Sunday, 9 October 2016


September's Manchester meeting was lead by Ms Heather Fletcher, the Co-Chair of The Muslim Jewish Forum.  She provided the group with an outline of what she learned about Srebrenica during her trip to former Yugoslavia in 2015.  She made the trip with a group called Women of Faith.
Bosnia was part of the Ottoman Empire between c.1459 CE and 1878 CE.  The Ottomans encouraged local people to nominally convert to Islam.  In 1908 Bosnia was formally incorporated into the Austro-Hungarian Empire.  This caused widespread resentment in neighbouring Serbia which had designs on incorporating it into a Greater Serbia. This led to the assassination of Arch Duke Franz Ferdinand in the summer of 1914 in Sarajevo.  After the First World War Bosnia (and Serbia) were incorporated into the new state of Yugoslavia. During the Second World War the only effective resistance to German occupation was provided by Marshall Tito's communists.  After the War Tito became the ruler of Yugoslavia. Ms Fletcher was of the view that Tito formed one of the most successful Socialist states ever and it was not uncommon to have a Church, a Mosque and a Synagogue existing peacefully on the same street in Sarajevo.  In Tito's Yugoslavia coexistence, inter-marriage and toleration were normal. After the death of Tito the state began to break up into the smaller national entities and a new wave of nationalism and religious bigotry swept the Balkans. The Serbian idea of Greater Serbia re-emerged.  Ms Fletcher's party visited a medical centre which treated women who had been raped during the conflict.  It is said that between 50,000 and 100,000 rapes were carried out during the conflict and many of the attackers were former neighbours, school friends and/or work colleagues. The purpose of rape was to change their ethnic identity or to spoil these women for future husbands.

Ms Fletcher explained that Srebrenica was once a thriving town which has now largely been abandoned. Over 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed by the Bosnian Serb army there during the massacre in 1995.  Around 6,000 have known graves and the process of identifying the remains is still ongoing.  On 11 July every year a mass funeral takes place for the remains identified in the past year.  Ms Fletcher’s group met with a woman who had lost both of her sons and her husband.  She attended a war crimes tribunal where she met a former Serbian fighter who apologised to her for his part in the massacre.  This woman was not bitter and resentful and gave the fighter her forgiveness as she believed life was too short and it was evil to bear grudges.  Ms Fletcher ended her presentation by saying that their guide during their trip, Rashid, had friends from all the different identities in Bosnia and for this reason he was hopeful for the country’s future. Suggested Further Reading on the Topic: Little, A: Silber, L & Ciric, A: The Death of Yugoslavia.  A book to accompany the TV series and a very good introduction to the disintegration of Yugoslavia.  Clark, C: The Sleepwalkers.  A book about the origins of World War One. It gives a good account of the Serbian angle.  Goldhagen, D : Hitler's Willing Executioners. Along with Browning, C: Ordinary Men. This is a book which shows that normal people do horrific things and relates to events in Poland and Germany.

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Writing "The Einstein Code"

At the September Stockport meeting Joanne Welch, author of The Einstein Code, talked about how she came to write the book. She began with the influences on her early life including the schoolteacher who suggested to her parents that she should go to a private Grammar school. This was achieved with the aid of a bursary and a second-hand uniform.

Ever questioning, the Evangelical Christians with whom she worshipped said she was not a proper Christian, so she went to St Paul’s where she became the first girl to become a server.

It was at Wadham College Oxford when she really began to question the existence of God. She was introduced to Richard Dawkins' book The Selfish Gene and Hawking's A Brief History of Time. 
She had a career for a time but then found herself caring for her children and a parent with dementia. Needing something to use her brain, she wrote The Einstein code. When an early version was not published she went on a writing course. Malory Blackman taught her to write to please herself, to read and to rewrite. A novel must have a passionate theme and a good plot structure. Normality should first be established then there must be a trigger point after which the hero/heroine embarks on a perilous journey. There must be a Quest with a few surprises and, of course, a climax. Barry Cunningham’s advice was to start with something dramatic, a “car going over a cliff” moment. Val McDermid said that to write better books one should first read bad books. A recipe for a successful character is a little bit of yourself and a little bit of those you love.  Armed with all this advice she did rewrite and received two offers in 9 weeks.

The book is aimed at children and includes messages in code. Joanne talked about the Caesar code used in the book which is a kind of substitution cipher in which each letter is “shifted” a certain number of places up or down the alphabet. Joanne provided a number of messages in code for the audience to decipher.

She also discussed book codes where both sender and recipient have to use the same page of the same book to encrypt and decrypt the messages.

Other books planned are: The Darwin Code and The Quantum Code