Q & A with Suzie Grogan

A few weeks back I sent a couple of questions to Shell Shocked Britain author, Suzie Grogan, for Warfare Magazine Online.

Her answers left me with prickly skin up my arms, making my blonde monkey-hair stand on end. She is an incredibly busy woman, and I honestly think she is like Dr Who…she does so much in so little time it makes the mind boggle.

Never one to shy away from a challenge, she pushed all her work to one side, lucky me!, and answered my questions.

By the looks of your website; suziegrogan.co.uk, you’re an unbelievably busy woman, with an array of interests from law to poetry, mental health to history, and more… But let’s start at the beginning. What did you want to be when you were younger, before you started on the road to becoming a fascinating author? 

I have always wanted to write, even at Primary school, but before I could give myself permission to pursue that ambition I tried lots of other things – nursing, but I was terrible, too over-sensitive at times when a cool head was needed; law, which was just as bad! If I felt an injustice was being done I would want to cry and shout ‘It’s not fair m’lud!!’; working in local government and finally for a mental health charity. It was only when that charity made me redundant that I decided to really go for it.

Law was a fabulous grounding in research methods and has helped me so much when writing books, but it was not the career for me. Dandelions and Bad Hair Dayscame about after I shared my experience of depression and anxiety on the blog I set up, No Wriggling Out of Writingto get myself to putting words on paper again. I had so many positive responses,and heard so many other moving stories that I though it was an opportunity to raise some money for charity and get the message out there – mental ill health can happen to anybody.

How do you juggle writing fiction, non-fiction, features, web copy and the occasional poem? That’s quite a list! 

I don’t do them all at the same time! I have to earn a living, so the website work and blogs for other people pay a few bills and the articles I write also support the time I have set aside to write the non-fiction books. The fiction and poems are a luxury and I don’t write nearly enough for pure pleasure, there just isn’t time, although I do have two unpublished novels (one based on the story that inspired Shell Shocked Britain) at an editing stage. One day!

Phew! You also find the time to host a fortnightly talk show on Somerset’s local radio 10Radio! While on the air you chat to other authors about their work. Who has been your favourite to interview?

I couldn’t possibly say! There have been so many in the three years I have been doing the show. I do love to talk to poets though, and hear them read their work. I can talk about poetry all day, and also write for The Wordsworth Trust blog about my favourite poet, John Keats, who features in my next book for P&S.

And as well as all that, you still find some time to manage community projects, like the Wiveliscombe Children of the Great War Project that continues to run until 2016. Could you tell us a little bit about this project?

The Children of the Great War Project is fantastic. I wrote the bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund and we got the highest amount available – £10,000. I have co-ordinated it for the past two years, and it ends in September this year with a community event, including the unveiling of a fabulous mosaic memorial, made by children of the town with help of local artists, and is to be used as a focus for future commemoration. There is also the publication of a book to accompany it, including poems and quotes from the children of the local school, and illustrations designed by them. It is very much a team effort though and as a freelancer it is lovely to have something that enables you to get out and work with other people.

How do you relax after all of this?

I am trying to walk more to keep fit and get me away from my desk and love to visit the Lake District a couple of times a year – it is the only place where I can put things in perspective, and of course I read as much as I can.

Shell Shocked Brit

So, we’re here to talk about your book Shell Shocked Britain. How did you come to write the book?

I pitched the idea for Shell Shocked Britain to P&S when I found out more about how mental health had affected my family down the generations, and discovered that my Great Uncle had killed his girlfriend and then himself after being traumatised in the First World War. I researched more widely and discovered that he was far from alone in finding it hard to cope with life in a changed post-war Britain, and with the commemorative period coming up I thought it was a story that had to be told.

The research must have been tough for the book considering the topic. How did you gather your information?

The research side was fascinating. I found out who might be the best experts to consult, read their books and checked through their bibliographies and sources before contacting those that might be willing to talk about my ideas for the book. People were lovely, and pointed me to other sources and archives that offered new information, previously unpublished. I read lots of articles, visited libraries and ended up with far more information than I could possibly use. It is a difficult subject, and many of the stories are deeply moving, but nevertheless it was fascinating work.

Was there a part of the writing process that you thoroughly enjoyed?

I visited the wonderful Liddle Collection in Leeds and found some letters written from Hull, by a woman visiting her mother, to her husband working in London during the First Blitz. Her initial excitement at seeing the Zeppelins fly over quickly changed as she witnessed the devastation of Hull, and heard reports that parts of London close to her husband’s office had been attacked. She wrote with compassion about the hundreds of people made homeless and was terrified that her husband would be injured or killed. Those ‘ordinary’ stories were vital to making the book appealing to a wider audience and were a great find.


Can you sum up Shell Shocked Britain in just 5 words?

That is tough, but I would hope it is moving, informative and compassionate. It has also been universally described as well-researched and engaging, which is a relief!

Could you give us some sneaky peekies about your next Pen & Sword instalments?

From the Womb to the Tomb takes the reader back to the early 19th century and looks at medical care, and how it differs from today. Focusing on the surgeon-apothecary, many of whom were the GPs of their time (treating people from the womb to the tomb!), it gives some wonderful characters the chance to shine (and well-known medical trainees like John Keats) and also goes into the rather gothically-horrible training doctors undertook and treatments that people endured in the days before anaesthesia and antibiotics.

Shell Shocked Britain is available from Pen and Sword Books.

The images used above have been extracted from Shell Shocked Britain and courtesy of Paul Reed at www.greatwarphotos.com

Colourising the First World War

“Colour adds another dimension to an image and helps bring the subjects ‘to life’ in a way that black and white images often can’t.”

Cover Image
The Lost Tommies in Colour, Tom Marshall (2016)

For a few years now, Tom Marshall has been colourising black and white photographs. As his techniques and methods continue to improve, he’s been fortunate enough to turn this amazing hobby into a job with home-grown, PhotograFix.

“I have worked with some of the world’s greatest photo archives and museum collections, with publishers and historians, and with private family photos that each have their own unique stories to tell.”

Using mainly Adobe Photoshop, Tom essentially colour washes the entire image, effectively making an individual painting. It may take several hours to complete, but Tom insists that it allows people, especially younger generations, to connect with the people they see.

“It’s a sad truth that black and white images are often ignored or go unnoticed.”

Spending most of his time researching the correct colours for uniforms, buildings, animals, and the like, Tom claims that sometimes it boils down to an “educated guess or using a degree of artistic license to choose a colour that looks ‘right.’” Luckily for Tom, subjects like the First World War are heavily documented and can be researched in libraries’ reference books or on internet forums.

His next project has been influenced by Australian journalist Ross Coulthart’s discovery of World War One photographs. In 2011, a team of researchers, led by Coulthart, made a remarkable discovery when they uncovered a collection of hundreds of photographs from the First World War. The images are now forever immortalised and featured in a book by Coulthart, entitled The Lost Tommies.

The Lost Tommies
The Lost Tommies by Ross Coulthart (2016)


“It was Doug Banks, who runs the WWI Colourised Photos page on Facebook, that introduced me to the project and my next challenge.

“When the BBC’s One Show began a public plea to try and identify the lost Tommies from the photos, contributors to Doug’s page rose to the challenge and started colourising the fascinating images to bring the subject’s to life and try and identify them.

“Of the hundred images, I chose the particular pictures for the sharpness of the facial details, as they stood out as having real feeling behind their eyes; like they’d seen things most of us couldn’t imagine.”














Original images courtesy of Ross Coulthart, author of ‘The Lost Tommies’ & The Kerry Stokes Collection – Louis & Antoinette Thuillier.

Tom Marshall would like to thank Ross Coulthart, head of the research team that uncovered these fantastic images and author of The Lost Tommies, for his permission to share these colourised versions.

If you should recognise any of the men featured in this post, please get in touch!


PhotograFix 1


Review: Coventry and the Great War

This is definitely a book you should have on your shelf…

Coventry and the Great War
Coventry and the Great War is available from Amberley Publishing

This is a fantastic book, especially for those who are fascinated by the history of Coventry.

Although it starts with the school boy error of beginning a sentence with ‘On a warm summer’s evening…’, this can easily be overlooked as you read on and discover stories about the people of the city and what happened to it during the war.

McGrory’s addition of his own personal family history gives something a little extra and makes it all that more special.

Anyone that lives in or knows the area will enjoy seeing pictures of Great War Coventry and trying to imagine the difference between then and now. Especially as so much has changed around the Broadgate area!

Detailed with some great photographs and documents, this is definitely a book you should have on your shelf, even if just for reference or sentimental value.

Published by Amberley Publishing
128 pages
March  2016

Review: The Long Shot

“Jack Adams works as a gamekeeper. The Great War has already started when a chance meeting with a serving officer introduces him to a new kind of warfare, sniping.” – Blurb

This is an incredibly easy-to-read fictional story of a young lad facing the atrocities of war, becoming a hero and a man, and yet still trying to have a life back home that he misses dearly. By all accounts, it would resonate with most soldiers and families at that time, and what Atherton does is create a world that you can become totally transfixed with. As a reader you find yourself routing for most of the characters and despising others because of their actions. Using real places and battles, the books is a reminder of the horrors of war and doesn’t let it slip past you that it is based on true events.

It can seem sometimes that accounts of history in fiction novels can carry a much clearer message than a memoir, diary or even photograph. The use of language can be interpreted differently in fiction and create deeper meanings and, I think, allows for a more thorough understanding of war. The freedom to be creative and use a whole host of adjectives can sometimes create a more vivid image than when just recounting factual events. Atherton does this brilliantly. In just the first page you conjure up images of the wildness of war in his comparison between the cold nights in France and the rabbits running wild at home. He shows very simply how easy it is to be so unlucky in war; “…it had been two days since that shot, the one that had had his name on it and which missed by less than an inch. Clearly, his name had been spelled incorrectly.”

Sometimes, though, the descriptions of war can become tiresome and I found myself flicking through pages to get on with the story. The constant use of the word ‘stupid’ to describe the war, although accurate, seemed lazy and irritating.

However, the general story was exciting, full of action, friendship, and heart-break. The story conveys Atherton’s in-depth knowledge of the subject perfectly. The need to find out what happens to each and every character means you won’t put this book down and leave it for a few days, you’ll want to steam through every page.

I don’t think that there is any age limitations on reading this book. Secondary school students should definitely be told to pick it up as it’s an effortless read that says so much so simply, and is akin to Michael Murpurgo’s Private Peaceful. Adults alike would be interested whether they have a passion for military history or not thanks to the personalities of the characters and how easy it can be to relate them to real-life. Highly recommended.

The Long Shot is the first instalment of the story, followed later by A Shot in the Shadows.

The long shot pb
Published by Michael Atherton
284 pages
October 2014

Available from michaelatherton.info/shop and Amazon

You can also follow Michael’s official blog and Facebook.

Review: Over There – America in the Great War

Robert J. & Rebecca S. Dalessandro

Over There: America in the Great War by is great collection of photographs and informative text, with a concise introduction that covers America’s entry into the war in little easy-to-digest chunks. Whilst it is not a book for those who want an in-depth exploration into the US’ entry and involvement in the First World War, the bitesize introductions, though generalised, give enough significant information to tempt readers into reading further or researching more themselves.

Over There Casemate

Although it could be read altogether, this seems less of a ‘book to read’ and more like a documentary or keep-sake thanks to all the photographs and captions. Due to the chronology of chapters, readers are able to use this book as a reference for a particular period or event.

The photographs throughout are incredible and really help to tell the story, especially the inclusion of propaganda posters. The addition of colour photographs later on in the book just add that something ‘special’. Be careful of the photo on page 123 though: it might just make you go ‘aww’.

Stackpole Books have published a tremendous photographic document of American history.

Stackpole Photo Series
208 pages
January 15, 2016

Available from Casemate UK 

Remembering the Battle of Jutland

Nick Jellicoe
Nicholas Jellicoe, author of Jutland: The Unfinished Battle 

Nick Jellicoe, grandson of the famous Admiral Jellicoe, has been incredibly busy making the Battle of Jutland more accessible for all with his new website.

His aim is to commemorate not only the British dead but also the German dead, and hopes to make the German side of the story better known. Original German accounts of the battle (or Skagerraksschlacht) were printed in Gothic text that was difficult to read. Jellicoe is using optical character recognition to translate the text, but volunteers are using being incorporated into the project to help translate.



The website is full of facts and statistics alongside interactive and animated maps, podcasts, videos and a database of ships and gunnery.

“It’s difficult to understand any battle just by looking at a typical map on a page in a book. All a map like this can show you is a moment in time rather than a dynamic, fluid picture of how forces moved and interacted with one another.


“We are working on a series of animated maps of the Battle of Jutland which will give the viewer a better idea of the dynamic of this complex battle.”

As generations constantly change, and values and importance change with it, it is crucial that history is told in a different way. The website, with its engaging and fun-to-use content helps to make history more accessible on a topic that is not widely taught in schools.

“It’s important that the history and lessons of Jutland are passed onto new generations whose language is digital and whose values have evolved.”

Jutland Unfinished Battle
Jutland: The Unfinished Battle is available to preorder from Pen & Sword Books. Released March 2016

Author Jon Cooksey wins BBC’s Gillard Award

Jon Cooksey, one of Pen & Sword Books’ longest running author and leading military historian, has won a 2015 Gillard Award in the Faith category for a radio documentary about an ordained priest who, during the First World War, commanded a British infantry battalion.

The documentary about the Reverend Bernard Vann, co-wrote and co-produced by Jon, was broadcast on BBC Radio Northamptonshire and presented by Reverend Richard Coles, a former student from Stratford College.

The documentary follows the story of how Reverend Vann rose through the ranks of the Sherwood Foresters, received the Military and Victoria Cross and was killed October 1918 by a German Sniper.

Jon told the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald: “The Gillard Awards recognise the very best in terms of the breadth, depth and quality of the BBC’s local radio output, output which, despite the well-known and popular flagship TV and radio shows, remains the bedrock of the corporation.

The Battles of the French Flanders is Jon’s most recent book, with Jerry Murland, and Battle Lines: The First Day of the Somme is due for release in June this year.

WWI German U-Boat Found Off Coast of East Anglia, UK

A First World War German U-boat, commissioned into the German Navy in September 1914, has finally been discovered on the seabed near East Anglia.

The SM U-31 that vanished after leaving for routine patrol from Wilhelmshaven, January 1915 has been discovered by energy companies ScottishPower and Vattenfall, whilst surveying the seabed for proposed offshore wind farms 55 miles off the coast of East Anglia.

With four officers and 31 men on board, the story goes that they were poisoned by an onboard has leak, whilst others thought that it sunk after been struck by a mine. Least to say, it had become subject to many a war legend.

According to Marke Dunkerly, marine archaeologist at Historic England, the submarine is in remarkable condition; “the conning tower [is] present and the bows [are] partially buried.”

Not expecting to find the SM U-31, they thought that perhaps it was the last-to-be-found Second World War Dutch Navy’s submarine.

The wreck, that is now an official military maritime war grave, will stay where it is. Future wind developments near the wreck will be built in such a way as to not disturb the site.