Wednesday, 25 April 2007

The Paperless Office!

As a teenager, I supported Greenpeace. I wanted to save the world or a least preserve part of its beauty for future generations. I learned in horror of our disappearing rainforests and the affect it was having on wildlife, the environment and the ozone layer.

Many of the predictions taught in geography classes in the 1980s and 1990s have proven untrue. They told us that Ireland’s population was in decline, and although we were part of a baby boom and would have to pit ourselves against each other for places in college and jobs, that the birth rate would continue to drop and our children would have their pick of schools and colleges.

We are currently experiencing the greatest explosion in the population of Ireland since before the Great Famine. The average class size is currently over 30 pupils, and many children are being taught in inferior prefab buildings. Schools have to set limits on the age a child can begin school, in an attempt to manage class sizes.

What has this got to do with publishing, I hear you ask?

Another prediction that we were taught was that everyone would operate in a paperless office by the time the 21st century came around. In the late 90s it seemed to be heading that way, as companies enthusiastically embraced the internet and email. It certainly has changed the business climate, but has it created a paperless office? Not at Maverick anyhow.

The mountain of paperwork that arrives on my desk on a daily basis engulfs me and I struggle to keep control of it. My recycle bin fills and overflows regularly.

Similarly, the imminent demise of the book has also been exaggerated. Over the last few years we have heard predictions of e-books and how publishers should be quaking in their boots about the advent of the e-book; How people will shun their books in favour of reading on their computers, iPods and other devices.

I get the feeling the ‘experts’ have got it wrong again, and you can quote me on this. It won’t happen in my lifetime. Watch this space...

Jean, the MD.

Friday, 20 April 2007

The London Book Fair 2007

Spring time in London is always fabulous but this year the weather took everyone by surprise. With temperatures in the 20s, there were many sunburnt faces at London Book Fair on Monday morning.

The Mavericks kept their cool, however, and had a busy book fair meeting agents and authors, and buying rights.

The new venue at Earl's Court was great to work in - close to hotels, good facilities and and a comfortable environment, although many commented that the Irish stand was placed on aisle Z, it was in fact, a busy spot which attracted quite a few passers by.

We made some acquisitions, which we are very excited about, and will feature in our 2008 list.

The Mavericks also found time to hang out in South Kensington with fellow publisher, Peter Walsh from Milo Books, as all work and no play would make the Mavericks very dull indeed!

Jean, MD.

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

The Last Executioner opened my eyes to a new world of reading

When I got my copy of The Last Executioner on recommendation, I was more than a little apprehensive settling down to start it. I am a definite graduate of chick lit to historical and literary fiction, but never was drawn to this particular genre. To be honest I didn’t think I’d get past the first chapter but I thought sure I’d give it a go.

Well how wrong could I be! I was straight away transported into Chavoret Jaruboon’s world and fascinated at how an Elvis loving guitar playing young buck about town could end up with the job he had. I was captivated from the word go. I was immediately struck with the great relationship Chavoret had with his father. He adored him and wasn’t afraid to show it through his words. His father instilled in him his grounded and down to earth ambition to get on in life and provide for his own family the way he had been provided for solely by his father. The user friendly style of writing helped my reading ease and the chapters just flew past.

Apart from the ‘man behind the mask’ aspect of the book, I was also drawn - with horror I must admit - into the whole world of Bangkwang prison and I was enthralled with the fly on the wall look at the day to day lives of the prisoners and quite disturbing tales of the executed and how they came upon they’re doomed fate on that cross. Chavoret, although recounting their stories, seemed to be able very easily to shrug off his job and go home to Tew and his family at the end of the day and continue his regular life. I don’t think just anyone could do that job and not bring ghosts home and he obviously is of strong mind and body to leave the prison and what he had done behind at the end of day. I very much admire him as a man and would greatly enjoy meeting him. His story stayed with me for a long time after I finished the book and it completely opened my eyes to the world “out there”. I now find myself scanning the true life/true crime section in my local bookstore rather than immediately heading for my usual well browsed fiction section. I never thought this genre would grab me the way The Last Executioner did and I am very much looking forward to reading Angel of Bang Kwang Prison.

Darrinagh Marshall, Arklow, Co Wicklow, Ireland.

Wednesday, 11 April 2007

The boy under the chestnut tree

George Strunz (Newtown School, Class of 1956) writes:

It was, I think in 1950 or 1951, on the gravel under “the brothers”, the ancient horse-chestnut trees then in front of Newtown School, that I first met Zoltan and Edit Zynn (subsequently Zinn-Collis) among the new boarders entering the school that autumn. Both were shorter in stature than the rest of us and their hair and complexions were dark: they were good-looking children with ready and engaging smiles and Zoltan wore wire-rimmed glasses. He had a noticeable bump on the upper part of his back. Word had spread among the Newtown community that these children had survived terrible hardships in concentration camp and, without being spoiled, should be treated with due consideration. Although we knew that they had lost their entire family, few among the privileged and relatively innocent Newtown student body could imagine the full horror of these terrible hardships.

Edit and I were in the same class and Zoltan, being younger, was a form or two behind. Throughout their time as members of the Newtown community, it was tacitly understood that one did not discuss their earlier history with Edit and Zoltan. Indeed, with their cheerful dispositions and wholehearted participation in school activities, most of us quickly forgot about their different background, although the knowledge did persist in my subconscious mind.

I had not, until last year, seen or been in contact with either Edit or Zoltan since school-days. Now, after briefly meeting with Edit again and having read the autobiography, which Zoltan has finally been able to bring himself to write more than half a century later, I feel that I have at last come to know these remarkable “ordinary” people!

The beginning of the book recalls the experiences of the author and his sister as small children in the brutal hell that was the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, during what was arguably the darkest period in the history of humanity. Their survival was due to the intervention of a number of caring people and the resilience they had as young children “who were still able to play among the rotting corpses”. With its horrific beginning, the story of their subsequent journey in Ireland towards recovery and a normal life in the care of a remarkable Irish physician is an inspiring testament to the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

The first section of the book makes for very uncomfortable and distressing reading. Zoltan was the third of four children born in the foothills of the High Tatra to a Jewish Slovak father and a Protestant mother of Hungarian origin. When he was about four, his father had to go into hiding from the Nazis and the children saw nothing of him for months. His mother, warned by the authorities to dissociate herself from her husband nevertheless remained steadfast and loyal to him, with the result that when he was subsequently arrested, the entire family was sent to concentration camp. All perished there except Zoltan and his elder sister Edit.

The author’s childhood recollections of the appalling, brutally inhuman conditions under which his family and other victims of Nazism suffered while being transported to Belsen and during their day-to-day existence in the camp are chilling. The images left with the reader are nightmarish. In the midst of all the barely describable brutality, Part 1 nevertheless also has some uplifting moments, such as the nurturing of the children by Polish inmate, Luba Trysznska (“the angel of Belsen”) and her Slovak companion Hermina Krantz as well as some surreptitious kindness shown by one of the female guards.

The turning point comes when Zoltan, described by Dutch Red Cross worker Han Hogerzeil, as an “enchanting scrap of humanity”, and his sister Edit are rescued from the freshly liberated camp by the indomitable Dr Bob Collis. Thereafter begins, in Ireland, their difficult but inspiring road to recovery, initially in the care of Dr Collis, who became father as well as physician to the children. A description of their healing and acquiring the ability to deal with their physical and emotional scars comprises the middle section of the book.

Incarceration at Belsen left the 5-year-old Zoltan with tuberculosis in his spine, a condition responsible for the spinal deformity that he has lived with ever since. It was fortunate for Zoltan that the redoubtable Dr Collis was at the forefront in his field of paediatrics at the time and the doctor’s influential contacts included some of the world’s leading physicians and scientists. Thus, when Zoltan, at the age of six or seven, seemed about to succumb to tuberculosis meningitis, Collis was able to obtain directly from Sir Alexander Flemming the Nobel Lauriate’s entire supply of the newly discovered antibiotic streptomycin, the experimental administration of which undoubtedly saved his life.

Zoltan and Edit were adopted and grew up as members of the Collis household which initially included the doctor, his first wife Phyllis and their sons, Dermot and Robby. The book contains revealing glimpses of their life in Dublin’s Fitzwilliam Square and at the family’s beloved holiday home, Bo, in the Wicklow mountains. Han Hogerzeil, the nurse who had worked alongside Dr Collis in Belsen so many years before and remained a close friend, later became the second Mrs. Collis.

The major part of the children’s academic education was received as boarders at Newtown and the school has reason to be proud that Zoltan was very happy there and credits it with having more influence on him than any other place. “Thanks to the influence of Newtown School,” he writes, “I have accepted what happened to me and moved on with my life. That is no small achievement.”

Indeed, he did move on with his life and had a successful career in hotel management and as a chef. He married Joan, a Catholic; they had four daughters and have enjoyed a happy life as a loving close-knit family.

Those who lived in Ireland during the 1950’s and 60’s will remember that relations between Roman Catholics and the small non-Catholic minority were cordial and reasonably tolerant at that time, but that tradition and the Ne Temere decree placed almost insurmountable barriers in the way of mixed marriages. I have heard that Zoltan and Joan had to overcome considerable obstacles when they decided to marry. It seems a pity that these difficulties are scarcely alluded to in the book: such an account would have given an interesting insight into their strength and determination and into the social history of the time. This is, however a minor criticism of a book which makes compelling and uplifting reading.

Besides telling Zoltan’s remarkable life story, it gives a snapshot of the personality of the legendary Dr Bob Collis, a larger-than-life figure with enormous energy and a powerful will and intellect, who nevertheless was not without some human frailties.

As he has come to terms with his past, Zoltan has become active in the important field of education about the Holocaust, giving talks in Irish schools and community forums and, not least, by the creation of this autobiography.

The book is written in a straightforward, modest, informal manner and is devoid of self-pity. The author’s own indomitable personality shines through and there is no shortage of humour. He describes for instance the corset-like contraption that was designed for him as a youngster to hold his spine rigidly in position: when drawn into small-boy fist-fights he would “go in backwards” and the little fists of his opponents would come into sharp contact with the hard canvas, belts and buckles of the corset! Another anecdote tells of an explosion within a hotel kitchen gas oven when he, the head chef, suffered broken glasses and some minor injuries. A waiter, standing safely behind him observed “Jaysus, Collis, if the f..…ing Nazis didn’t get you, we will!”

These examples suggest that, notwithstanding the serious health issues that increasingly beset him as he gets older, this unique “Slovak Irish Paddy” retains the twinkle in his eyes that we remember from his Newtown days. This is a very important story, both as a historical record and as the autobiography of a remarkable and courageous individual: it deserves to be widely read. Perhaps such accounts may one day touch human consciences to the point where they prevent the recurrence of the kind of brutality he endured which, alas, we still see today in places like Dafur.

Tuesday, 10 April 2007

My First Book

Of all the things I’ve ever envisaged doing with my life writing the memoirs of a Thai state executioner was certainly not one of them. Chaverot Jaruboon shot dead 55 people during his career and decided that he would kill no more when lethal injection replaced the gun in Thailand, in 2003.

I was nervous. I knew absolutely nothing about Thailand and even less about the death penalty. Would I have the stomach for it? Should I be doing this from an ethical point of view?

Pornchai, the Thai researcher, sent me over the interviews that had already taken place and, inevitably, there was more to the man than his job. Over the next few weeks he began to remind me of my dad. My dad is a man with simple tastes who lives for his family. He is a quiet man who doesn’t seek friendship with his co-workers and prefers to come home at night to his wife, who he may - or may not – be a little frightened off. He had worked incredibly hard all his life but has no material wealth to speak off. His only wish was that his kids got a good education so that they could support themselves.

The executioner is a quiet man with simple tastes. At work he keeps himself to himself and the most important people in his life are his family. One of the biggest reasons for accepting his dubious promotion was that he would make enough money to send his 3 kids to a good school. To him education was the key to an independent life and his sons and daughter have done him proud. He is wild about Tew, his wife of 40 years, and may – or may not – be slightly afraid of her. They have had to scrimp over the years and today he is not a wealthy man.

I rest my case. - Nicola Pierce, author

Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Note from a reader:

I finished Hell in Barbados earlier this week and let me tell you, I thought it was brilliant. I honestly couldn’t put it down, that’s how gripping it was. My partners now reading it and he too can’t put it down either!

I wanted thank Terry for providing me with such an amazing insight, not just into his life, but on how addiction can affect people in an all consuming way. But, he also shows that it is possible to turn your life around. Hopefully many others do not have to experience the horrors that Terry did, but he shows that if people want to change, they can.

There were moments in the book that the scenario was so crazy and chaotic that I had to laugh at the black humour. I know it wasn’t funny but I can imagine him in the middle of it all, but not even comprehending the risks/dangers.

The part set in Barbados was chilling and at times I felt his fear. The book was really able to convey so much emotion. When the riot broke, I felt like I was jostling through the crowd with him trying to get out, or baking in the hot sun while he waited to be moved, or wrapping himself up in a plastic sheet to keep warm.

I’m disgusted that this is the way people are being treated in Barbados. It turns my stomach to know that this happens to people and that they mix petty criminals with major criminals.

Once again, what an amazing triumph! I’m so grateful that Terry was able to share this story in a touching, humane and dignified way.


Monday, 2 April 2007

Kay Danes on the fate of Guantánamo Bay prisoner, David Hicks

David was on his way to Gitmo when I was on my way home from Laos. Most of us who have experienced unlawful detainment in a foreign jail understand completely, that justice is often unattainable. Sometimes you make the best deal you can in order to go home. My husband and I were almost forced to ransom our integrity against our freedom... so difficult to endure such horrendous conditions and then at the end of it.. .listen to your government telling you that that's the best [offer] they can negotiate. I'm not ungrateful because unlike David Hicks and his family, Kerry and I and our family had all the support in the world from our Government. But that we still endured unlawful detention, an unfair trial, a pre-judgement before a court proceeding, a sentence before we were even charged, tortured and ill-treated and labelled as something we were not.... is something I will never forget and would never want my fellow Australians to ever have to endure.

No matter who we are, where we are, or what it is that we are alleged to have done.... we all deserve to have our rights upheld by our Government.

David Hicks will now be forced to bide his time until he finds the strength to put his life back together. I imagine he'll find it difficult when everyone is calling him a terrorist. But I will simply think of him as a young man who wanted to believe in a just cause and got a little lost along the way. Hopefully he can use these experiences to make his life positive and something that he can be proud of, and his family.

We all make mistakes, some bigger than others... some really stupid... some we don't know how or why we made them... some more public than others... but I have faith that David's journey will be one that many in our community can examine and learn from.

Justice has not been served. Once again, justice has become a victim. David did not get a fair trial. There was no cross examination of evidence or challenge to any defence... he was left with no option but to accept whatever they gave him in order to go home. Just as my husband and I were forced to accept what the communist Laos government and Australian Government decided for us. We are after all simply ordinary Australians who don't mean all that much in the grand scheme of things!

David has been told to go home and shut up! It's exactly what we were told to do.... only I didn't!

Kay Danes

International Human Rights Advocate
Foreign Prisoner Support Service

Author Website:
Latest world-wide release - 'Nightmare in Laos' - A True story of a woman imprisoned in a communist gulag.