17th Nov, 2019

Novel penned by Stratford ex-councillor draws on Britain's 19th century invasion of Afghanistan

POLITICAL skulduggery, secret love and sexual excess feature in a new novel penned by a former district councillor.

But Nigel Hastilow has not drawn inspiration from his time as Henley ward member on Stratford District Council in the early noughties.

The ex-Tory councillor has delved rather further back in time, and a little further from home, for historical novel The Trials of Eldred Pottinger, which is inspired by Britain’s first bungled invasion of Afghanistan in 1838-39 and the subsequent court martial of the book’s eponymous hero

While the fictional tale may be inspired by the real-life events from the reign of Queen Victoria, it also has contemporary relevance, shining a light on the pitfalls of far-flung military engagement in the still war-torn south central Asian country.

The novel’s protagonist, Belfast-born 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.

But Pottinger’s friend, Sir Alexander Burnes, who is notorious for his orgies, is murdered as rebellion gathers momentum and the unpredictable Akbar Khan seizes control.

Indecision and competing political ambitions 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.

Nigel, a retired journalist now living in neighbouring 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, 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, published in paperback by Halesowen Press, is also available on Amazon for Kindle.

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