A LIFE ON THE EDGE
THE DEATH OF JUSTICE
On the 21st of October 1966, the village of Aberfan in south Wales was shattered by one of the worst disasters in Welsh and British history.
Following days of bad weather, water from a spring had destabilized a huge coal slag tip – one of the black man-made mountains which surrounded the village. Thousands of tonnes of coal tip waste slid down a mountainside and devastated the mining village of Aberfan. The black mass crashed through the local school, where pupils were celebrating the last day of term.
One hundred and forty-four people were killed. One hundred and sixteen were schoolchildren. Gaynor Madgwick was there. She was eight years old and severely injured. Her brother and sister were in classrooms either side of her. Both died.
Recalling the horrific event in a diary four years later, Gaynor wrote, ‘I heard a terrible, terrible sound, a rumbling sound. It was so loud. I just didn’t know what it was. It seemed like the school went numb, you could hear a pin drop. I was suddenly petrified and glued to the chair. It sounded like the end of the world had come.’
In Aberfan – A Story of Survival, Love and Community in One Of Britain’s Worst Disasters, Gaynor tells her own story and interviews people affected by that day – from the bereaved and the rescuers, to the police and royalty. She explores the nature of courage, grief and faith, to create both a moving personal story of one family’s pain and a definitive account of the events that shook the nation and the world.
‘For the past 50 years I have lived as a sort of prisoner or victim of my past. Now I am trying to break free.’ said Gaynor. ‘I started this book by looking again at the writings of my young self. I’ve tried to explore the determination, courage and resilience which got me through. Then, I set out on a journey, to find those same qualities in my community, to see how it had coped, survived and often thrived.’
The Earl of Snowdon – who was there hours after the disaster – described it as ‘one of the most moving experiences of my life.’
‘Gaynor Madgwick’s book, Aberfan, is a brave, heartbreaking and inspiring journey in which she re-visits the story of what happened to her and to the whole community of Aberfan on that dreadful day.’ he said. ‘It is a book that should be read by all of us in memory of those who died and those who survived.’
Broadcaster Vincent Kane said, ‘Gaynor Madgwick was pulled injured from one of the classrooms where her friends died. She was left behind to live out her life. This is her story, sad, sweet, sentimental, and authentic. I commend it to you.’
‘October 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of that awful day. For 50 years we have been trying to recover from the Aberfan disaster. It’s a long road, and we take it one day at a time.’ said Gaynor.
‘I’ve tried to tell this story in a way in which it has never been told before, beginning by reliving Aberfan through the eyes of a survivor. As a survivor, now 58 years old, I have been haunted by the memories of the Aberfan disaster.
‘I wanted to create the fullest picture of the disaster and its aftermath while people were still around to tell their story.
‘For me, I can’t start the next chapter of my life if I keep rereading the last one; this book will help me move on. My hope is that it will help others move on too.’
“Brilliantly written.” Jason Mohammed, Radio Wales
“Aberfan is a beautiful and full account of the disaster, combining Gaynor’s memories with the experiences of other people affected on that fateful day.” For Reading Addicts
“[Aberfan] enables future generations to remember and understand the impact the Aberfan disaster had on survivors and the community.” International Business Times
“This is a remarkable and powerful book about a man-made disaster and its aftermath, but told in a personal way. The story it tells is as vital today as ever, when we often see the pursuit of business activities placed above the needs, desires and welfare of individuals and whole communities. The book starts with a searing introduction by veteran broadcaster Vincent Kane. It is a sharp counterpoint to what follows, pulling no punches in holding people to account, not least himself and his own profession for their silence and then aggressive negative coverage of the aftermath and the community.” Leigh Sparks, University of Stirling
“I am particularly indebted to the author of Aberfan, Gaynor Madgwick, for sharing her own painful memories and those of others – and for doing so in a moving but respectful manner.” Ifor ap Glyn, National Poet of Wales, who used the book when researching his monologue, Mamgu’s Letter
Aberfan – A Story of Survival, Love and Community in One of Britain’s Worst Disasters by Gaynor Madgwick (£9.99, Y Lolfa) is available now.
A LIFE ON THE EDGE
‘Beware,’ a fellow adventurer once told Eric Jones. ‘The reaper lurks.’
But perhaps he truly has nine lives.
He was the first British man to solo the Eiger North Face – one of the greatest challenges in the climbing world. On the Matterhorn, he was swept within 10 feet of a sheer precipice.
As he soared over Mount Everest in a hot air balloon, he had to climb outside the basket to relight the burners.
He has climbed dangerous mountains on five continents, parachuted onto the North Pole and BASE jumped from skyscrapers, bridges, masts and mountains.
He skydived into the Cave of the Swallows in Mexico, dropping into the 1,400-foot hole in the earth.
Astounded people often ask Eric a question: Why do you do it?
It is something that cannot be answered simply. For Eric’s life on the edge is quite a story.
And this is it.
Want to know a little more about Eric? Check out this five minute film:
“Eric’s many solo ascents can be respected for being free from any sense of heroics, and for his sense of humour when his stories are told. His strength, self-sufficiency and silent courage are admirable.” REINHOLD MESSNER
‘A Life on the Edge’ is a WH Smith Book of the Month.
A Life On The Edge, reviewed by Lyn Ebenezer, author or Operation Julie and Fron-goch Camp 1916
I have never met Eric Jones, yet I feel as if I know him well. Two contributions on the back cover of his autobiography sum up my impression of his character. One is a long-range photo that picks him out on the north face of the Eiger, like a forlorn gnat slithering towards the upper reaches of a gigantic frosty window pane. The other is a quotation by fellow mountaineer Reinhold Messner: ‘Eric’s many solo ascents can be respected for being free of any sense of heroics, and for his sense of humour when his stories are told. His strength, self-sufficiency and silent courage are admirable.’
Jones may not have any sense of heroics, but he is a hero. Heroes achieve feats that we mere mortals can only dream of realising. Heroes are modest. Heroes are fearless. Heroes respect the challenges that lie before them. Eric Jones is a hero.
Summing up Jones’s achievements could, on its own, fill this chunky, liberally illustrated volume. Greg Lewis manages to compress them into his opening blurb: Jones was the first British man to climb the Eiger’s north face, he has soared over Everest in a hot air balloon, he has parachuted onto the North Pole, he has skydived into the Cave of Swallows in Mexico, and now he has written, with Lewis, a cracker of a story.
To someone like me who is terrified of heights (I live in a bungalow), Jones is a superhuman. Leo Dickenson, cameraman-climber extraordinary, reveals in his foreword that in fifty years of knowing him, he can never remember Jones refusing an adventure. Yet Jones has known fear – his greatest being chased by a cockerel. His fascinating tale leads us from humble beginnings at Brynsaithmarchog around and above – and in some cases below – the earth.
Heroes, of course, can be boring. Like cockerels, some tend to crow. Jones, however, understates his feats. Imagine him hurtling towards seemingly certain death on the North Face of the Matterhorn. Rather than panic, he merely hoped it wouldn’t hurt. Incredibly, despite such dangers, he manages to posses an inner peace.
Jones is the kind of man whose hand I would dearly wish to shake. But please let it happen on level ground!
See the original review on the website of the Welsh Books Council.
THE DEATH OF JUSTICE
This is the inside story of the Cardiff Newsagent Murder revealed by one of the men wrongly jailed for more than a decade. The violent crime shocked Wales – and the miscarriage of justice which followed sent shock waves through the British legal system.
The book contains a detailed analysis of the murder and police inquiry, a no-holds-barred view of life in jail and an essential guide for anyone trying to prove their innocence.
Winner: The People’s Book Awards Best Book 2014
* Published by Y Lolfa, this book was featured at the 2009 Hay-on-Wye Literary Festival. It is available in paperback and as an e-book.
“Explosive” Irish Post
“An extraordinary, shocking and moving tale that climaxes in the triumph of the ordinary man against an incompetent and complacent Hydra-headed monster of society.” Western Mail
“Important” The Guardian
“This book tells of a travesty of justice that should never have been allowed to happen. It is written by the man who was tried and found guilty by a British jury of a murder he had not committed… The book is not for the faint-hearted; it is not a book to read at bedtime. But without doubt it is a book that should be read, for if anything good is to come out of the tale of O’Brien’s incarceration, it is how the man himself has survived his horrendous battle through the highest courts to win his freedom… Now free, O’Brien spends much of his time trying to right the legal system on behalf of others.” Norma Penfold, gwales.com/Wales Books Council
“O’Brien spent 11 years in prison before being cleared along with two other men of the 1987 murder of the Cardiff newsagent Phillip Saunders… (His) book reveals the trauma and heartache he suffered in prison, how he taught himself law and successfully took Home Secretaries Michael Howard and Jack Straw to court and how he won his appeal and eventual release and the largest payout in legal history…” newswales.co.uk
“A no holds barred account of the eleven years (O’Brien) spent in prison for a crime he didn’t commit.” Arts Council of Wales
“A tale of miscarriage of justice, of a young man from a poor family who, against all the odds, overturned an indictment for murder – it sounds like a good storyline for a film… But The Death of Justice is no fantasy. It is a first-hand account of a decade-long struggle by a Cardiff man who fought tenaciously to overturn a murder conviction.” Lila Haines, Planet – The Welsh Internationalist
“When Michael O’Brien was arrested for the murder of Cardiff newsagent, Philip Saunders, more than 20 years ago, he can little have thought that one day he would be one of the guest speakers at the Hay-on-Wye literary festival, rubbing shoulders with the astronomer royal and addressing a packed house on the vagaries of the criminal justice system. Yet that is where he found himself last week-end as he took questions on his book about the case, The Death of Justice.” Dr Robert N Moles
“This book is a modern day tale of David and Goliath; of one man’s quest to clear his name, taking his fight to the highest courts in the land and creating legal history.” Inside Time