Simon Parkin | A GAME OF BIRDS AND WOLVES
LUTYENS & RUBINSTEIN | Non-Fiction
The success of the German U-boats has been covered in numerous books but, astonishingly, the story of how the British turned the situation around has never before been investigated.
From Chess to Space Invaders, war has always been a central theme in play; a lesser known fact is that the reverse is also true. Since the 1800s war-themed games have been adapted to real-world situations, recreating recent or forthcoming battles. As journalist and games expert Simon Parkin was to discover, what happens in these games often goes on to play out in real life. Earlier this year, whilst researching a piece for the New Yorker’s radio station about the role games can play in war, Simon was invited to visit the British Defence Academy in Shrivenham. He asked the overseeing Army Major whether he could offer up a concrete example of “gaming” influencing military tactics and policy. The answer led him to “Operation Raspberry”.
Operation Raspberry was born in the dilapidated WATU offices in Liverpool and first played out on a linoleum floor divided into painted squares. Model ships were moved across this make-believe ocean in a manner reminiscent of the childhood game, Battleships. Famed for his success in defeating U-boats, Admiral Max Horton was invited to play, assuming the role of a German U-boat commander and tasked with defending his fleet from the British, played by a person concealed behind a canvas screen. Horton’s initial skepticism dissolved as in the course of five separate games, his U-boats were sunk without his unseen opponent sustaining a single loss. When Horton demanded the victor reveal himself, seventeen-year-old Janet Okell stepped out from behind the screen. Okell was one of eight women whose work, with Gilbert Roberts, on ‘The Game’ would help win Churchill’s battle for the Atlantic.
Combining novelistic (though resolutely non-fictional) accounts with Simon’s vast gaming experience and the often-unexpected things they reveal about us, A GAME OF BIRDS AND WOLVES promises to breathe a breath of fresh air into this period whilst finally bringing to the fore the unlikely hero(ines) of this fascinating and astonishing story. Along with already-established interviews with the surviving WRENs and their families, he plans to work with renowned archive researcher Laura Berry, to fully excavate these stories. Simon has already attracted film/TV interest in the book.
A British writer and journalist, Simon Parkin is a contributing writer for the New Yorker.com and a critic for The Observer newspaper. He has contributed to The New York Times, Harper’s, the Guardian, New Statesman, Technology Review, BBC and a variety of other publications. His first non-fiction book, DEATH BY VIDEO GAME, was published in 2015 by Serpent’s Tail and in the US in June 2016 by Melville House. It was a NYTBR ‘Recommended Read’, described therein as “very, very good”.