Books spe­cial


Belfast Telegraph - - REVIEW -

Lin­colnshire-based lorry me­chanic/mo­tor­cy­cle racer/TV pre­sen­ter Guy Martin (37) is do­ing well with his fourth mem­oir, We Need to Weaken the Mix­ture! (Vir­gin Books, £20).

As he says in his in­tro­duc­tion: “We’ve sold a fair few of the pre­vi­ous books, so some­one must like them.”

Amid a good deal about mo­tors, races and crashes, Martin in­tro­duces us again to his in­ner chimp, Brian, hav­ing learnt from a pop­u­lar sports psy­chol­o­gist that there are “three parts of the brain: chimp, hu­man and com­puter”.

Some­times he has trou­ble keep­ing Brian in his box, he ad­mits.

Last Oc­to­ber, Martin and his wife had a baby daugh­ter, Dot. “I stayed up the top end dur­ing the birth. The doc­tors ended up cut­ting her out of the sun­roof. I didn’t re­ally want to see any of that,” he says.

Hav­ing a child has made him think, though.

He says of Dot’s birth: “I’ll be hon­est and say it wasn’t on my ur­gent todo list, but it’s made me re­alise as the job’s evolved that now I can see I’ve got things to pass on from my short time on Earth.

“She is some­one to leave my lathe and milling ma­chine to.”

Michelle Obama has much to pass on too in her mem­oir Be­com­ing (Vik­ing, £25), which is com­fort­ably head­ing the best-seller lists.

No buyer will be dis­ap­pointed. This is an amaz­ingly frank and in­ti­mate book, ap­peal­ingly con­ver­sa­tional in tone, re­veal­ing a great deal about her whole life, not just be­ing First Lady.

She’s re­mark­ably can­did about how dif­fer­ent she and for­mer US pres­i­dent Barack Obama are, and the dis­tance be­tween them.

Not the least of the many win­ning dis­clo­sures is her com­plete lack of nat­u­ral in­ter­est in pol­i­tics, much as that will dis­ap­point those hop­ing she will one day stand for of­fice.

“I’d never been one who’d choose to spend Satur­day at a po­lit­i­cal rally,” Michele writes.

When her hus­band Barack con­sid­ered stand­ing for the Illi­nois se­nate, her think­ing was, “I didn’t much ap­pre­ci­ate politi­cians and there­fore didn’t rel­ish the idea of my hus­band be­com­ing one.”

Ex­tra­or­di­nary that she should say this, given her po­si­tion.

But pri­vate faces in pub­lic places are wiser and nicer than pub­lic faces in pri­vate places, as Au­den said.

My Thoughts Ex­actly by Lily Allen (Blink, £20) is pretty in­no­va­tive too: no fil­ter here ei­ther. Allen out­flanks any­thing the tabloids might have to say about her by giv­ing it all to us in her own voice, from her sex life to the death of her baby boy, and from be­ing trau­ma­tised by a stalker to hav­ing a break­down — there’s no hold­ing back.

In the sec­ond of her two chap­ters on sex, for ex­am­ple, she says that on a 2014 tour, she hired pros­ti­tutes.

Over-shar­ing? She has two daugh­ters who may one day read this, but it sets a new stan­dard in star dis­clo­sure. Will oth­ers fol­low?

Two best-sell­ing mem­oirs from stars of Chan­nel 4’s SAS: Who Dares Wins are jack­eted so iden­ti­cally — the men giv­ing their best ver­sion of the 1,000-yard stare — one has to hope they are the prod­uct of matey col­lu­sion, not just lame con­for­mity.

Ant Mid­dle­ton’s First Man In: Lead­ing from the Front (HarperCollins, £20) tells his story of pro­gress­ing through 9 Para, the Royal Marines and the Spe­cial Boat Ser­vice, to trou­ble in civil­ian life (a 26-month prison sen­tence for beat­ing up a po­lice­man) and re­cov­er­ing though TV fame, in­clud­ing an ad­ven­tur­ous re-en­act­ment of the 4,000-mile voy­age of Cap­tain Bligh, all pun­chily pre­sented as a self-help book on lead­er­ship.

Each chap­ter ends with a box of lessons to learn: “Don’t let any­one else de­fine who you are”, “al­ways have a plan”, “make friends with your demons” and so forth.

It’s ef­fec­tively pack­aged and highly read­able even if the fi­nal sum­mary, that “the ul­ti­mate lead­er­ship les­son, the holy truth that pow­ers them all”, is pre­dictable: “pos­i­tiv­ity”.

Bat­tle Scars: A Story of War and All That

Fol­lows by Ja­son Fox with Matt Allen (Ban­tam, £20) has a re­mark­ably sim­i­lar story to tell, of ser­vice with the Royal Marines and the SBS, fol­lowed by burnout and strug­gles with PTSD, re­lieved by a thought­ful ther­a­pist, and then finding suc­cess in TV, start­ing with an­other epic open-boat voy­age, set­ting a world record for cross­ing the At­lantic east to west un­sup­ported.

But the writ­ing through­out is much closer up, more tan­gled and con­fes­sional, in­clud­ing con­tri­bu­tions from Fox’s ther­a­pist and a fel­low PTSD suf­ferer, Jamie Sanderson.

To­gether Fox and Sanderson have founded the Rock­2Re­cov­ery clin­ics that of­fer a pro­gramme of help — stop, talk, act, re­fo­cus — for those sim­i­larly af­fected, men­tally and psy­cho­log­i­cally. Bat­tle Scars is it­self a brave con­tri­bu­tion.

Step by Step: The Life in My Jour­neys by Si­mon Reeve (Hod­der, £20) is also sell­ing well pri­mar­ily be­cause the au­thor is a TV face, hav­ing pre­sented some 20odd travel doc­u­men­taries begin­ning with Meet the Stans in 2003 and, most re­cently, Mediter­ranean with Si­mon Reeve.

Much of the book snap­pily re­counts these jour­neys, as promised, begin­ning with the time he nearly died of malar- iain Gabon (“I’ve never felt the same since”).

But even more re­mark­able is the story of how, af­ter a tough up­bring­ing in Ac­ton (“I was 13 when I started car­ry­ing a knife”), he man­aged to get him­self into jour­nal­ism in the first place and went on to write the first book warn­ing about the threat posed by Osama bin Laden, The New Jack­als of 1998, which hardly any­one read un­til 2001.

Be­com­ing the Su­per vet: Lis­ten­ing to the An­i­mals by Noel Fitzpatrick (Trapeze, £20) is al­to­gether a more con­ven­tional trans­fer of celebrity (“as heart-warm­ing and life-af­firm­ing as the TV show with which he made his name”, the jacket pro­claims). Put it an­other way: Fitzpatrick’s surgery may be clin­i­cally pre­cise but his writ­ing is an ap­palling splurge.

Fail­ing to save a lamb when he was just 10 set him on his path. “Thank you the Lamb With No Name for al­low­ing me a glimpse of the bright­est star in heaven… On that fate­ful night that de­fined the course of my en­tire life, you taught me to have hu­mil­ity as well as the high­est pos­si­ble as­pi­ra­tions.”

He re­veals that he in­vented him­self as a su­per­hero, Vet­man, who could “fly off and save the bro­ken an­i­mals”. Sadly, his vet­eri­nary ex­ploits have im­peded his ro­man­tic re­la­tion­ships. “So, for ex­am­ple, while I have been fix­ing a dog, a girl I loved has been in bed with some­one else.

“That’s a bit­ter pill to swal­low — and yet I can see it from her point of view. Why should she put up with al­ways be­ing sec­ond best to a dog or a cat in a cri­sis? She also has needs, dreams, hopes and as­pi­ra­tions…” She does? There’s al­ways some­thing you can learn from a mem­oir, isn’t there?

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