A Novel

Norman Bissell

ISBN: 9781912147878

Binding: hardback

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Back cover text:

George Orwell left post-war London for Barnhill, a remote farmhouse on the Isle of Jura, to write what became Nineteen Eighty-Four. He was driven by a passionate desire to undermine the enemies of democracy and make plain the dangers of dictatorship, surveillance, doublethink and censorship. 

Typing away in his damp bedroom overlooking the garden he created and the sea beyond, he invented Big Brother, Thought Police, Newspeak and Room 101 – and created a masterpiece. 

Barnhill tells the dramatic story of this crucial period of Orwell’s life. Deeply researched, it reveals the private man behind the celebrated public figure – his turbulent love life, his devotion to his baby son and his declining health as he struggled to deliver his dystopian warning to the world. 


Bissell fills out and explores more deeply the Orwell’s character and his relationships with those around him. It’s a very believable portrayal, digging beneath the surface of a man who could be awkward, opinionated and intransigent in an attempt to see what made him tick. Alastair Mabbott, The Herald on Sunday - read the rest of the review here.

Norman Bissell… offers a highly credible, fictionalized account of Orwell’s last few years. Brian Palmer, The Ileach

This partly factual and partly reimagined account of George Orwell’s final years is a surprisingly satisfying read… Barnhill is certainly a good novel in itself. It is well worth the time to read. Paul Simon, Morning Star - read the rest of the review here.

Barnhill is a fascinating and original new addition to the canon of books about Orwell and brings a distinctly Scottish perspective to one of the great backstories in literature. Angus MacKinnon

A rich absorbing narrative that draws an authentic picture of the life of a great writer. Leela Soma

Through a literary lens, Bissell does for Orwell what Johnny Depp did for J.M. Barrie in Finding Neverland. He brings the man most vibrantly alive. Alistair McIntosh

This is a remarkably compelling yet profound study of the Jura days of one of the Twentieth Century’s most prophetic writers. I was fascinated and gripped. Lord George Robertson of Port Ellen


I’ve had this idea swilling around in my head for too long. I must write it down…

For years I had dreamt about living on a Hebridean island…

‘How’s Eileen these days?’

‘All right... but I’m afraid she’s a bit run down.’

‘What’s wrong with her?’

‘I don’t really know... but we’ve never been so happy since we got Ricky.’ He looked around him as if they were under surveillance and almost whispered, ‘It’s not always been plain sailing, and we’ve had our troubles. It’s a real marriage, you know.’ He knew he could safely share secrets with Paul. A close, penniless pal, he owed George. And not just money.

‘I know.’ Stretching out, Paul blinked in the early sun, its warmth and the whisky relaxing him.

‘She’s had a lot to put up with, what with my writing and all.’ He knew fine well his writing was the least of it.

Read more of Barnhill on the Orwell Society website

Watch the first live reading of Nineteen Eighty-Four

Want to stay in Barnhill? You can book a holiday in this historic house here.

Read a Q&A with Norman Bissell about writing Barnhill for the Islay Book Festival

Find out more about Norman Bissell and his other publications from his website and his profile on the Scottish Book Trust website

A tour of Orwell’s Jura, where he wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four in The Guardian

Discover the Scottish island where George Orwell created Nineteen Eighty-Four with the BBC

Learn more about Orwell with the Orwell Society or The Orwell Foundation

The New York Times’ review of Nineteen Eighty-Four

Listen to The Real George Orwell by the BBC

Discussion suggestions for reader groups or books clubs. Send us notes on the questions below, we love hearing feedback about any of our books!

The Story

How did you find Barnhill to read? Did you think it was a good read? Was it easy to read? Did you find the story easy to follow? Would you say it was a page turner?

Were there any particular passages, scenes or chapters that you enjoyed especially? Were there any that you particularly disliked?

Did you learn anything new or interesting from the book?

Write down five adjectives to describe Barnhill, then compare notes and discuss

The Characters

Did you think the characters of George Orwell and Sonia Brownell were fully fleshed out, convincing characters? What did you think about the part of Barnhill from Sonia’s point of view? What did it add to the book and your understanding of the characters?

Did your opinion of Orwell change during the course of the book? If so, in what way and why?

Apart from George and Sonia, did you find any of the other characters interesting?

Was there a particular character that you feel strongly about? Did you feel drawn to them? Were you sympathetic towards them> Did you strongly dislike them?


Did you find the timeline of the real events helpful?

Did you find the author’s section on Writing Barnhill added to your reading experience?

If you were to ask the author one question about Barnhill what would it be? (If you would like to actually contact the author please email

If you had to summarize your opinion in a tweet (280 characters) what would you say?

Would you recommend Barnhill to anyone? Would you write a review on Amazon, Goodreads or somewhere else?