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A Sip of Claret News - June 2024

Hello, dear Reader! The publication date for Operation Ark approaches, and with it an exclusive extract and news of a launch party in London. The latest blog is also now up, and we have an event lined up in Oxford. Read on to find out more!

(ps. This is a condensed version of the June Newsletter sent to our mailing list.)


It's only three weeks away till the publication of Operation Ark by Pen Farthing on the 8th July!

Just in case you've recently subscribed, Operation Ark is the powerful memoir of the most controversial figure of the 2021 Afghanistan Evacuation, whose story captured global headlines. As an independent inquiry later found, the government was “Missing in Action” with Pen caught in the crossfire. He had to steer his charity staff and animals through the dangers of a Taliban takeover and a political storm back home.

Ricky Gervais has praised the story as "nothing short of heroic" and Britt Collins from The Daily Beast as "“A compelling, vivid, and distressing account of what happened in those last days and a damning indictment of foreign policy failures." 

Peter Egan has also called Operation Ark "The most remarkable book... it's exciting, it's mesmerising" and elaborated in a video on X (formerly known as Twitter). It's well worth the watch. 

Read on for details of the London book launch on 15th July! An extract from the book can now also be read on our website.


Operation Ark is out 8th July 2024 in paperback, ebook and audiobook, and is currently available for pre-order via: 

The Nowzad charity store (signed editions!)

And all other good bookstores and major retailers in the UK/EU. The book is also available via Amazon for all overseas customers.


Finally, we're pleased to say that Operation Ark will be out in audiobook, and that we hope you can join us for an evening London book launch in July!

The audiobook will be narrated by the superb voice actor Kerry Hutchinson who, like Pen Farthing, is an Afghanistan veteran. The audiobook will be available on all platforms, and can be pre-ordered now.

We also hope you can join us to celebrate the launch of Operation Ark on Monday 15th July, 7pm, South Place Hotel, London. Pen Farthing, Peter Egan and the Claret Press team will be there. There'll be talks, readings and book signings. We'd love to see you there and hope as many people as possible can make it. 

Tickets are first come first serve, so if you'd like to attend please email to book your free ticket.


Just in case you missed the news, we're delighted to share that Daisy Chain by Justine Gilbert has been shortlisted for the prestigious Paul Torday Memorial Prize 2024!

The Paul Torday Memorial Prize is awarded to a first novel by a writer over 60. The prize includes a set of the collected works of British writer Paul Torday, who published his first novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen at the age of 60. The award is judged by the Society of Authors, and reflects the excellence currently present in our literary landscape.

We're particularly pleased to note that once again, Claret Press finds itself in the company of the big beasts of publishing. Last year's winner was the international million-copy bestseller Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (Penguin Random House), and while we haven't reached those numbers quite yet, we're delighted to see Justine Gilbert receive the recognition she deserves. 

Our many congratulations to Justine Gilbert, who is every bit deserving of the praise "a master storyteller" (The Historical Fiction Company). We'll be keeping our fingers crossed for the announcement of the winner on June 20th. 


We're very much looking forward to attending the Oxford Indie Book Fair on Saturday 6th July, hosted by the Oxford Festival of the Arts. Claret Press authors Steve Sheppard and Sylvia Vetta will be there, and the publisher, Katie Isbester, will also be manning our stand. Pen Farthing will also be there at 11.15am to give a talk about his upcoming memoir, Operation Ark.

So, please do pop by if you can - we would love to say hello.

Entry is free and no tickets are required. The book fair will be in the picturesque and historic Magdalen College, Oxford, OX4 1DZ. We hope to see you there!


In our latest blog, Katie Isbester, publisher at Claret Press, writes on the peculiar longevity of literacy in the digital age:

The Peculiar Longevity of Literacy

The most surprising thing about the tech revolution is the continued relevance of reading and writing.

It’s counterintuitive. Since the advent of the telephone and radio more than a century ago, the death of literacy has been repeatedly predicted. Why? Because it is the reasonable conclusion to draw. People like shiny new technological toys and quickly grow tired of their old ones. Surely, we must eventually become bored to death and sick of reading books?

The premature obituaries for books continued with the spread of TV in the 1950s. Then with rise of video games in the 70s and 80s. Then with the explosion of the internet in the 90s. Now everyone and their mother has a podcast, while we seem to be marionettes being pulled by the strings of half a dozen social media sites. People continue to predict the death of books. Their logic is, I suppose, that if one piece of technology doesn’t kill literacy, then another will surely finish the job.

To misquote Mark Twain, the rumours of its death are greatly exaggerated.

This makes me wonder: why? Why do we still yearn for and cherish the written story? Surely it is just easier to just watch the movie or TV series. Why still read newspapers? Why print up textbooks on medicine or politics which are out of date before the ink dries? Why drill this skill into our children’s brains? Literacy is intellectually challenging. It’s time consuming to teach. And if you have been gifted with a neurodivergent brain, reading and writing can feel like a punishment.

Why do people still enjoy navigating obstacle courses of words, grammar and metaphors when they could just lie down on the lie down on the tropical beaches of social media and allow waves of dopamine to wash over them?

The non-negotiable important of widespread literacy is truly surprising.

So what explains this peculiar longevity?

At one level, it’s purely pragmatic. Literary hasn’t yet disappeared so therefore it is imperative that we all become accomplished at reading and writing. Plus it offers flexibility. You (or your kids) might not be lawyers or teachers or some other profession requiring extensive use of lettering. But equally, you might.

But also, literacy is a great way to express complexity. It’s a system that we have developed over the millennia to communicate sophisticated ideas. Writing is well organised, detailed, extensive and controlled by the reader. The reader can go back and re-read, make notes in the margin and underline, memorise to quote later, look up other writers referenced. The reader gets to skip chunks, rifle through pages or just flip to the back and read the ending, then fill it in the bits like a jigsaw puzzle. 

Furthermore, literacy is still necessary to use the internet. You still need to be able to read to search on Google, whether you are trying to research a nuanced topic or just browsing for cute cat videos. Much to Elon Musk’s disappointment, technology is not yet at the stage where we can summon information or entertainment with the mere power of our thoughts, thanks to some microchip embedded in our brains.

Maybe when we do reach that point, literacy will become obsolete, the relic of a time of unsophisticated savages. But somehow, I suspect it will inexplicably survive, like cockroaches after a nuclear explosion.

The experience of engaging with ideas in books has been shown to deepen our analytical skills, even if we are reading fiction and focused on things like character development. Brain scans have shown that reading increases the brain’s functionality, thickening neural pathways throughout the brain.

Reading is like the brain is eating a nutritious hearty meal. In comparison, social media is junk food; cheap sound bites. Podcasts are too chatty, TV is for entertainment, telephone conversations are too broken, radio is too glib. I like them all, but they are different beasts from one another as well as from reading and writing.

We need reading and writing to capture the complexity of our minds. With literacy we can weave interlocking plotting and character developments, exposing our depth and contradictions. With books, we can inform and educate, expound and philosophise, giggle and swoon.

Somewhat counterintuitively, it seems that reading fiction is better for us than reading non-fiction. When you read fiction, you can get in the zone, that indescribable flow where you lose track of time and awareness of your surroundings. To put it another way, you get lost in a good book.

For some reason which scientists haven’t yet figured out, experiencing this flow is incredibly healthy for us. It helps our self-esteem and sense of wellbeing. It decreases stress and anxiety. It promotes empathy and sensitivity. They have found that when reading sad or painful experiences in a book, the parts of the brain that deal with grief or pain are stimulated, though to a lesser degree. We are literally living the life of the person that we are reading about, but in a controlled environment and with less intensity.

That is the beauty of a good book. We can escape the real world, forget about our own stress-filled lives and trade them temporarily for someone else’s. As George R. R. Martin writes, “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one.”

You can also read as long as you want. For five minutes on the toilet. For an hour during your lunch break. Or all night, forgetting to sleep from the unquenchable thirst to find out what happens next. The whole time though, you have the power to put the book down. If it is perhaps getting too intense, too dark, too heart breaking, you can put it down and walk away. Unlike real life, you can parachute out of the situation and not deal with any of the issues.

Maybe that is what makes literacy and reading so inescapable, so intoxicating, so impervious to obsoletion: not just the un-put-down-ability of books, but their put-down-ability.


We were distressed to see that Booker Prize Winner Arundhati Roy is being prosecuted for comments made 14 years ago criticising the Indian government. It's a grim reminder of the dangers women still face speaking truth to power, and sadly one that's not uncommon in our times. To raise awareness, Claret Press author Sylvia Vetta has written a piece on the subject, which can be found on her website here.


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