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!
Whilst out shopping today, we were delighted to come across a photographic exhibition at The Forum in Norwich, called This is The Place with photos by Katherine Mager. It featured super-sized colour photographs of images from Magdalen Street, one of our oldest streets and where Joe Stirling had his first Travel Agencies. The street features heavily in my book, particularly the Heritage Trust make-over in 1959 and the haunted building at No.19a. Joe’s first ever premises at No.71 is now a Halal Butchers shop and here is the photograph for your interest of how it is today…. and one to show how it was when it was Stirling Holidays in 1959.
Could not be more excited! This morning I received a large parcel from Pen and Sword books containing my first ever type set proof of my manuscript for Escaping Hitler complete with the foreword by Shirley Williams. Now I have to work on producing an index and check the photo captions. Nearly there…. Beautiful drawing of boy running is courtesy of my talented sister Alison White. Looking forward to receiving a confirmed publication date in January 2016 hopefully in time for Holocaust Memorial Day. In the meantime if you can find your way to my Facebook page for the book at https://www.facebook.com/pages/Escaping-Hitler-A-Jewish-Boys-Quest-for-Freedom-and-his-Future/1456106047996737
and like the page, this will keep you updated on publication, signings, talks and how to get hold of your signed copy.
On Wednesday 22nd July 2015, Joe Stirling, the subject of Escaping Hitler: A Jewish Boy’s Quest for Freedom and His Future, attended the Graduation Ceremony Literature and Creative Writing students at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. He was my honoured guest, along with my husband Victor Scrivens. Joe had been an instrumental part in me taking the Master of Arts Degree in Biography and Creative Non-Fiction, so it was fitting that he should witness the grand finale of my efforts. As Joe’s biographer I was proud to show him off to my friends and colleagues. He and Victor sat in the front row, meaning I was able to see them as I nervously crossed the stage towards the Vice-Chancellor to shake his hand and receive my treasured certificate. A very happy day.
This piece of footage from Norwich Sunday Assembly shows Joe Stirling, the hero of my biography Escaping Hitler, talking recently to a packed hall about his early life. At 90 years old he is still able to hold an audience in the palm of his hand. The book, to be published in January 2016 by Pen and Sword Books, will give all this information and so much more, including anecdotal stories from those who were and still are close to him. The book covers nine decades of this man’s wonderful life from his childhood in Nazi Germany to his arrival in England on the Kindertransport, his education and life with two foster families, joining the British Army, meeting his wife, living in Attleborough, joining the Labour Party, working with Shirley Williams on her first by-election, taking high office in Lions International, setting up his own pioneering travel company Stirling Holidays, bringing up four children, travelling the world, becoming Sheriff of Norwich and finally discovering the fate of his parents. Keep an eye on this blog for more information about publication dates, signings and how to buy your own signed copy….