‘Political mischief, military blunders, steamy love’

Many thanks to former newspaper editor Steve Dyson for a write-up on the Hold the Front Page website. He says:

This 535-page tome is a complex twist of political mischief, military blunders and secretive, steamy love, an intricate but fascinating read for anyone keen on historical fiction.

Set against Britain’s disastrous invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1830s, Pottinger starts out as a spy and becomes a hero after fighting Russian invaders.

But he’s held hostage with his lover as the British Army suffers humiliating defeats, and he ends up accused of cowardice and court-martialled.


The Taliban tragedy

The Taliban seem to think they have seen off the Americans in Afghanistan, just as they saw off the Russians. The country is a graveyard for invaders; the Afghans like nothing better than fighting foreigners because it saves them from fighting each other.

According to The Times, one Afghan ‘senior adviser’ says: ‘It is the Americans asking us to make peace so that they can leave Afghanistan not the other way around. They talk to us directly to make the deal, not to the Afghan government. We will be the winners in peace, or the winners in war. Either way, the Americans will leave and the Taliban will be back.’

The country’s tragedy is not that it has been invaded many times by unsuccessful imperialist armies but that it cannot last long as a single entity. They may witness the withdrawal of the Americans but that won’t bring peace and stability to the country; it will just make it more dangerous for everybody.

Beecham House – the perils of empire-building


Been watching ITV’s new series ‘Beecham House’ about skulduggery and imperialism as the British East India Company expands its trading activities across India.

It’s a lavish and exotic production though not much seems to have happened yet. Still, if you’re interested in the activities of the Company then, instead of fiction, try the faction of ‘The Trials of Eldred Pottinger’.

It’s set about 40 years later but not much has really changed; certainly ‘Johnny Company’ is still looking to expand its empire and protect its activities from foes real and imagined.

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.”