In 2017, at the age of 91, Myrtle Russell’s book Barley, Bombs and Bagels was published by Chaville Press. Myrtle, a client with Age UK Barnet, received computer lessons from seventeen-year-old voluntary befriender Noah, which enabled her to write the book. As a memoir of a former land girl during World War Two, Barley, Bombs and Bagels, gives a key insight into life in London during the wartime.
We’re lucky enough to have the chance to hear from three people who were involved in the production of Barley, Bombs and Bagels: Keith Martin, founder of Chaville Press; Sian Jones, Befriending Manager at Age UK Barnet; and Myrtle Russell’s daughter Sheila Gewolb, whose thoughts act as the book’s foreword.
Keith Martin – Founder of Chaville Press
Myrtle is a client of Age UK Barnet. She is an indefatigable volunteer and fundraiser – principally by knitting and selling teddy bears in a wide variety of Football League club colours.
As an Age UK client she was befriended by Noah, a seventeen-year-old student, who taught her to use a keyboard and computer, with which she wrote Barley, Bombs and Bagels.
I publish books under the imprint Chaville Press. When Myrtle gave me her typescript to read, I immediately realised its potential and asked if I might publish it. It has been a team effort, led by Myrtle’s astonishing drive and enthusiasm and supported by her daughter Sheila’s encouragement and editing skill. In addition, I have recruited to our publishing team Caroline Sloneem to design the cover and the typesetting and editing skills of Cristina Guidone-Charles. It is a good read.
Publishing has been richly rewarding, yet simultaneously required patience – Myrtle is a perfectionist, which adds to the joy ride! Initially she would deliver a typescript of several chapters for me to edit, which I did. She would then give me a rewrite of new ideas. After several rounds of that I put it to her:
“Myrtle, if we are to publish this while both of us are alive, I would suggest that any further rewrites go into volume two!”
Myrtle was big enough to take the hint, and the upshot is that the timetable for our planned publication date was not exceeded by very much.
But the high standards resulted, I am glad to say, in a book of production standards of which she has every right to feel proud.
Lucky grandchildren to have such a Granny, and such a printed souvenir of her youth.
Sian Jones, Befriending Manager Age UK Barnet
As Befriending manager, I met Myrtle some years ago. She attended our music appreciation group and mentioned her frustration with modern technology. Specifically, she wanted to throw her laptop and iPad out the window yet didn’t want to upset her family who had provided them as gifts!
In March 2015 I sent Noah to help her. I instructed him to find something that would motivate her to learn. His fascination with her stories about her life and travels inspired her to master the laptop. He also helped her use the internet to research some talks she gave to a local school. Their interest inspired her to write some down for her grandchildren.
Keith was her driver for the music group and knowing he was involved in publishing, she showed him her first 100 pages. He told her to keep writing. Once finished, Michael and Bonnie from the music group arranged for the RNIB to fund Barley, Bombs and Bagels to be recorded as a talking book.
Myrtle and Keith did all the work but Age UK Barnet created the connections that made it all possible – another member of the group has also started writing a book! Noah has gone on to study medicine at University.
Sheila Gewolb’s Foreword
Before you embark on your journey through this book, you need to have a sense of the mammoth achievement writing it has been for my mother, Myrtle Russell.
I would like to pay tribute to this elderly lady who, in her 92nd year, has managed not only to paint a picture of life in London during World War Two, but has painstakingly researched the backdrop to this black period in our history to help make sense of how and why war happens.
To complete the book, mum sat at her computer for up to sixteen hours a day for nearly a year. Her determination to get it finished demonstrates the tenacity and grit which has dominated a life full of tragedy. Not only has she been widowed twice and left to bring up five young children alone; she also lost her only son as a young married man in his thirties.
Barley, Bombs and Bagels is written in her own inimitable style, full of colloquialisms and forthright opinion, to describe her anathema to war and its awful consequences.
Barley, Bombs and Bagels was released in January 2017. To order your copy please contact Chaville Press.