Alumni Bookshelf Part Three: Roses Down the Barrel of a Gun

‘An exhilarating read!  A memoir about facing personal and professional challenges in Georgia during a time of momentous and rapid change there.  It captures a time in Georgia’s history which has gone forever as so much has developed since then.  Jo’s anecdotes had me alternately laughing out loud or brought tears to my eyes.’

Welcome to the third of our alumni bookshelf features, where we celebrate the creative endeavours of our alumni and the power of the written word. In this feature we meet Jo Seaman (South East Asian Studies, 1985), whose book ‘Roses Down the Barrel of a Gun’ explores the events of the Rose Revolution in Georgia, in 2003, which she experienced first hand as British Council Director in the country.

Based on the true events of the Revolution and Jo’s experiences living and working in Georgia, this is a memoir written in novelistic style. When Jo arrived in Georgia in 2001, she knew little about the country, but she learnt fast – the backdrop of crumbling, flamboyant architecture, the power outages at key moments, everyday corruption in public life that affected everyone.  She also found that she had stumbled into an ancient and fascinating parallel universe of warm and welcoming people and a rich and diverse culture.  The book charts, first-hand, a key turning-point in European history. 

You can purchase Jo’s book on Waterstones or on Amazon (including for Kindle)

Connect with Jo on Facebook

Follow Jo’s feed on Instagram

‘An exhilarating read!  A memoir about facing personal and professional challenges in Georgia during a time of momentous and rapid change there.  It captures a time in Georgia’s history which has gone forever as so much has developed since then.  Jo’s anecdotes had me alternately laughing out loud or brought tears to my eyes.’


What attracted you to Hull, and to the South East Asian Studies course in particular?

In fact, I wanted to study English, as I had always loved reading and writing and I had a vague ambition to become a journalist or a writer.  One of my A’ level grades let me down, so that door closed.  I was delighted, therefore, to get a letter from the University of Hull offering me a place on an intriguing-sounding course, South East Asian Studies.  The department noted from the extra-curricular activities bit of my UCCA application that I had raised money for Oxfam and UNICEF and that I was interested in travel; from that they surmised that I might be interested in studying developing countries.  I looked up the curriculum and saw that the course had a heady and compelling mix of politics, anthropology and history; I investigated where South East Asia was and it seemed to be a fascinating part of the world.  

As I found out, it is indeed and I thoroughly enjoyed the course.  My three years in Hull were exceptionally happy and I made life-long friends there.

Your career with the British Council has taken you all over the world. How did you get into your job with the British Council?

As with the region of South East Asia, initially I knew little about the British Council.  My mother worked for them in their Drama and Dance Department in London and she suggested I find out more; the British Council is the UK’s main body for forging cultural relationships and for providing educational opportunities between people in our country and others.  The opportunity to make friends with people all over the world through working on cultural and education activities was very appealing.  Initially I had a summer holiday job as a receptionist and then I was fortunate that there was a graduate recruitment drive during my final year at university.  I joined the British Council two days after leaving Hull and was lucky to be able to work all over world with them.

Your book is about the time you spent in Georgia, which covers quite an eventful time in Georgian history. Was it the big events that attracted you to write the book, or your more day-to-day experience of living in Georgia and the people you encountered there?

Both!  Georgia is a unique and rather quirky country on the edge of Europe that many in Britain know little about and I was lucky to meet a lot of charismatic and committed people there.  I wanted to share both the frequent humorous and sometimes edgy incidents and how this affected me as a foreigner.  I also wanted to record the hardships that many Georgians had to endure in the pre-revolutionary period and that it was (to me) almost miraculous that the Rose Revolution was a velvet one. 

The book is an historically accurate account of events that form an important part of your biography, but is written in the style of a novel. Why did you approach the book in this way?

It was such a dramatic and momentous time that I often felt that I was living in a book or a film.  By presenting it as if it were a novel, I wanted to reflect the events in a natural and quite personal style and I have written it as if to a friend who knows nothing about Georgia or the British Council.  

It is a book about change on lots of levels.  Georgia was a country going through major socio-political changes and I was lucky to see this close-up through my work and through the lives of my Georgian friends.  I also had the professional objective of expanding my organisation against a challenging post-Soviet backdrop (and opening a completely new British Council office in neighbouring Armenia, alongside working with colleagues in Azerbaijan – I did a lot of travelling up and down the Silk Route).   On a personal level there were major changes too, as I fell in love – Georgia is a very romantic place!

During your career you have spent a lot of time in other countries – did you encounter any other stories that you would like to share?

Literally hundreds! I am working on a number of new projects at the moment: one about working in Central Asia; a collection of travel short stories and a novel about a C19th diplomat adventurer.

Now is a time when we are spending more time sitting at home and less time going out, let alone travelling. Do you have any book recommendations for people looking for something to read right now?

I particularly enjoy books that transport me to a different time or place.  Books I have recently enjoyed are:

  • Palm Beach, Finland, Antti Tuomainen – a witty comic thriller.
  • Queenie, Candice Carty-Williams – I felt I was living Queenie’s life, a brilliant immersive book.
  • Finding Henry Applebee, Celia Reynolds – heart-warming. 
  • Nathaniel’s Nutmeg: Or, the True and Incredible Adventures of the Spice Trader Who Changed the Course of History, Giles Milton – a cracking account of a C17th spice trader.

For more information:

You can purchase Jo’s book on Waterstones or on Amazon (including for Kindle)

Connect with Jo on Facebook

Follow Jo’s feed on Instagram

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