black plumage made me suspect it at once,’ She says, Her teacup trembling as She lifts it from the saucer. I think of feathers, beak and claws. I think of Octavia’s exposed skin.


‘Oh! How terrible!’Peter gasps. ‘You should have called out. I would have come to Your aid.’ But the very idea is topsy turvy. Octavia doesn’t need to be saved. She is the one saving us.


‘Thank you, Peter,’ She says, with an indulgent smile. ‘But it should be obvious that this was a creature of God. In the next second I could see very clearly what it meant.’


‘A messenger . . .’Emily says theatrically, bringing a hand to the faded lace collar on her throat. ‘A winged messenger of Heaven . . .’


It’s a line from Romeo and Juliet if I’m not mistaken. Octavia loves it when Emily quotes the Bard. It’s proof She has succeeded in moulding her, improving her. God made man in His own image. And Octavia is doing the same with Emily; she knew nothing of Shakespeare before she came to us, found God and joined the middle classes.


‘Emily, I knew you would be the one to see it,’ She says, stroking back a strand of grey that has fallen from her chignon. She repositions a hairpin with sufficient force to punish its laxity. ‘When I looked into its eyes, God’s purpose was obvious. I sprinkled some crumbs of biscuit just below the window and suddenly he jumped into the room!’ She is becoming agitated, excited, eager for us to see the significance of what has happened. And Emily, as usual, is keen to oblige. ‘No mortal bird would be so tame. He sat quite happily in doors?’ she asks.


Octavia laughs. ‘I should say so. He took a bath in my basin, did his business on the top of my looking glass, and after a contented squawk to tell me that the rooms would suit, he went to sleep on one leg.’


Octavia names him Sir Jack Daw and tells us something strange and significant has happened. ‘It is proof,’ She says, ‘a sign that Christ shall soon fly down to us, just as the Lord has promised.’


She is convinced that a message has arrived in the Garden; that God Himself has posted it through Her window.


I must believe it too.


Claire McGlasson is a journalist who works for ITV News and enjoys the variety of life on the road with a TV camera. She lives in Cambridgeshire. The Rapture is her debut novel.

To find out more about the history of The Panacea Society, visit the Panacea Museum in Bedford. 





Read an extract from Ben MacIntyre's thrilling real-life espionage tale, The Spy and the Traitor
29th May 2019

Read an extract from Ben MacIntyre's thrilling real-life espionage tale, The Spy and the Traitor

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War

The Spy and the Traitor is a real-life Cold War spy thriller about KGB double agent, Colonel Oleg Antonyevich Gordievsky. Working undercover for MI6 he passed on information priceless to the West about Soviet Russia and was such a high-level asset even the Prime Minister didn’t know his true identity. In this compelling story, Ben MacIntyre combines impeccable research with first-hand accounts—including from Gordievsky himself—The Spy and the Traitor is a compelling tale of secrets, lies and audacious daring. Read on for an introduction into the dangerous world of Cold War espionage.





18 May 1985


For the KGB’s counter-intelligence section, Directorate K, this was a routine bugging job.


It took less than a minute to spring the locks on the front door of the flat on the eighth floor of 103 Leninsky Prospekt, a Moscow tower block occupied by KGB officers and their families. While two men in gloves and overalls set about methodically searching the apartment, two technicians wired the place, swiftly and invisibly, implanting eavesdropping devices behind the wallpaper and skirting boards, inserting a live microphone into the telephone mouthpiece, and video cameras in the light fittings in the sitting room, bedroom and kitchen. By the time they had finished, an hour later, there was barely a corner in the flat where the KGB did not have eyes and ears. Finally, they put on face masks and sprinkled radioactive dust on the clothes and shoes in the closet, sufficiently low in concentration to avoid poisoning, but enough to enable the KGB’s Geiger counters to track the wearer’s movements. Then they left, and carefully locked the front door behind them.


A few hours later, a senior Russian intelligence officer landed at Moscow airport on the Aeroflot flight from London.


Colonel Oleg Antonyevich Gordievsky of the KGB was at the pinnacle of his career. A prodigy of the Soviet intelligence service, he had diligently risen through the ranks, serving in Scandinavia, Moscow and Britain with hardly a blemish on his record. And now, at the age of forty-six, he had been promoted to chief of the KGB station in London, a plum posting, and invited to return to Moscow to be formally anointed by the head of the KGB. A career spy, Gordievsky was tipped to ascend to the uppermost ranks of that vast and ruthless security and intelligence network that controlled the Soviet Union.


A stocky, athletic figure, Gordievsky strode confidently through the airport crowds. Inside him, though, a low terror bubbled. For Oleg Gordievsky, KGB veteran, faithful secret servant of the Soviet Union, was a British spy.


Recruited a dozen years earlier by MI6, Britain’s foreign-intelligence service, the agent codenamed NOCTON had proven to be one of the most valuable spies in history. The immense amount of information he fed back to his British handlers had changed the course of the Cold War, cracking open Soviet spy networks, helping to avert nuclear war and furnishing the West with a unique insight into the Kremlin’s thinking during a critically dangerous period in world affairs. Both Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher had been briefed on the extraordinary trove of secrets provided by the Russian spy, though neither the American President nor the British Prime Minister knew his real identity. Even Gordievsky’s young wife was entirely unaware of his double life.


Gordievsky’s appointment as KGB rezident (the Russian term for a KGB head of station, known as a rezidentura) had prompted rejoicing among the tiny circle of MI6 officers privy to the case. As the most senior Soviet intelligence operative in Britain, Gordievsky would henceforth have access to the innermost secrets of Russian espionage: he would be able to inform the West what the KGB was planning to do, before it did it; the KGB in Britain would be neutered. And yet the abrupt summons back to Moscow had unsettled the NOCTON team. Some sensed a trap. At a hastily convened meeting in a London safe house with his MI6 handlers, Gordievsky had been offered the option to defect and remain in Britain with his family. Everyone at the meeting understood the stakes: if he returned as official KGB rezident then MI6, the CIA and their Western allies would hit the intelligence jackpot, but if Gordievsky was walking into a trap he would lose everything, including his life. He had thought long and hard before making up his mind: ‘I will go back.’


Once again, the MI6 officers went over Gordievsky’s emergency escape plan, codenamed PIMLICO, and drawn up seven years earlier in the hope that it would never have to be activated. MI6 had never exfiltrated anyone from the USSR before, let alone a KGB officer. Elaborate and hazardous, the escape plan could be triggered only as a last resort.


Gordievsky had been trained to spot danger. As he walked through Moscow airport, his nerves ragged with internal stress, he saw signs of peril everywhere. The passport officer seemed to study his papers for an inordinate length of time, before waving him through. Where was the official who was supposed to be meeting him, a minimal courtesy for a KGB colonel arriving back from overseas? The airport was always stiff with surveillance, but today the nondescript men and women apparently standing around idly seemed even more numerous than normal. Gordievsky climbed into a taxi, telling himself that if the KGB knew the truth, he would have been arrested the moment he set foot on Russian soil, and already on his way to the KGB cells, to face interrogation and torture, followed by execution.


As far as he could tell, no one followed him as he entered the familiar apartment block on Leninsky Prospekt, and took the lift to the eighth floor. He had not been inside the family flat since January.


The first lock on the front door opened easily, and then the second. But the door would not budge. The third lock on the door, an old- fashioned deadbolt dating back to the building of the apartment block, had been locked.


But Gordievsky never used the third lock. Indeed, he had never had the key. That must mean that someone with a skeleton key had been inside, and on leaving had mistakenly triple-locked the door. That someone must be the KGB.


The fears of the previous week crystallized in a freezing rush, with the chilling, paralysing recognition that his apartment had been entered, searched and probably bugged. He was under suspicion. Someone had betrayed him. The KGB was watching him. The spy was being spied upon by his fellow spies.


Ben MacIntyre author photo, credit Justine Stoddart

Ben Macintyre is the multimillion-copy bestselling author of books including Agent Zigzag, Operation Mincemeat and A Spy Among Friends. He is a columnist and Associate Editor at The Times, and has worked as the newspaper's correspondent in New York, Paris and Washington. He regularly presents BBC series based on his acclaimed books.



Read an Extract from Erebus: The Story of a Ship
28th May 2019

Read an Extract from Erebus: The Story of a Ship

Erebus: The Story of a Ship

Michael Palin, the exceptionally well-travelled Python and national treasure, has turned his attention to the extraordinary tale of HMS Erebus—from its launch in 1826, through epic voyages exploring the world's oceans and to the catastrophe that lead to the ship being lost to history for over 170 years.

Read on, below, to find out more about Michael Palin's passion for the sea and how he became determined to tell Erebus' story.


I’ve always been fascinated by sea stories. I discovered C.S. Forester’s Horatio Hornblower novels when I was eleven or twelve, and scoured Sheffield city libraries for any I might have missed. For harder stuff, I moved on to The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat – one of the most powerful books of my childhood, even though I was only allowed to read the ‘Cadet’ edition, with all the sex removed. In the 1950s there was a spate of films about the Navy and war: The Sea Shall Not Have Them, Above Us the Waves, Cockleshell Heroes. They were stories of heroism, pluck and survival against all the odds. Unless you were in the engine room, of course.


As luck would have it, much later in life I ended up spending a lot of time on ships, usually far from home, with only a BBC camera crew and one of Patrick O’Brian’s novels for company. I found myself, at different times, on an Italian cruise ship, frantically thumbing through Get By in Arabic as we approached the Egyptian coast, and in the Persian Gulf, dealing with an attack of diarrhoea on a boat whose only toilet facility was a barrel slung over the stern. I’ve been white-water rafting below the Victoria Falls, and marlin-fishing (though not catching) on the Gulf Stream – what Hemingway called ‘the great blue river’. I’ve been driven straight at a canyon wall by a jet boat in New Zealand, and have swabbed the decks of a Yugoslav freighter on the Bay of Bengal. None of this has put me off. There’s something about the contact between boat and water that I find very natural and very comforting. After all, we emerged from the sea and, as President Kennedy once said, ‘we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea . . . we are going back to whence we came’.


In 2013 I was asked to give a talk at the Athenaeum Club in London. The brief was to choose a member of the club, dead or alive, and tell their story in an hour. I chose Joseph Hooker, who ran the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for much of the nineteenth century. I had been filming in Brazil and heard stories of how he had pursued a policy of ‘botanical imperialism’, encouraging plant-hunters to bring exotic, and commercially exploitable, specimens back to London. Hooker acquired rubber-tree seeds from the Amazon, germinated them at Kew and exported the young shoots to Britain’s Far Eastern colonies. Within two or three decades the Brazilian rubber industry was dead, and the British rubber industry was flourishing.


I didn’t get far into my research before I stumbled across an aspect of Hooker’s life that was something of a revelation. In 1839, at the unripe age of twenty-two, the bearded and bespectacled gentleman that I knew from faded Victorian photographs had been taken on as assistant surgeon and botanist on a four-year Royal Naval expedition to the Antarctic. The ship that took him to the unexplored ends of the earth was called HMS Erebus. The more I researched the journey, the more astonished I became that I had previously known so little about it. For a sailing ship to have spent eighteen months at the furthest end of the earth, to have survived the treacheries of weather and icebergs, and to have returned to tell the tale was the sort of extraordinary achievement that one would assume we would still be celebrating. It was an epic success for HMS Erebus .


Pride, however, came before a fall. In 1846 this same ship, along with her sister ship Terror and 129 men, vanished off the face of the earth whilst trying to find a way through the Northwest Passage. It was the greatest single loss of life in the history of British polar exploration.


I wrote and delivered my talk on Hooker, but I couldn’t get the adventures of Erebus out of my mind. They were still lurking there in the summer of 2014, when I spent ten nights at the O2 Arena in Greenwich with a group of fellow geriatrics, including John Cleese, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Terry Gilliam, but sadly not Graham Chapman, in a show called Monty Python Live – One Down Five to Go. These were extraordinary shows in front of extraordinary audiences, but after I had sold the last dead parrot and sung the last lumberjack song, I was left with a profound sense of anticlimax. How do you follow something like that? One thing was for sure: I couldn’t go over the same ground again. Whatever I did next, it would have to be something completely different.


Two weeks later, I had my answer. On the evening news on 9th September I saw an item that stopped me in my tracks. At a press conference in Ottawa, the Prime Minister of Canada announced to the world that a Canadian underwater archaeology team had discovered what they believed to be HMS Erebus, lost for almost 170 years, on the seabed somewhere in the Arctic. Her hull was virtually intact, its contents preserved by the ice. From the moment I heard that, I knew there was a story to be told. Not just a story of life and death, but a story of life, death and a sort of resurrection.


What really happened to the Erebus? What was she like? What did she achieve? How did she survive so much, only to disappear so mysteriously?


I’m not a naval historian, but I have a sense of history. I’m not a seafarer, but I’m drawn to the sea. With only the light of my own enthusiasm to guide me, I wondered where on earth I should start such an adventure. An obvious candidate was the institution that had been the prime mover of so many Arctic and Antarctic expeditions from the 1830s onwards. And one that I knew something about, having for three years been its President.


So I headed to the Royal Geographical Society in Kensington and put to the Head of Enterprises and Resources, Alasdair MacLeod, the nature of my obsession and the presumption of my task. Any leads on HMS Erebus?


He furrowed his brow and thought for a bit: ‘Erebus  . . . hmm . . . Erebus ?’ Then his eyes lit up. ‘Yes,’ he said triumphantly, ‘yes, of course! We’ve got Hooker’s stockings.’


Actually they had quite a bit more, but this was my first dip into the waters of maritime research, and ever since then I’ve regarded Hooker’s stockings as a kind of spiritual talisman. They were nothing special: cream-coloured, knee-length, thickly knitted and rather crusty. But over the last year, as I’ve travelled the world in the company of Erebus, and come close to overwhelming myself with books, letters, plans, drawings, photographs, maps, novels, diaries, captains’ logs and stokers’ journals and everything else about her, I thank Hooker’s stockings for setting me off on this remarkable journey.



Michael Palin has written and starred in numerous TV programmes and films, from Monty Python and Ripping Yarns to The Missionary and American Friends. He has also made several much-acclaimed travel documentaries, his journeys taking him to the North and South Poles, the Sahara Desert, the Himalayas, Eastern Europe and Brazil. His books include accounts of his journeys, novels (Hemingway’s Chair and The Truth) and several volumes of diaries. From 2009 to 2012 he was president of the Royal Geographical Society, and in 2013 he was made a BAFTA fellow. He lives in London.



Read an Extract from She Would be King
28th May 2019

Read an Extract from She Would Be King

She Would Be King by Wayetu Moore

She Would Be King is Wayétu Moore’s extraordinary debut. By skilfully combining history and magical realism she has created an alternative and compelling account of the turbulent roots of Liberia. With a powerful trio of main characters and a masterful wide sweep that encompasses all humanity, She Would Be King is an unforgettable and profound book.

Read an extract from the book, below.


It was a griot who told the village children of the woman in the lake, Mamy Wateh, whose bottom half was the body of a fish and who looked for people to drown so she would not be alone. She told them of the Gio people and their devils and how they danced day and night for one whole year to beckon rain to their village instead of walking to the neighboring village to ask for water.


“Ol’ Ma Famatta was the first of them,” the griot began one night, her voice as fine and cutting as barbed wire.


“The first of who, Ol’ Ma?” Cholly’s son, Safua, asked. He was nearly thirteen, dong-sakpa, but he still sat behind the young Vai children and listened to the storyteller’s tales every dry-season night.


“Sh, child,” the griot said, pressing her finger to her lips.


“Ol’ Ma Famatta was the first of the Vai witches,” she said.


Lai was young then, the griot explained, as young as them, and Ol’ Ma Famatta had walked through the desert with the first settlers of the old Lai. Her dog and four cats died before her and her husband and all the Ol’ Mas and Ol’ Pas of the old Lai. She lived for 193 dry seasons. In the Ol’ Ma’s later years, Lai was stricken by wars and lengthy dry seasons. The elders, unsure of why their fortune had so quickly turned, were convinced that Ol’ Ma Famatta’s age was offensive to the spirits. When Ol’ Ma Famatta heard through whispers that they were blaming Lai’s fate on her, she bolted the doors of her house and refused to see any villagers. It seemed to everyone that she had decided to spend the rest of her days alone, pendulum swinging in an old hammock in the back of her house. The villagers knocked for weeks, but all they heard were Ol’ Ma Famatta’s grunts.


One day, a fisherman forced open her front door for the Ol’ Pas. The men lumbered around the modest house in search of her, but Ol’ Ma Famatta was not inside. When they reached her back porch, her old hammock was empty, and swung in rapid circles between its posts.


“The hammock threw her to the sky, enneh-so?” a small child interrupted.


“She stay too long. So the Ol’ Pas say anybody who cursed will spend their dong-sakpa away from Lai in the forest,” the storyteller said.


“I almost dong-sakpa,” Safua said, remembering his age.


“You’n cursed,” the griot responded.


“Ol’ Ma, who go to the forest?” another child asked.


“Coco, the fisherman son with hands like frog,” the griot said, stretching her fingers. The children huddled together.


“And Zolu, the small small girl born the day the sun go black,” she said, pointing to the moon in the sky. Their eyes traveled upward toward the starry sky, where Ol’ Ma Famatta sat looking down on them from the white hole in the middle.


“And Gbessa!” a child shouted.


The storyteller nodded and looked to Gbessa’s house.


Gbessa peered through a peephole that had emerged from a crack on the wall behind the fire pit, as she did every time a griot appeared with a new tale, and a chill hummocked the unseen hairs of her skin.


“Gbessa the witch,” Safua said lowly. The children squealed.


“Gbessa the witch! Gbessa the witch!” some sang as they ran.


They chased one another in a playful skirmish before finally retreating to their homes. Gbessa crawled to the bundle of straw next to Khati’s pallet. She lay silently at first, before lightly tapping her mother’s shoulder. Khati was startled, and her eyes shot open.




“Yeh, Ma,” Gbessa answered.


“What wrong?”


“They will take me to the forest, Ma?” Gbessa asked.


A sigh broke Khati’s hesitation, only to fall to more stillness.


“Sleep, child,” Khati said. “Sleep.”




On the following day, when her mother left to go to the rice farm, Gbessa wriggled to the peephole to look out the thin opening onto the village circle, where she hoped to find remnants of the storyteller’s claim to her fate. When she pressed her eyes to the hole, she could see nothing.


She heard someone move on the other side. “Who there?” Gbessa asked, staggered by the prospective courtship. She crawled backward to regain her focus on the hole. “Who there?” Gbessa asked again, louder, and nearly choked with enthusiasm.


“Safua,” said the boy on the other side.


They were blinded by the closeness of each other’s eyes. Outside, other boyish voices called to Safua to hurry from the house before he was seen and punished.


“Go away. Go from here,” Gbessa said, surprising herself that she had found words despite the sudden heat that rushed to her skin and cheeks.


“Or what?” Safua asked, equally thrilled, amused by the daring witch. The developing muscles of his arms flexed and he waited to laugh, though his friends nervously giggled close by. “I’n scared of you. I’n scared of nothing,” Safua said.


“You go from here,” Gbessa said again after realizing from the laughter outside that he did not seek her as she sought him. She hissed at him. “I a curse. You hear them, yeh?” Gbessa crawled away from the hole. Safua caught a glimpse of her red hair against her haunting black face and gasped. He pressed his eye against the hole again.


“I will come back,” he said. He waited for Gbessa to respond but she said nothing.


Safua’s friends scrambled from Gbessa’s house; they made bulbul calls into the air as the dust that jumped from their heels stained their backs. Heeding their warning, Safua ran.


He turned around and shouted, “Gbessa the witch, Gbessa the witch!” before catching his outbraved friends.


Wayetu Moore author photograph

Wayétu Moore is currently a Margaret Mead Fellow at Columbia University Teachers College, she is also the founder of One Moore Book, a non-profit organisation that encourages reading among children of countries with low literacy rates and underrepresented cultures. Her writing has been published by Guernica, the Rumpus and the Atlantic.




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