Oct 04

THE BUSINESS OF BOOKS: IN HISTORY WE TRUST – Jane Cable turns her hand to event management

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On Sunday about forty people turned up to an event I organised at a wet and windy Studland Bay and proud doesn’t even begin to cover it. My latest novel, Another You, is set in Studland but that was just the catalyst for Dive into D-Day, run in conjunction with the National Trust.

A number of writer friends have asked in awe how I ‘got in with’ the National Trust. Meaning, I guess, how come they are selling Another You in their shops. Well, to be precise it’s just one shop and therein lies the answer – go local. And write a book they love and so will want to sell.

Towards the end of writing the book, which although a contemporary romance harks back to World War 2, I felt it lacked the colour of what it really would have been like to live in the village in the 1940s. Through Studland History Group I was put in touch with local National Trust ranger Stewart Rainbird who had collected an oral history of the era. A morning spent with him paid huge dividends and when the book was published I send him a copy as a thank you.

In turn he passed the book to the manager of the local NT shop who loved it so contacted me and asked if they could stock it, and would I like to do a signing or some sort of launch event. We met and he commented that the film Dunkirk meant that there was a great deal of interest in WW2, something he’d like to capitalise on given that Studland played a huge part in the preparations for D-Day with Exercise Smash.

Another You opens on the sixtieth anniversary of the first day of Exercise Smash when six men died when their amphibious tanks launched too far out to sea and were lost in the bay. For my main character, Marie, it was the start of everything but for these young men it was the end of their too short lives. Being wartime the whole thing was top secret and for a long while it remained that way – even their families were told nothing about what happened. It was only down to amateur WW2 historian and tank restorer John Pearson that there is a memorial at all.

John had also helped with my research and if there was to be some sort of history day (the event was growing like topsy), he was first on my wish list of speakers. Although he professed to nerves he jumped at the opportunity. As did Stewart Rainbird who volunteered to lead a guided walk – and mentioned that Purbeck Sub Aqua Club were diving the remains of the tanks in preparation for the 75th anniversary of Smash in 2019. When they agreed to put on a photographic display of their finds and talk about their first dive season the day had a definite shape – and a name.

With speakers lined up the National Trust did everything they could to promote it through leaflets, a Facebook promotion and a press release. The media uptake was really good – I’m sure the NT’s name on it helped – but the story of Exercise Smash is so compelling two of the tabloids picked it up. I was in part frustrated and in part amused to see that they ‘improved’ on the story by embellishing facts in a way they had been told wasn’t true, but I guess that’s the way of their world.

But the day itself was amazing. Forty people braved the elements to discover more about Studland’s wartime history and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. The National Trust were so pleased they want to do it again. And I sold half a dozen books, which although it wasn’t the point, was still something of a result.