‘The Wonder Girls Resist’ at October Books!
On Friday 10th June 2022 the Wonder Girls Resist made a splash at October Books. The book arrived 85 years after SS Habana docked in Southampton delivering nearly 4000 children to safety after the horrific bombing of their homes by Franco and Hitler. Picasso’s famous painting Guernica shows just some of the anguish of terrible time.
Southampton, without government support, but with the voluntary National Joint Committee for Spanish Relief, welcomed the children and cared for them at a huge children’s camp between Southampton and Eastleigh.
The first Wonder Girls book was set in 1936 and took its inspiration from The Battle of Cable Street – when the people of East London prevented Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, The Blackshirts, from marching through Stepney. I needed a similarly momentous event in the fight against fascism for book 2.
I’d known for a while about a Spanish children’s camp in Southampton pre WW2. I knew that planes detoured so as not to frighten the children and that was about it. When I discovered that the camp was 1937, I'd found my inspiration. I visited the archives at The Civic Centre and The University's Hartley Library to learn more. I couldn’t understand why the camp wasn’t better known. My mission is to change that, to topple Southampton's Titanic flagship, with the story of a boat that didn't sink and a town that came to the rescue!
The Wonder Girls Resist was funded by a kickstarter campaign I ran last October, so last Friday's event was part thank-you, part launch and part 85th Anniversary celebration of the massive volunteer effort to keep these children safe. The books sold during the event raised £30 for the UNHCR, give if you can. As in 1937, our government has an inconsistent and callous attitude towards refugees. You can resist the deportation of refugees to Rwanda here and here. Find out more at The University of Oxford's Migration Observatory here.
I welcomed my guests at the door with a quiz, a cheeky ruse to take a look at October Books' shelves. After worrying that no one was going to come (always before an event there’s always a spate of very well-meaning and totally reasonable but nevertheless, depressing ‘so sorry I can’t make it’s) it was so lovely to greet between 40 and 50 truly Wonder-Full people on the door. I am so grateful to each and every one for coming along.
Southampton's first Children’s Mayor, Amaanah Hayat, a real life Wonder Girl, gave a fantastic speech about her pride in the city of Southampton. How brilliant was it that Madam Mayor Amaanah came to help me promote a story about welcoming children when part of her remit is promoting Southampton as a child friendly city!
Carmen Kilner from The Basque Children's Association '37 talked about the children’s reactions to they camp. They thought the tents were wigwams from the 'wild west' , they didn't like the meaty flavoured vegetable stew, loved Horlicks and the daily chocolate ration donated by Cadburys, but the earth toilets were horrible. Carmen’s mum was one of the few Spanish teachers that accompanied the children on the Habana. Find out more at basquechildren.org, a brilliant resource about the camp, the children and what happened next...
I read a short except then Pauline McWilliams' and Glorious Harmony natural voice choir sang Harbour by Anna Tabbush. They sang a moving song so beautifully and looked fabulous in a rainbow of pashminas. See and hear them here.
There were the usual technical difficulties getting the projector and Zoom to work. But how wonder-full was it that folk looked in from across the UK and the US! We’ve all got fairly good at Zoom these last few years but I still think it’s magic! Everyone who came to watch or participate was lovely, as was October Books' Wonder-Full Suzanne Baker who looked after book sales.
Thank you October books for providing such a great event space.
Each time I do one of these, the angst before and after the event gets worse – I just want everyone to have a lovely time and catch some of my heart for the stories and the characters. They become real to me and while I know not everyone will gel with them, I want to give as many readers as possible the opportunity to try them out and I’m better at that in real life than online. So here's looking forward to book 3!
Did I do ok? Everyone tells me I did, so with a few days space I can feel that The Wonder Girls Resist is well and truly launched and trust that people meant what they said! I am proud to do it independently, to not be part of a massive publishing pyramid with a billionaire perched on top of hundreds of imprints and subsidiaries with fingers in who knows what kind of unsavoury pies. I am a pedalo to a cruise liner – I’ll never make a profit but I will make a splash.
With many thanks to Cate, Rachel, Andy and Lindsey for the photos.
Buy a paperback copy of The Wonder Girls Resist from me, here.
'Join the gang' – sign up to my jolly newsletter about my hopeful adventures here
Buy a paperback copy from October Books for collection, (no P&P!) by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Or, if you're not in the UK and would like to save on expensive international postage, buy from online retailers here (NB this the same story but a different edition with a slightly different cover)
Check out my other books here.