I can hardly believe it is one year exactly since the very special 90th birthday party held for Joe Stirling at the prestigious Assembly House in Norwich. This year his celebratory party was far more modest, 18 of his close family all together in his home, sharing tea, birthday cake and champagne. I sneaked in at the back with gifts and best wishes and was delighted to find his home alive with loving relatives from all generations. A year on and Joe, the hero of my debut biography, Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future, is still extremely sprightly, with no loss of his intellect, enthusiasm for life and playful sense of humour. The family were anxious to know the publication date of his book but as yet I can only say it will sometime during January 2016. His daughter Jane confided in me that she will be delighted when the book is out, wherever she goes people ask when they will be able to get hold of a copy! Here are some photos of Joe and his two great-grandchildren, the patriarch and the youngest of the Stirling/Skitmore union, a happy marriage begun in 1946 in Attleborough. Also a photo of Joe cutting his cake. It was wonderful to witness the family celebrating together, the generations from strength to strength, supported by the obvious love and respect amongst them. The boy from Nickenich and the girl from Attleborough did well….
Today in the I newspaper, journalist Sarah Cassidy writes about teaching of the Holocaust in our UK schools. Joe Stirling visits Norfolk schools, talking about his escape from Nazi Germany and how his parents perished in Sobibor. In this thought-provoking article Year 9 pupil John Soben, 14, said ‘Of course, we have learnt that 6 million people died, but having someone who’d actually been there telling you what it was like makes it much more real’. I relate particularly to the words of Anita Parmar, Head of the LFA (Lessons from Auschwitz) project who says, ‘I think it is about dehumanising all the people involved in the events of the Holocaust. When you read about the Holocaust in text books, it can seem unreal because it seems so horrific and on such a large scale. We want to look at the individuals.’ And that it what I have tried to encapsulate in Escaping Hitler. I worked hard at keeping the issues to a human scale, citing experiences of four children during Kristallnacht, not dwelling on the unimaginable fate of Günter’s parents, instead focussing on their final night in Koblenz, amongst friends, courageously awaiting their inevitable fate. If Joe’s story can help children relate to the Holocaust then our job is done. You can read Sarah Cassidy’s article in full at:
Now I know it may a little thing, but the index has taken a lot of blood, sweat and tears so I now feel the need to share that with the world! This is my final piece of the jigsaw to actually create this my first published book and it was special to email it off this morning to my lovely editor Stephen Chumbley. The life of Joe Stirling has been so diverse, so complex, that the index ran to 6 pages, with the most bizarre combinations of subjects within one alphabetical section. Where else would you find Attleborough and Auschwitz, Screaming Lord Sutch and Salvation Army, Norwich Football Club and Nickenich, Travel Trade Gazette and the Three C’s Youth Club nestling together in one index? To give you a flavour of the amount of content in Escaping Hitler, I now reveal page 1 of the index!!! Please ‘like’ my Escaping Hitler facebook page to be kept up to date on publication dates, signing events and how to order your signed copy in the New Year. https://www.facebook.com/Escaping-Hitler-A-Jewish-Boys-Quest-for-Freedom-and-his-Future-1456106047996737/timeline/
I’m back after two weeks well earned break on the south coast of England. A highlight was attending the Liberal Democrat Conference and who did I seek out especially to say hello? Shirley Williams of course, whose foreword now graces the early pages of Escaping Hitler.
It was wonderful to see her again and thrilling that she remembered me and the book – she is very much looking forward to reading it. She sent her best wishes to Joe Stirling in Norwich, her past agent during her very first by-election in Harwich in the 1950s. She kindly posed for some photographs with me.
An update for those who are interested – marketing form completed and returned to Pen and Sword Books, index is a work in progress on my computer, appointment with Jarrold Book Department in diary to discuss February launch, Pen and Sword are taking the book proposal to German publishers at the Frankfurt Book Festival in a couple of weeks and I am about to contact my Koblenz colleagues to discuss signing in Germany during May next year. Very excited…..
This morning Joe and I were the guest speakers at the Crome Wine Circle. We spoke to about twenty members who were most attentive and totally in awe of Joe who told them about his life in Nazi Germany and how he managed to get out, unlike so many other German Jews. I took over half way and detailed a few of my research techniques and how I wove the results together to make a narrative whole. I took along my brand new promotional board stand with the finalised front cover – this is the first time I have displayed this, either at talks or on this blog. I am very pleased with it. And on my return home I found that my lovely editor has sent through the final draft, from which I will devise the index. What with that and me completing the lengthy and in-depth marketing sheet for Pen and Sword Marketing Department, it has been a busy week. Closer and closer to January…… please take a look at my Facebook page Escaping Hitler and please press ‘like’ for the whole page. This way you will be kept updated on publication dates, signings, special offers etc….. I took 5 orders at the Wine Circle!
Such exciting news – my publisher Pen and Sword will be taking the details of my biography of Joe Stirling to the most famous trade book fair in the world – Frankfurt in mid-October. The sales team will pitch the book to German publishers hoping to find one prepared to buy the translation rights. To have Joe’s story translated into his home tongue would be more than a dream come true! No guarantees of course, but many thanks Pen and Sword Books!
Wonderful news! We have been invited by Herr Gottfried Busch, Mayor of Nickenich, to visit during May 2016. Joe Stirling was born in Nickenich and named Günter Stern in 1924. His parents are still remembered by some older residents and their only son is held in high esteem. The plan is to load the car up with copies of Escaping Hitler and give an evening presentation to village residents complete with a book signing. I will work with a translator. During the trip we hope to arrange a similar event in near-by Koblenz, now twinned with Norwich, and to where Gunter and his mother fled on the morning following Kristallnacht in 1938. I will shortly be contacting the Norwich-Koblenz Friendship Association to discuss the possibilities.
I could not be more excited by the invitation and would like to thank Herr Busch and Jutta Hansen for setting up this opportunity to ‘take Gunter’s story home to Nickenich’. Keep following this blog and ‘liking’ the Facebook page for updates on the publication journey and book signings during the New Year.