Dear Mrs Bird

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Author AJ Pearce might have inadvertently invited the audience of her talk at Hungerford Town Hall to be extras when the time comes for her novel to be made into a television series.

And that wasn’t the only bit of good news for the mostly female audience that gathered for her chat with Hungerford Bookshop owner Emma Milne-White about her first novel Dear Mrs Bird. Fans of the book will be delighted to hear that a sequel is on its way.

The original book was inspired when AJ Pearce started collecting wartime magazines and found herself compelled by the advice columns. Letters from the era give an incredible insight into the worries faced by the women on the home front, ranging from queries on rations to terrible wartime losses of loved ones.

Not only that, but they reflect the remarkable Blitz spirit of the times – there’s no moaning or self-pity, but a determination to Get On With It.

Dear Mrs Bird embodies this with a story about a young would-be war journalist Emmeline Lake who accidentally lands a job on an ailing women’s magazine. Rather than writing about political intrigue or the war cabinet, she finds herself weeding out any ‘Unpleasantness’ among the letters to the magazine’s resident agony aunt Mrs Bird. Unable to turn her back on the pleas for help, she decides to secretly write back.

The book is so upbeat and positive that it was interesting to hear how true-to-life it was thanks to the author’s research. Thanks to interviewer Emma’s enthusiasm for the subject, the audience heard about the writing and research process which included conversations with real women who had served in the Auxiliary Fire Service (AFS) and the collection of wartime photo albums that the author found in eBay and junk shops. Unloved photos were brought back to life as the inspiration for the characters, including Mrs Bird who was a particular source of interest from the audience.

This prompted Pearce to read out a real letter from an advice column from 1903 –  a beautiful, earnest letter written by a 10-year-old which was met with a strange and heartless response from an Edwardian agony aunt.

This was a lovely talk on the power of positivity and the reality of living through a world war, but most importantly, to the power of friendship.

(appeared first in the NWN)

West Berks Athena in July

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July’s Athena Network meetings include a talk on how to work with different people and also how to make an impact with your image.

The Thatcham meeting takes place on Tuesday 17th July at the Regency Park Hotel where Tamsin Regnes a MBTI® Certified Practitioner will be demonstrating how differences in people’s preferences for information and decision making can present challenges when working with others. Attendees will have a better appreciation of the behavioural cues of others, enabling them to adapt and reduce frustration.

The Newbury Central meeting takes place on Wednesday, 18th July at Arigato where Lara Lauder, Image and Impact Consultant, will be giving her top tips on “How to be Remembered for the Right Reasons”. Visitors will learn how to ensure they can create that all important first impression and achieve more in business as a result.

Debbie Miles, Regional Director for The Athena Network in West Berkshire, said “We pride ourselves on the quality and relevance of the training that we offer in each of our meetings.  Not only do our members share their professional expertise, but each meeting we allocate some time to honing our networking skills. “

All meetings take place between 12pm and 2pm and visitors are always welcome.

June – reading, watching, listening to…

Well July is here, the outdoor pool is still not open and the beautiful weather continues.  So despite lido road trips and work (that old chestnut), what were we reading, watching and listening to?

Reading:  First up was The year of Living Danishly by Helen Russell, which was a guide to living in the world’s happiest country. She gives up her frenetic life in London and moves to rural Jutland and explores what life is like in Denmark, interviewing various people and asking them to rank their lives and happiness out of ten. Imagine the kind of marks that people in this country would give themselves. In Denmark, no one seems to score themselves lower than an ‘eight’.  From equality, to work-life balance, it’s probably what the world would be like if I were in charge.


I also read Dear Mrs Bird which is not normally the kind of book I would pick up, but the author gave a talk in town an event last week, (keep an eye out in the NWN for my review!)

This is a positive and uplifting book about the greatest generation -those who lived, uncomplainingly, through the war, and a young life set against the backdrop of bomb hit London. Emmy Lake is a would-be war journalist who accidentally gets a job working for a formidable agony aunt and ends up replying to some of the people seeking advice. It’s a lovely read and I hear there’s a sequel coming!



The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt!  Series four has just appeared on Netflix, so I’ve been rewatching the first three series. Everything I’m reading and watching at the moment seems to be about people with wide-eyed enthusiasm – obviously I must be seeking some positivity at a time when the world seems to have gone quite mad!  I got hooked on Kimmy after the end of 30 Rock which is one of my favourite comedies of all time. I quite often get compared to Liz Lemon (not sure if it’s the glasses or because I quite often have lettuce in my hair), so when that ended, I sought out more of Tina Fey’s work and found Kimmy. It didn’t originally sound like the realms of comedy; “Oh it’s about a woman who is forced to live in a nuclear bunker for 15 years and then after being rescued, has to adapt to modern life”, but it’s an hilarious and absurd comedy about surviving, friendship, being a good person and living with someone called Titus Andromedon……

Listening to:

Holy Moly and the Crackers! They’re appearing at a few festivals that I’m going to this year, plus appearing at Ace Space in Newbury in October.

What else

I’m planning a Twitter hour in September for small businesses! Get involved at @wberkshour