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Former TWGGS pupil takes on Putin and the Baltics

A former Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School (TWGGS) pupil has become an expert on Russia and the Baltic states - and has written a book on the subject.

Aliide Naylor was a student at TWGGS from 2000 to 2007.

Former TWGGS pupil turned author Aliide Naylor
Former TWGGS pupil turned author Aliide Naylor

She said: "It feels like worlds away now! They were in the process of constructing a new classroom block, so I spent my first years in freezing temporary huts on stilts that had parts of the floors falling out.

"After that, Russia was nothing!" she joked.

"I loved history and English classes, specifically 20th century history. We had a hilarious teacher called Miss Sowerby who somehow even managed to make dry subjects like feudalism entertaining, while encouraging us to formulate our own judgements.

"I went on to study history at university.

"I had basically read every work of fiction in the TWGGS library by the end of Year 7. It stocked a few Lois Duncan novels and I ended up hooked on the mystery/thriller genre after finding her, so started taking out these massive Stephen King volumes from Tunbridge Wells Museum and Library."

'I wrote a significant part of the book in the bar of the Royal Wells Hotel'

"They kept me occupied for a little while! At GCSE and beyond we were introduced to a lot of dystopian fiction, which I fell for pretty hard ... perhaps there's some thematic continuity there!

"As a teenager, I was involved in the local music scene and spent a lot of time at the Tunbridge Wells Forum.

"I initially promoted a handful of shows - such as the Sheffield glam punk band Pink Grease - and later helped out on the bar.

"There was a brilliant indie and punk scene in the mid-noughties – I remember seeing bands like Clearlake, Black Wire and Art Brut at The Forum, as well as some really wonderful local acts. Jason Dormon and the staff were a great source of social support back then."

Miss Naylor said: "My parents still live in Tunbridge Wells - in the same house where I was born - close to the Royal Wells Hotel and I love travelling back there. I actually wrote a significant part of my book in a corner of the hotel's Library Bar!"

Aliide Naylor's book is in shops now
Aliide Naylor's book is in shops now

In 2011, Miss Naylor moved to St Petersburg to do her master's degree and learn the Russian language.

She said: "There weren't many Brits there: the international cohort was mostly composed of American and Finnish students.

"After the academic year ended and a bout of tutoring, I ended up in Moscow and lived and worked in the capital for three years – spending that period in both Russian government media and at independent newspaper The Moscow Times.

"In 2011, the country was fascinating, with the biggest protests sweeping cities since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

"Things snowballed even further after Euromaidan in 2013/14, the annexation of Crimea, and the outbreak of war in eastern Ukraine."

Miss Naylor's alma mater: Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School
Miss Naylor's alma mater: Tunbridge Wells Girls Grammar School

"Then I started thinking more about other former Soviet republics, especially Estonia, where my grandmother was born.

"I left Moscow in 2015 to spend a chunk of time with my then-partner in Berkeley, California.

"After we broke up I moved back to the UK and started freelancing and editing for regional and international publications.

"I was eager to spend some time focussing on the Baltic states given my familial ties, knowledge of the Russian language, and the recent election of Donald Trump (who had been terming NATO obsolete).

"There was a significant amount of interest in Russia and the Baltics post-Ukraine and I was offered a book contract almost immediately. "

Aliide Naylor, on the right, with friends at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School
Aliide Naylor, on the right, with friends at Tunbridge Wells Grammar School

Her book is called The Shadow In The East and sub-titled Vladimir Putin and the New Baltic Front.

It looks at the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania and examines what it is like for them with an expansionist NATO to the west and a belligerent Putin Russia to the east.

She has travelled throughout the region for her research investigating topics such as smuggling and troop movements in the borderlands, and explains the countries' unique cultural identities.

She argues that the Baltics are about to emerge as the new front-line in the political struggle between East and West.

Miss Naylor said: "I've discovered some odd connections over the course of my career and travels.

"I was chatting to a former Baltic defence minister in Ukraine a couple of years ago, and it turned out he had immediate relatives in Tunbridge Wells.

"I was also recently interviewed for a Latvia-based culture website – the man running it grew up in Wadhurst, and went to school at The Judd in Tonbridge, which was a bizarre coincidence!"

Miss Naylor currently lives in London.

The Shadow In The East is published in hardback by Bloomsbury and costs £20.

ISBN: 9781788312523

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