Meet the Author- Sarah Reay

With her latest work , The Half-Shilling Curate :A Personal Account Of War & Faith 1914-1918, on its way, we thought we’d get to know a little more about author Sarah Reay.


Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

 I was born in Pembrokeshire, South West Wales, Great Britain.

Could you tell us a bit about any history of military service in your family? In what ways was the military part of your life from an early age?

My father served in the Royal Navy during WW2 and his sister, my aunt served in the Secret Service at the Home Office.

My grandfather, The Half-Shilling Curate, served as an Army Chaplain during WW1 and many of his cousins fought in all the services.  Two of his cousins were killed during the Great War in flying accidents, serving in the Royal Flying Corps and the Australian Flying Corps.  One of his cousins, also an Army Chaplain was killed on duty in Passchendaele whilst helping retrieve bodies from No Man’s Land.

What did you do before you started (or in addition to) writing? Did you have any odd jobs?

I began my working life as a horse instructress in the New Forest in southern England, relocated to Corsica in order to become a fluent French speaker, worked as a project manager for a property developer in London and now I run a small facilities management consultancy with my husband in the North East of England.

When did you first realize that you wanted to become a writer? What is it about writing that appealed to you?

When I discovered my grandfather’s letters from the Great War, I was so touched by his writing and his story that I felt an inexplicable desire to find out more and this in turn led me to writing the personal account of ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’.

What fascinates you about revisiting the past and bringing it to life in a book? 

My grandfather’s beautiful writing brings the past to life.  His words are as relevant today as they were 100 years ago.  I felt that his words and his story had to be shared so that a new generation could learn from his account.

Do you have any advice for budding military history authors wanting to get published?

I think you have to have a new story – it has to be different.  In my case, I knew that my story had never been told and it was a unique story, so I received positive feedback from the first moment in terms of approaching publishers.

How much research did you do for the book?  Can you give us some tips on this?

I spent four years researching and writing my grandfather’s story.

My research took me across England and Europe.  I flew a WW1 Tiger Moth and I visited the somber graves of those who had fallen in battle.

I visited archives and locations across England, France and Belgium. By visiting the places in person, you can get inside the story with a unique perspective on the account you are writing.

There isn’t an archive or a location that I have not visited in relation to the story of ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’.

I have become a dedicated self-taught historian.

What do you like most about your book? Why should we read it?

The book is unique and it’s about a unique person who sought no fame, glory or promotion.  He was an incredibly brave, courageous and spiritual man.  As General Sir Peter de la Billière said of the book:

‘Meticulously researched and brilliantly written it is a book to be read whether schoolboy, historian or retired general. The Half-Shilling Curate is about a man of outstanding qualities from whom we all have something to learn’.

He recognizes that the book will appeal to a large range of people from school children to academics.  Sir Peter endorses very few books so it is a huge honour to my grandfather that Sir Peter has endorsed it and recognised that ‘we all have something to learn’ from ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’. 

This is why I want to share my grandfather’s story.

Who are your favorite authors, fiction and non-fiction, and why?

 J.K. Rowling – favourite author as I have children who have grown up adoring her stories.

Non-fiction – John Sadler, an English historian and author who has written many very interesting history books.

How do you relax? Do you have any hobbies or interests?

 I love spending time with my family and my two dogs.  I am a keen gardener and love being outdoors with a camera in hand!

Eating out and cinema are also two favourites.

 Thanks Sarah- we look forward to seeing The Half-Shilling Curate :A Personal Account Of War & Faith 1914-1918


What people are saying about The Half-Shilling Curate :A Personal Account Of War & Faith 1914-1918

‘A good chaplain is as valuable as a good general’; and this book proves it. Meticulously researched and brilliantly written it is a book to be read whether schoolboy, historian or retired general.

General Sir Peter de la Billière KCB KBE DSO MC DL. Former Commander-in-Chief of the British forces

Amid the noise, haste and destruction of the Western Front, comes a previously unheard and yet utterly original voice telling of the humanity that somehow survived the devastation.

Dr Emily Mayhew. Author of ‘Wounded’ and Research Associate, Imperial College School of Medicine, London

This intensely personal story is told with considerable care to ensure that the reader is able to understand as much as possible of what Herbert Cowl experienced. It is strongly recommended.

The Rev. Dr Peter Howson. Author of ‘Muddling through: The Organisation of British Army Chaplaincy in World War One.’
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