Welcome to my first non-fiction blog tour of the year, and it’s for a book I highly recommend, Veronica’s Bird, I’m delighted to be sharing my review with you today.
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 1950s, as Veronica sought desperately to keep away from his cruelty.
Astonishingly, to her and her mother, she 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 until her brother-in-law came into her life. It was as if she had stepped from the frying pan into the re: he took over control of 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 a cheap option on his market stall.
Abused for many years by these two men, Veronica eventually ran away and applied to the Prison Service, knowing it was the only safe place she could trust.
This is the astonishing, and true story of Veronica Bird who rose to become a Governor of Armley prison. Given a ‘basket case’ in another prison, contrary to all expectations, she turned it around within a year, to become an example for others to match. During her life inside, her ‘bird’, she met many Home Secretaries, was honoured by the Queen and was asked to help improve conditions in Russian Prisons. A deeply poignant story of eventual triumph against a staggeringly high series of setbacks, her story is filled with humour and compassion for those inside.
As someone with a great interest in all things crime-related, as soon as I read the tagline for this book – “Thirty-five years inside, as a woman prison officer” – Veronica’s Bird became a must read. This book is split into two halves: part one looks back a Veronica’s childhood and part two recounts her life as a woman prison officer. I must confess, I was eager to get to part two, but as is the natural order of things, we must start at the beginning.
In part one, Veronica details her earlier life, the opportunities that were cruelly taken from her and the horrid treatment she received at the hands of her father and brother-in-law. I don’t want to recount Veronica’s childhood as it is her story to tell but I will say, it lays the foundation for part two of this book, it helps you understand Veronica’s nature, her determination, and perhaps why she was “married to the job.”
Part two, and the longer of the two parts, is Veronica’s bird – “doing time” at some of the harshest prisons in England. I really enjoyed learning about the history of prisons in this part of the book; which prisons housed which prisoners and the transformation of these prisons over the years. Equally, the daily routine of both the prisoners and the guards was so interesting. I have so much admiration for Veronica, for her ability to make prison life better, not only for the prisoners, but for the staff too. She showed how simple changes can boost morale for both parties and create a more harmonious experience for all involved. Veronica worked in the prison service for thirty-five years, and as you read about her journey, you will see that she earned every promotion and award through hard work and compassion, and impressively, at a time when the prison service was very much a male-dominated field.
Myra Hindley, Charles Bronson, are those names that make your blood curl? These are very dangerous criminals Veronica came into close contact with in her time at the prison service and she takes a few pages on each to explain her impression of them, never raising them to cult or celebrity status but feeding our warped fascination (for want of a better word) with these people, born out of our disbelief that such heinous acts could be committed.
There’s no denying, there are failures in our prison service, but when you read about Veronica’s visit to the prisons in Russia, you will see that England, perhaps, isn’t doing too badly after all.
The content isn’t graphic, ‘hard-to-read’, nor laden with jargon; it’s funny in the right places without taking away from the serious nature. If you have an interest in the [history of the] prison service or want to read the story of how one woman triumphed over her despairing beginnings, I highly recommend you read Veronica’s Bird.
Veronica’s Bird is published on 23/01/18 by Clink Street Publishing
*My thanks to Rachel @ Authoright for providing me with a copy of this book and inviting me to participate in the blog tour*
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.
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