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New non-fiction for April 2018

Written by · Published Mar 29, 2018

Rosie, The Unmapped Mind, Our Place

Rosie: scenes from a vanished life, by Rose Tremain

This is bestselling novelist Rose Tremain’s first work of non-fiction. It is a short memoir of her post-war childhood and will interest anyone who has read her novels and wants to find out why some incidents from her life have made it into her fiction.

“Rose Tremain grew up in post-war London, a city of grey austerity, still partly in ruins, where both food and affection were fiercely rationed. The girl known then as ‘Rosie’ and her sister Jo spent their days longing for their grandparents’ farm, buried deep in the Hampshire countryside, a green paradise of feasts and freedom, where they could at last roam and dream.

“But when Rosie is ten years old, everything changes. She and Jo lose their father, their London house, their school, their friends, and - most agonisingly of all - their beloved Nanny, Vera, the only adult to have shown them real love and affection. Briskly dispatched to a freezing boarding-school in Hertfordshire, they once again feel like imprisoned castaways. But slowly the teenage Rosie escapes from the cold world of the fifties, into a place of inspiration and mischief, of loving friendships and dedicated teachers.”

Our Place: can we save British nature before it is too late?, by Mark Cocker

“Environmental thought and politics have become parts of mainstream cultural life in Britain. The wish to protect wildlife is now a central goal for our society, but where did these ‘green’ ideas come from? And who created the cherished institutions, such as the National Trust or the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, that are now so embedded in public life with millions of members?

“From the flatlands of Norfolk to the tundra-like expanse of the Flow Country in northern Scotland, acclaimed writer on nature Mark Cocker sets out on a personal quest through the British countryside to find the answers to these questions. He explores in intimate detail six special places that embody the history of conservation or whose fortunes allow us to understand why our landscape looks as it does today.”

To Throw Away Unopened by Viv Albertine

At the launch party for Viv Albertine’s acclaimed memoir Clothes, Music, Boys, she received the news that her mother was dying. In the weeks after the funeral she made a series of discoveries that helped her to understand some of the life choices she has made.

This follow-up is about those discoveries and what they reveal about “human dysfunctionality, the impossibility of true intimacy, and the damage wrought upon us by secrets and revelations, siblings and parents.”

Skymeadow: the story of an English gardener, by Charlie Hart

”‘Skymeadow is the story of how Charlie Hart singlehandedly built a five-acre garden from scratch; it is a gardening memoir which celebrates the healing effects of nature on mental health.

“When Charlie first visited Peverels, a small farmhouse that sits lazily on the lip of a hill running down into the Peb Valley, he was at breaking point. He was grieving the death of his father and anxious about the impending death of his mother. He and his wife Sybilla felt that their London life had been steadily growing in noise: the noise of loss and grief, the noise of busyness, the noise that comes from the expectations of others and, for Charlie, the constant burr of dissatisfaction at work.

“At Peverels, Charlie found an expanse of virgin meadowland, the perfect setting for an audacious garden. A garden that is now known as Skymeadow and grows with a lusty, almost biblical vigour.”

Civilisations: first contact / the cult of progress, by David Olusoga

Following on from Mary Beard’s recent volume in this BBC series David Olusoga pieces together the shared histories that link nations.

The Unmapped Mind: a memoir of neurology, incurable disease and learning how to live, by Christian Donlan

“Shortly after his daughter Leontine was born, Christian Donlan’s world shifted an inch to the left. He started to miss light switches and door handles when reaching for them. He would injure himself in a hundred stupid ways every day. First playful and then maddening, these strange experiences were the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis, an incurable and degenerative neurological disease.

“As his young daughter starts to investigate the world around her, he too finds himself exploring a new landscape - the shifting and bewildering territory of the brain. He is a tourist in his own body, a stranger in a place that plays bizarre tricks on him, from dizzying double vision to mystifying memory loss.”

A moving account of the author’s diagnosis of multiple sclerosis and his coming to terms with the disease at a time when his newly born daughter is starting to discover her own world.

The Songaminute Man: how music brought my father home again, by Simon McDermott

You may already be aware of Simon McDermott’s story. It is a story of his struggling to come to terms with his father’s dementia.

“When Simon McDermott first noticed his dad Ted’s sudden flares of temper and fits of forgetfulness, he couldn’t have guessed what lay ahead. Then came the devastating, inevitable diagnosis. As Ted retreated into his own world, Simon and his mum Linda desperately tried to reach him until at last: an idea.

“Turning the ignition in his mum’s little runaround, Simon hit play on Ted’s favourite song Quando Quando Quando. And like that, they were just two mates driving around Blackburn, singing at the top of their lungs. Simon filmed their adventure, uploaded the video to YouTube and woke up to messages, tweets and his phone ringing off the hook.

Brandon King

I work in the Suffolk Libraries Stock Team