Book of the Month: The Last Days

Start date: 28 July 2022, 09:00

Closing date: 31 August 2022, 23:59

Topics: Competitions

We have copies of The Last Days by Ali Millar to be won! Explored in beautiful prose, this memoir published by Ebury Press brings into sharp focus life inside one of the world's most secretive religions.

All you need to do is answer the question at the bottom of the page for a chance to win. Entries close on Wednesday 31 August at midnight. All entrants must reside in the UK and full terms and conditions apply.

Check out our competitions page for other giveaways.

About The Last Days by Ali Millar

A memoir of faith, desire and freedom, Ali Millar's memoir explores what it was like growing up as a Jehovah's Witness in the Scottish Borders, and so much more. The Last Days was a 'book to look out for in 2022'.

Q&A with Ali Millar

What inspired you to write a memoir?

Initially, I didn't want to write a memoir. When I first decided to write about how the Jehovah's Witnesses operate, I began to plot a narrative non-fiction book, but there was this sort of sticking point. At that stage I still couldn't talk about having been a witness, and I knew writing a book like that would mean I was expected to at least explain my interest.

Concurrently, I was reading a lot of experimental fiction and memoir. It was Christine Brooke-Rose's Life, End Of that made me think of ways of taking a reader right inside an experience through hyper focalised writing – I wanted to explore this more. Around about the same time, I also read The Years by Annie Ernaux which is a type of collective memoir; this made me think about how to narrate a group experience, which is very much how life in the organisation works.

Slowly I began to think that maybe memoir was the right form to tell the story. When I read Primo Levi's If this is a Man, I decided it was the only form. These combined to show me I'd had an experience mirroring that of so many others that the intimacy of memoir was the form it needed to take, and that's why it ended up the way it did. I think the personal can provide a vital lens onto a wider story which is what I wanted to achieve with The Last Days. I love how other books lead to the book that eventually gets written, it never takes a direct route.

What can readers expect from your book?

Readers can expect a hard story beautifully told. The whole book is written in first person present tense narrated in three parts: Genesis, Exodus and Revelation. I use the present tense to take the reader inside my experience, guiding them through my life between the ages of 2-36. I've spent a lot of my life preaching to people, telling them what to believe, and have no desire to do that again so there are deliberately no reflective passages in the book.

I find it slightly uncomfortable to talk my own work up, I think having spent so long with something it's easy to see the flaws, but some of the things critics have said have been incredible. It's been called 'a dam burst of a book. . . marking the appearance of a major writer', the prose was described in The Scotsman by Stuart Kelly as having both 'propulsion and elegy', which I love because it was really important to me to nail the pace, but also writing the book became a type of grief ritual for my absent mother. It was described as 'intense, compelling and raw' in The Times, and a four starred review in The Telegraph said it was 'a wail of yearning'.

Readers have contacted me saying it's not only a book about religion, but about becoming a woman, and what it means to pursue freedom. I also describe my experiences of Anorexia in it, and the way I approached that has also received a lot of positive critical attention. It's so rich thematically – family, desire, coming of age – that I think it really does have something for nearly everyone. 

How does it feel to be sharing this story with the world?

It's really intense to be sharing it with the world. Releasing any book is scary but this is so personal and has consumed over three years of my life. But it's also amazing to see the reaction. Every writer wants a great critical response, that's natural, but I think what's become so important to me have been the messages I've had flood my inbox on every social platform. I wake up to people telling me their own stories, telling me how for the first time they see themselves reflected, how they now can feel at peace because of the book, and others from people who've never experienced Jehovah's Witnesses saying they now understand the pressures children in the faith face – those messages have dissipated any fear I had about it being out in the world. I wrote it because I wanted to draw attention to what I believe to be a manipulative and dangerous organisation, and that's what it's doing, out there on its own.  

In which part of Scotland did Ali Millar grow up in?

If you are under 16, you can still enter the competition but will be asked to provide an additional contact email for a parent or guardian.