Sunday, 28 January 2018

BLOG TOUR - REVIEW - VERONICA'S BIRD BY VERONICA BIRD & RICHARD NEWMAN


Title: Veronica's Bird
Author: Veronica Bird & Richard Newman
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Release Date: 22nd January 2018

BLURB from Goodreads
Veronica Bird was one of nine children living in a tiny house in Barnsley with a brutal coal miner for a father. Life was a despairing time in the Fifties as Veronica sought desperately to keep away from his cruelty. However, a glimmer of hope revealed itself as she, astonishingly to her and her mother, won a scholarship to Ackworth Boarding School where she began to shine above her class-mates.

A champion in all sports, Veronica at last found some happiness. That was until her brother-in-law came into her life. It was as if she had stepped from the frying pan into the fire.

He soon began to take control over her life removing her from the school she adored, two terms before she was due to take her GCEs, so he could put her to work as cheap labour on his market stall. Abused for many years by these two men, Veronica eventually ran away from him and applied to the Prison Service, intuiting that it was the only safe place she could trust.

Accepted into the Prison Service at a time when there were few women working in the industry, Veronica applied herself every day to learning her new craft even training in Holloway Prison where Myra Hindley was an inmate. With no wish to go outside the prison, Veronica remained inside on-duty. While her colleagues went out to the pub, the theatre or to dine she didn’t feel able to join them.

Her dedication was recognised and she rose rapidly in the Service moving from looking after dangerous women prisoners on long-term sentences to violent men and coming up against such infamous names as The Price sisters, Mary Bell and Charles Bronson. The threat of riots was always very close and escapes had to be dealt with quickly.

After becoming a Governor, Veronica was tasked with what was known within the Service as a ‘basket case’ of a prison. However, with her diligence and enthusiasm Veronica managed to turn it around whereupon it became a model example to the country and she was recognised with an honour from the Queen. With this recognition the EU invited her to lead a team to Russia and her time in Ivanovo Prison, north east of Moscow, provides an illuminating and humorous insight into a different prison culture.


PURCHASE LINKS
Amazon UK


ABOUT THE AUTHORS
After thirty-five years working for the Prison Service, Veronica Bird is now retired and living in Harrogate, North Yorkshire. She is still an active proponent of the justice system and continues to lecture across the country and is a supporter of Butler Trust, which acknowledges excellence within the prison system. 

A qualified architect and Swiss-trained hotelier, Richard Newman enjoyed a forty-year career designing and managing hotels worldwide before retiring in 2001. 
Since then he has gone on to publish a number of novels: The Crown of Martyrdom, The Horse that Screamed, The Potato Eaters, The Green Hill, Brief Encounters and most recently The Sunday Times bestseller, A Nun’s Story. He is currently working on a new novel about retirement and an autobiography of his time in the Middle East. He lives happily with his wife in Wetherby, West Yorkshire where he enjoys being close to his family.


REVIEW
Title: Veronica's Bird
Author: Veronica Bird & Richard Newman
Genre: Memoir
Publisher: Clink Street Publishing
Release Date: 22nd January 2018

BLURB from Goodreads
Veronica Bird was one of nine children living in a tiny house in Barnsley with a brutal coal miner for a father. Life was a despairing time in the Fifties as Veronica sought desperately to keep away from his cruelty. However, a glimmer of hope revealed itself as she, astonishingly to her and her mother, won a scholarship to Ackworth Boarding School where she began to shine above her class-mates.

A champion in all sports, Veronica at last found some happiness. That was until her brother-in-law came into her life. It was as if she had stepped from the frying pan into the fire.

He soon began to take control over her life removing her from the school she adored, two terms before she was due to take her GCEs, so he could put her to work as cheap labour on his market stall. Abused for many years by these two men, Veronica eventually ran away from him and applied to the Prison Service, intuiting that it was the only safe place she could trust.

Accepted into the Prison Service at a time when there were few women working in the industry, Veronica applied herself every day to learning her new craft even training in Holloway Prison where Myra Hindley was an inmate. With no wish to go outside the prison, Veronica remained inside on-duty. While her colleagues went out to the pub, the theatre or to dine she didn’t feel able to join them.

Her dedication was recognised and she rose rapidly in the Service moving from looking after dangerous women prisoners on long-term sentences to violent men and coming up against such infamous names as The Price sisters, Mary Bell and Charles Bronson. The threat of riots was always very close and escapes had to be dealt with quickly.

After becoming a Governor, Veronica was tasked with what was known within the Service as a ‘basket case’ of a prison. However, with her diligence and enthusiasm Veronica managed to turn it around whereupon it became a model example to the country and she was recognised with an honour from the Queen. With this recognition the EU invited her to lead a team to Russia and her time in Ivanovo Prison, north east of Moscow, provides an illuminating and humorous insight into a different prison culture.


PURCHASE LINKS

REVIEW
This book was brought to my attention when I was asked by Rachel at Authoright Publicity if I would be interested in reading this book and when I read the blurb it really captured my attention as the Ackworth School mentioned in the book is not far from where I currently live. The area I live in was also known as a pit town and I also have a rough idea where certain streets/areas are in Barnsley too so I thought that this prior knowledge would really help me envision the area's being talked about.

The cover has a grey background, perhaps as a subtle nod to the dirt and dust from the coal miners featured in the book. The central item on the cover is a cage with a bird within it. This cover represents the book and Veronica's life so well. I love the play on words of the title, as Vernonica's surname is Bird, and at one point of the book draws attention to the irony of prisoners referring to being in prison as doing their bird. The byline reinforces the blurb immediately telling potential readers that Veronica Bird has worked as a prison officer for thirty-five years. Though the cover being grey gives the cover a simplistic look I think the cage and the bird within would make me pick this book up in a bookstore to learn more about it. 

I have seen non-fiction and memoir which totally fit the book, as this is Veronica's own life story. the book is co-wrote by Richard Newman, however as you read the book you can hear that it is Veronica's voice telling us, the reader, where she came from, what her life was and what she has achieved in her life. 

I couldn't help but immediately like Veronica as a person through reading this book, she comes across as a down to earth woman who "calls a spade a spade". Some of the area's she mentions in the book were areas I had some knowledge of but you don't need to know the area's Veronica is talking about as her detailed descriptions allow you to visualise these places quite easily. I actually live about a fifteen minute drive away from the school in Ackworth that Veronica attends. My ex-husband came from Barnsley so I have a little knowledge of that area too both Barnsley itself and Carlton on the outskirts. I also have extended family who worked at pits local to where I live and can remember the strike well when best friends were set against each other when one father returned to work whilst the other remained on strike. As the blurb states this book begins with Veronica as an eleven year old, her parents neither read nor write and as Veronica is quite far down in the pecking order of the family being a younger sibling. Because of this by the time Veronica gets the hand me down clothes they are almost always threadbare. There never seems to be enough food to go around, with Veronica finding herself hungry on many occasions. Her father isn't opposed to striking his children with a belt either. The area Veronica and her family live in is situated in the always present stench and dirt of coal dust. 

I loved one quote that Veronica uses in the book "Never mind Fifty Shades of Grey, Barnsley had a thousand shades of black" I think it fits the area at that time perfectly though of course it could be applied to other pit towns too. 

Veronica's eldest brother was epileptic and was becoming worse every month, and no signs of anything to make him any better. Veronica would dream of getting away from this dark, dismal life. Even when her drunken father would threaten to send her to a children's home, Veronica would think it would probably be an improvement on her current life if he did! As I have said neither of her parents could read or write so it was left to Veronica to do the reading for the family. So filling in a scholarship form was a daunting task for Veronica but with her mothers encouragement she did it and even better she impressed when she went to visit the school, so much so she returned home from school one day to her mother and her brother Gordon waiting for her to open and read a letter. The letter was telling her she was accepted and had a scholarship for the Ackworth school. Of course there was a school uniform to be ordered and paid for. The uniform could only be purchased at a specialist uniform supplier in Leeds. Veronica's mum told her not to worry, that she would find the money. Her mum made sure that the uniform would last and bought large enough to be taken in and then let back as Veronica grew. Veronica thrived at the Ackworth school and in the book it seems she had some of her happiest days there. For the first time in her life she had new clothes and enough food to eat too.

However she still had to endure the school holidays when she had to work on her brother in laws fruit and veg stall. She was expected to lift the same heavy potato sacks and other vegetables as the men that worked for him did. She was paid but not as much as someone else would have been paid for doing what she did. In other words she was cheap labour and a free babysitter whenever her sister and brother-in-law wanted one. This brother-in-law would play a pivotal roll in Veronica's life and in fact affect her schooling too.

In later life Veronica becomes a prison officer, she works hard, doing the various training first at Risley, or Grisley Risley as it was and still is referred to for three weeks. Then another eight weeks at Wakefield before she was even given a uniform. I think the idea of throwing new recruits in at a notorious prisons such as Risley and Holloway are to sort out those who cannot cope working inside a prison. Veronica does see some sights in her job as a prison officer, she meets both Myra Hindley and Charles Bronson. Veronica also came in to contact with Dolours and Marian Price who were part of an IRA unit. Veronica worked at lots of different prisons both male and female prisoners and was a great advocate for improving standards within the prison environment. When Veronica became a Principal Officer there were only around thirty in the whole of Britain! She got used to different styles of prisons such as Styal Prison having houses, separate blocks which kept the different types of prisoners apart. These houses held between twelve and sixteen women. For example, one house would contain those considered to be dangerous lifers such as Mary Bell the child killer and Carole Richardson connected to the IRA. Another house would be specifically for mothers and babies, short termer's in another and those considered mentally ill all together in one unit too. Veronica worked in the most modern and the most decrepit prisons. Veronica was firm and fair and had the respect of workmates and inmates alike.
Veronica was often moved on to a different prison to see if she could "sort it out", she even went over to Russia to see how prisons and prison life compared over there. Then hosted visiting Russians to come over here to view our prisons and how they work. 

I have tried to reveal enough about different parts of the book, to pique your interest without speaking about every detail of the different parts of Veronica's life. This really is a great read. Veronica does not want you to feel sorry for her, she searches and saves what pittance she earns to obtain a job away from her family and still her brother-in-law is obsessed by what she is doing, where she is doing it and with whom. He seems to think she should be at his and his wife's beck and call. In fact he makes her take his children along to one of her job interviews. When Veronica does escape, he always manages to find her and turn up, causing her to move on time after time. I love Veronica's determination to better herself. I also adore the way she may be working away from her family and not get on with her brother-in-law and sometimes her sister either but she never forgets to send Christmas gifts to their children with whose bringing up she was instrumental. Veronica has been to Buckingham Palace on more than one occasion and given various well deserved awards. Veronica is now retired and as it says in the "About The Author" section is living in Harrogate. 

There are sections in this book that will make you gasp, smile, maybe a little chuckle as well as tear up too. I highly recommend reading this memoir, I found I really didn't want to put it down! It is a very interesting informative book from Veronica's not so great early life, to gaining a scholarship and being on the cusp of taking exams, to being removed from this beloved new way of life for no reason but she would provide slave labour for her family. Finally escaping her family and a life of servitude to getting a job unconnected to her family, moving away, becoming a prison officer and on-wards and upwards. 

My immediate thoughts upon finishing this book were Wow! What a roller-coaster ride Veronica's life has been. From a life where someone told Veronica she was like a little slave, and her being trapped in what looked like a life of drudgery. To her becoming a trusted prison Governor that is sent to problem prisons to "sort them out".

Here is the schedule for this tour so you can checkout the different posts on each blog!



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