Press release

New historical novel examines British military heroism and humiliation in Afghanistan 

“The Trials of Eldred Pottinger” reveals story of Queen Victoria’s “Hero of Herat”

Political skulduggery, a military massacre, secret love and sexual excess are laid bare in a thrilling new historical novel set against the scramble for power in Afghanistan.

Set during the reign of Queen Victoria, Nigel Hastilow’s “The Trials of Eldred Pottinger” is inspired by Britain’s first bungled invasion of Afghanistan in 1838-39 and the subsequent court martial of the book’s eponymous hero.

This gripping fictional account looks at real-life events and is shot through with contemporary relevance, shining a light on the pitfalls of far-flung military engagement in this landlocked, mountainous country.

The novel’s protagonist, Belfast-born Eldred Pottinger, joins the British East India Company and is sent covertly into uncharted Afghanistan on an intelligence-gathering mission. By chance, he finds himself helping to defend Herat from Russian invaders and becomes locked in a brutal siege.

Pottinger, later dubbed The Hero of Herat, witnesses regime change in Kabul as the British oust the king, Dost Mohammed Khan, and replace him with puppet-ruler Shah Soojah.

However, Pottinger’s friend, Sir Alexander Burnes, who is famed notorious? for his orgies and the seduction of Afghan women, is murdered as rebellion gathers momentum and the unpredictable Akbar Khan seizes control.

Indecision and competing political ambitions leads lead to a British military disaster as an army of 4,500 soldiers and 12,000 camp followers begins a humiliating retreat to India in the winter 1842. Over several days, thousands die at the hands of the marauding Afghans.

Pottinger and Eleanor Eden, the woman he loves, are held hostage and live in constant fear for their lives. But when their ordeal is over, Pottinger finds himself accused of cowardice and misuse of public money. His fate is decided by a tense court martial.

“The Trials of Eldred Pottinger” is published in paperback by Halesowen Press (£9.99) and is available on Amazon for Kindle (£3.99). It is the result of six years’ painstaking research by Hastilow, a former newspaper editor.

Hastilow, who lives in Worcestershire, said: “Britain’s modern-day military engagement in Afghanistan, as part of the so-called War on Terror, is well documented. Far less known is the terrible price paid, both personally and collectively, paid delete by British-led forces in the 19th century.

“In many ways, Pottinger is the archetypal British hero, his life featuring incredible acts of derring-do and a captivating romantic liaison. Was he a hero, a villain, or a victim? I will leave it to readers to decide.”

“The Trials of Eldred Pottinger” is a must-read for lovers of historical fiction.

Notes to editors:

Nigel Hastilow is available for interview. Please contact: nigelhastilow@tiscali.co.uk

A former political reporter, Hastilow was editor of the Birmingham Post in the 1990s and has held senior communications roles with the Institute of Directors and the Institute of Chartered Accountants. He is a newspaper columnist for the Wolverhampton Express and Star.

He is the author of two other novels, “The Smoking Gun” and “Murder on the Brussels Express.”

Once Iran from you

Iran (real name Persia) has always been seen as a bit of a threat to the rest of the world. The country’s alliance with the Russians in the late 1830s led directly to the siege of Herat, where Eldred Pottinger spent the best part of a year helping to defend the city.
Worse than that, the Persian-Russian threat was considered so serious the British invaded Afghanistan to protect the frontier of India.
None of it turned out well: it’s all in ‘The Trials of Eldred Pottinger’.

 

Cricket in Afghanistan (circa 1841)

Good to see Afghanistan doing respectably in Rashid-Khan-640x360the cricket World Cup. It’s interesting to note that the game was first introduced to Kabul during the British invasion in the First Afghan War.

There is an episode in ‘The Trials of Eldred Pottinger’ where our hero watches one of these first matches from the boundary.

There appear to be few contemporaneous accounts of cricket in Afghanistan in 1839-1 and there is little evidence of the game being played there until recently.

‘The Encyclopedia of World Cricket’ merely states: ‘Although cricket is recorded as having been played in Kabul by British troops in 1839, the British left no lasting legacy of the game.’ For the benefit of cricket-lovers, here is an extract from my book:

Dr John Logan offers to take us to the afternoon cricket match which has been got up by the men – the Bengal Light Infantry, a European regiment, is answering a challenge laid down by the 37th Native Infantry.

We collect our horses and ride a couple of miles further out of town to an area which has been commandeered for sporting pursuits. Around the periphery is a horse-racing track which, to my eye, looks about the same distance as the course at Epsom in Surrey, which I visited during my time at Addiscombe. A small stand has been built near the finish line and beside it, facing away from the course, is a large pavilion which serves as the headquarters for the cricket field laid out within the race-course.

A game is under way when we arrive. The Europeans are in the field while the Indian side contains four of its European officers. ‘They do the batting, while the natives practise their spin-bowling on the enemy,’ Logan explains.

For a pious churchman, he is highly knowledgeable about the game and invites us to join the queue at the betting booth where we are given the opportunity to wager a few rupees on the winning team and, should we wish to do so, wager some further coin on the man most likely to achieve the highest score. Careful of my funds, most of which I must remit to my step-mother, and mindful of Macnaghten’s warnings about exercising economy, I limit myself to placing 50 rupees on the European team. Burnes, who has seen these games before, opts for the Indians, declaring they have two infantrymen capable of bamboozling even the most lively of batsmen. Native Afghans cluster round the bookmakers, a couple of shady Londoners who seem to have made their way to Kabul after the conquest, with the primary purpose of promoting and exploiting various entertainments. The Afghans show little interest in the proceedings on the field but they are eager to debate the odds of one side winning and the other losing. It seems the Europeans are favourites from the very fact that we British invented the sport, brought it with us from home and must be the superiors in this struggle. On the other hand it is noted some of the leading cricketers on the other side are also European, despite being members of a native regiment, and, besides, the natives have the two most guileful bowlers. ‘It is the flexibility of their wrists,’ says Logan, ‘There is something in the Indian which gives his wrists a greater strength and flexibility than most of our own men possess.’

There seem to be at least 15 fieldsmen, not to mention the two umpires, a bowler and a wicket-keeper on the European side. This, Logan assures me, is normal. It is also notable that some of the bowlers are adopting the new round-arm method of throwing the ball. This, Burnes says, is tantamount to cheating because the ball travels faster and gives the batsman less chance of hitting it. That said, it looks as if one of the batsmen, who is named by Logan as Major Charles Griffith, is dealing admirably with these thunderbolts, allowing them to slip off his bat behind the wicket-keeper and into unmanned spaces which permit him and his partner to saunter for a couple more runs at their leisure while some wheezing old sergeant lumbers after the ball.

 

A weighty tome

Hoorah! The printed book has finally arrived and it is something of a big deal given that it 540 pages long so it’s a fairly substantial thing.

But the good news is that the type is largeish and therefore the book should be fairly easy to read.

Already had a few orders and a couple of bookshops have said they will stock it. If you’d like to buy a copy direct, just email me.

pages from the book.jpg

Third time lucky

We’re on the third printer’s proof. The first was a bit of a nightmare, actually, because the margins were too narrow and it looked as if you had to read across both pages.

The second was better but several people thought the type was too small and it needed various other amendments including replacing a glossy cover with a matte finish, which is definitely an improvement.

A third proof has just arrived and it’s looking good.