Polperro Postscripts

A blog for anyone with an interest in Polperro, publishing and people... with occasional musings on history and humanity.



Kiko's Story

How to beat the Atlantic rowing records after brain surgery

Posted on July 16, 2018

When I wrote the last blog entry in February, our latest author, Kiko Matthews, was somewhere in the middle of the Atlantic ocean attempting to become the fastest woman to complete the crossing solo and unaccompanied.

At the time, neither she nor I knew if she would even manage to complete the crossing let alone break the world record for doing so, given that she was still recovering from recent brain surgery to remove a tumour from her pituitary gland.

Four weeks later, Kiko rowed into Port St Charles, Barbados, exactly 49 days, seven hours and 13 minutes after setting out from Grand Canaria, beating the previous record set by a French woman 15 years earlier by six days. It was a remarkable achievement by any measure, all the more so because she was on medication as she rowed, battling wind, waves and fatigue all the way.

Every day she would send a brief blog of her progress via satellite phone. It is this, plus the story of her life leading up to the crossing itself, that has formed the basis of the book that she has written. Kiko: How to beat the Atlantic rowing record after brain surgery will be published in September. Not surprisingly, perhaps, it has taken her rather longer to write than it did to row across the Atlantic, but the account of her epic solo voyage, accompanied by dozens of amazing colour photographs taken on her phone along the way, make a very special publication.

As she says in the Introduction: ‘It’s an honest account of me, Kiko, and my solo row across the Atlantic. What got me there, my background, my thoughts on those who have helped me and some of the theories behind my mental strength. I really hope you can take something away from it. I want it to make you laugh, to think and inspire you to challenge yourself. If you cry, that wasn’t the intention, but you never know! I want it to make you realise you can do anything. After all, I went to quite a lot of effort to prove to you that anything is possible if you want it enough’.



Atlantic Challenge

Kiko Matthews Atlantic challenge rowing record

Posted on February 21, 2018

I came across a remarkable story last year. A young woman, Kiko Matthews, was preparing to row across the Atlantic on her own in an attempt to beat the record for the fastest woman ever to do so unsupported.

What was all the more remarkable however was that Kiko had undergone two major operations to remove a tumour on her pituitary gland at the base of her brain, a life-threatening condition known as Cushing’s disease. She had never rowed before announcing her challenge and planned to raise £100,000 for King’s College Hospital in London where she had been treated.

On 1st February this year, she set off alone from Gran Canaria in her boat to row 3,000 miles to Barbados. The current record for the fastest woman to do so was set in 2003 when Frenchwoman Anne Quéméré completed the crossing in 56 days. Kiko (right) plans to complete the crossing in only 45 days.

The book of her extraordinary feat is being written as she rows, day by day, page b y page… though we cannot yet be sure how it will end.  As she herself says, “I have found the experiences that come with tackling the unknown and the potential for achievement far outweigh the possibility of failure. With a belief that the outcome is irrelevant, I see challenge as an opportunity to develop skills and knowledge as well as resilience, confidence and relationships.”

Kiko’s fund-raising has been supported largely by women through her 100togetHER campaign, set up to involve one hundred (or more) women in her record attempt and to show that any challenge can be overcome or achieved by women working together and supporting one another. Each ‘woman’ (a group, business or individual) was asked to donate £1k.

“The campaign itself started as a personal challenge,” says Kiko. “Something to keep me out of mischief but also, having been at a point so close to death, I wanted to show people how life can change and what can be achieved with the right attitude and support. It was also a great opportunity to say thank you to King’s College Hospital by raising funds for their new critical care unit to thank them for saving my life.”

The story of Kiko’s epic voyage, when it is eventually published later this year, should certainly inspire many other women to take on a similarly impossible challenge.




The Denniston dynasty

Posted on October 20, 2017

Ten years ago I published Robin Denniston’s tribute to his father, Thirty Secret Years: A. G. Denniston’s work in signals intelligence 1914-1944. His father Alastair had headed the Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) before the Second World War and was responsible for setting up the code-breaking operation at Bletchley Park. In due course he was moved to a similar operation in London but when he retired at the end of the war, the highly secret nature of his work meant that he received little recognition for his distinguished career. Indeed, he is almost the only head of what is now GCHQ to have not received a knighthood for his service.

Robin had originally approached me while I had been in discussion with one of his daughters, Susanna Everitt, about a possible book about her great-grandfather James Denniston. In the event, I went ahead with Robin’s monograph about his father’s work. Robin himself had had a distinguished career in publishing and was keen to see his father’s role acknowledged once he had been given the go-ahead by GCHQ.

In due course, I returned to the story of James Denniston, a Glaswegian doctor who had volunteered to work in a field hospital in Erzurum in Turkey during the 1870s when Turkey was at war with Russia. His letters to a young woman he had left behind vividly described the appalling conditions he encountered; they also charted the growing intimacy of the relationship that developed between them.

A young member of the extended Denniston family, James McKnight, undertook the task of turning the epistolary romance into a novel, published this month as Letters From Erzurum.

Meanwhile, a few weeks earlier, a biography of Alastair Denniston by the Bletchley Park historian Dr Joel Greenberg was at last published. Alastair Denniston: Code-Breaking from Room 40 to Berkeley Street and the Birth of GCHQ was duly launched at GCHQ in the presence of the Denniston family.

The hitherto unacknowledged role of the man who headed one of Britain’s most secret wartime operations has now been told, along with that of his father, the young Glaswegian doctor who served in an altogether different theatre of war.