Saturday, July 28, 2007
This can now be seen on the Guardian Unlimited Books website: http://books.guardian.co.uk/top10s
The list was also mentioned on a blog called Book Shelves of Doom (www.bookshelvesofdoom.blogs.com) which is worth a look. Reviews of books, suggestions of what to read now for people that have only ever read Harry Potter(it seems there are those who have quite literally read no books other than the Potter series, my daughter tells me she knows quite a few people who fall into that category!), pictures of bags with book covers printed on them (possibly made by the author of the blog?), an impressive paper model of Howl’s Moving Castle, etc.
Friday, July 20, 2007
This is the story of an RAF bomber crew – average age of just 19 years – and follows them as they prepare for an ill-fated mission to attack Berlin, towards the end of the Second World War. It’s due to be published in the new year (Jan 2008) by Barrington Stoke. Barrington Stoke are a small publishing house set up to produce books suitable for teenagers with reading difficulties, though the stories on their list are so good they can be enjoyed by anyone. Authors such as Kevin Brooks, Alison Prince, Keith Gray, Nigel Hinton, Vivian French, Alan Gibbons and many other great writers have produced books for Barrington Stoke. The main difference between Barrington Stoke books and novels produced by mainstream publishers is the word length. Barrington Stoke books are comparatively short in length – Bomber Boys, for instance, is 9,000 words. But some stories are meant to be short, and there are actually very few outlets for short stories for young people these days. When my idea for a Second World War story was accepted, I was told to write it in just the way I’d write any other book. The manuscript was then sent out to a team of teenage readers and their response to the text was used as a guide for the final edit, which was done over the phone – in my case, two phone calls of 2 ½ hours each! All the readers have their names printed in the book, since they’ve all contributed to the final version of the text. I was surprised at how often this technique actually resulted in not just clearer meaning, but a stronger, more robust feel to the language.
There was only the occasional need for compromise. For instance, an operational RAF airfield was always referred to as a “station”, but in the edit we used the word “base” (which was what the American Army Air Force would have called their military airfields). We did that to avoid confusion, because these days, of course, the word “station” implies a railway terminus more than anything else. It was my Uncle Pete who told me a lot about the RAF. He joined up in 1946, just after the war finished, and served with the ground crew on a bomber station. He has maintained a keen interest in aeroplanes ever since – he has thousands of model planes that he’s made over the years – and has some excellent books on the subject. He lent me a series about the Lancaster bomber aircraft, called Lancaster at War by Mike Garbett and Brain Goulding, which was very useful. I must drop them back to him.
I’ve read a lot about the Second World War myself, and also heard a good deal from my dad. He was ground crew – like Pete, his younger brother - but he was in the Fleet Air Arm (the Royal Navy’s air section) and he joined during the war. However, he was seconded to the RAF, where he worked both on Lancasters and on Spitfires, the famous fighter plane. The stations he was based at were maintenance depots, where worn out aircraft were sent to be repaired. Some of the things he said about that time filtered into the writing of Bomber Boys.
I’ve always had a great interest in the history of both World Wars. My grandfather was in the First World War, as an infantryman in the trenches on the Western front, where he was badly wounded. And my parents both grew up during the Second World War, living through the London Blitz. Dad joined up and was eventually sent out to fight the Japanese (but luckily for him the war ended before he got there and he spent a year in Egypt instead). I consider myself very privileged in that I have never had to serve in the armed forces (something I would hate – I would make a very poor soldier) or fight in a war.
Friday, July 13, 2007
(And what I think of HOW I LIVE NOW)
On an author visit to Dame Alice Owen’s School last Wednesday, I again asked the question “What would you like to see on an author’s website and blog?” And once again I was pleased to hear the many intriguing and intelligent suggestions offered up by the students from Year 7 and Year 8 that I met there. These included an idea for a section with hints and tips for aspiring writers, competitions, the posting up of lists of the author’s likes and dislikes, book reviews by the author together with an invitation for any comments from readers, and details of current ideas and projects. The importance of regularly updating the blog was also pointed out, so that there would always be something new to read.
I’m determined to have a go at including some of these suggestions, as well as keeping the book log/ book review side of things going (see below). I should point out that all my reviews will be positive, since I always try to avoid reading books I don’t like. If you want to look back at any of my previous book logs, please see the list of titles and blog entry dates in the posting before this one. Or you might want to post a comment if you’ve also read the book reviewed below, or indeed, any of the others.
So here are my thoughts on a book I read recently, which was…
HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff
Set in an alternative present, this gripping story is narrated by Daisy, a teenage anorexic from New York, who finds herself pitched headlong into a Britain on the brink of a devastating war. And it’s going to change her life forever.
She arrives as damaged goods. Packed off to stay with relatives, she is met at the airport by her chain-smoking, underage driving, younger cousin Edmund. He combines a certain irresistible charm with a supernatural ability to empathise. He can, it seems, read her mind. Despite the difference in age, and the awkward fact that he’s a blood relative, Daisy is utterly smitten. So it is love that sets her on the road to recovery. But it’s a route that is to prove desperately painful to travel.
The plot deliberately subverts expectations, breaking up the narrative, just as the initially idyllic pattern of Daisy’s life in the English countryside is shattered by the events of the war. Characters are strewn to the four winds and Daisy is eventually brought face to face with the full horrors of war. But this is no story of campaign and command. Daisy has no interest in observing history in the making. She just wants to survive with something of the inner peace she thought she’d found still left intact. With painful irony, we learn that Daisy has finally beaten her eating disorder just as the country is gripped by famine.
As the story reaches its conclusion, it’s clear that Daisy has shifted from the powerless neurotic of the opening chapters to a determined and self-possessed individual who has discovered that “fighting back is what I do best.” Though brimming with tragedy, the ending is not entirely bleak. Amongst the ruins of places and people there remains the promise of recovery, through the renewing properties of love, and through the unquenchable optimism of growing things.
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