Category Archives: War

Across the Barricades

As I said, I could barely wait to read Joan Lingard’s Across the Barricades after The Twelfth Day of July. It has the pleasure of re-connecting with old friends, but it has stopped feeling even a little bit cosy. Three years on, Kevin is 17 and Sadie is 16 – which back then seems to have almost counted as being adult – when they unexpectedly meet up again.

Joan Lingard, Across the Barricades

Things are much worse in Belfast; barbed wire everywhere and disturbances and violence have become daily occurences and seemingly normal, even to peaceful and ‘normal’ people. Childhood friendships are falling apart, when people find themselves on opposite sides, and I don’t mean religious ones, but whether or not they want to live peacefully or if they prefer to go on the attack against people who’ve not done anything to them.

As we can see today too, prejudice is rife and you hate on principle. This makes it harder for our young couple, who find that they very much want to keep seeing each other, while also realising that the other one will be much safer if they can stay away.

What a choice!

Just as it is upsetting to see how blinkered some people were (are), it is reassuring to find the odd ones who can see both sides of the coin and who are normal and decent human beings.

Even as their situation darkens, you want to read on and on. And knowing that this is anchored in recent history, you know that not everything can be fine, just like that. People will die, and they will be injured. Others will be upset, because separation of some sort is unavoidable.

I just want more.

On the Front Line with Michael Grant

We were given permission to call him whatever we wanted. This man who recently lay down under a tank in the Ardennes, in case he would need to know what it looks like from down there. Michael Grant was back in Edinburgh on Saturday afternoon, converting a tentful of teenagers, some younger ones and a whole lot of older people who were unable to resist. (Although I have a few words to offer the adult who told her child companion to put Gone back on the shelf in the shop. That he wanted it was testament to Michael’s ability to make children want to read [his books].)

Michael Grant

Michael threatened horrible pictures (I hope he didn’t have me in mind) and suggested some of us might want to leave there and then. It wasn’t so bad. Barbara Cartland was very pink, and I suspect Michael will never look like that, despite his past in romantic formula novels. Luckily he gave them up before he had to hang himself in the shower.

This is the man who left school after 10th grade because he arrived for school lunch through the exit door and was told to go out and come back in the right way. The one who surreptitiously gave the finger in an old family photo. Someone who has a past as a burglar of cheap diners. They got him in to inspire us, and he said he’d see what he could do.

Genghis Khan was worse than Hitler, and I almost believe him after hearing what happened in Kiev. And then there was the Chichijima incident, which gave us George Bush for President.

Anyway, Michael was here to talk about WWII and his latest book, Front Lines. He sought inspiration in books, and particularly praised Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, which he told everyone to read. He had done the Private Ryan Package at a rifle range, just so he could try lots of rifles out, despite hating guns.

He wasn’t sure how open he could be, either in the book, or with the audience, but feels that children can cope with the truth. And he only writes something if he thinks he will have fun with it.

Michael Grant, Front Lines

There were two things Michael changed in his book. One was giving women the draft, as he wanted to have them in the story. He also made black soldiers more integrated, earlier than in real life. The war had a good effect for black soldiers, because after fighting Hitler, they returned home less afraid than they’d been before.

This workaholic told us how he met his wife, Katherine Applegate, and how they eventually began writing books in order to quit their cleaning jobs. How they made a fortune with Animorphs (‘we’re going to need some aliens’) and then lived it all up, meaning they had to start again.

Michael Grant

That’s when Michael had the idea for Gone, told his wife about it, and she told him to drop everything and write it. Being a well trained husband he always does what his wife tells him to do.

After Michael had worn out one microphone and moved on to the next, it was time for us to skip over to the bookshop to have our books signed. I must have lost my touch, because I was nowhere near the front of the queue. I blame the photographer who required the buying of her own copy of Front Lines (that’s how inspiring Michael was). And then I tried to convert the young boy who wanted to read Gone and wasn’t allowed…

Michael Grant

I have received complaints for messing up the last photo my photographer was going to take of a very happy looking Michael. I retorted that he doesn’t do happy, but actually, I see that he does. Even with other women readers. So here’s to a smiley Michael. It wouldn’t be Edinburgh without him.

Wings: Spitfire

Neither Tom Palmer nor Barrington Stoke could have known how appropriate it would turn out to be to offer this series of three books about planes and past wars, set in a soccer summer school for young teens, right now. Spitfire is the second book, and as the title tells you, it’s about WWII.

Tom Palmer, Wings: Spitfire

In the first one, Flyboy, we met Jatinder who ended up in WWI, flying a plane, mysteriously taking over the part of a real WWI pilot who, like Jatinder, was a Sikh. In Spitfire we meet his fellow soccer fan Greg, full name Grzegorz Tomaszewski, whose parents are Polish. In the same strange way as Jatinder, one night Greg finds himself at the controls of a real Spitfire, somewhere off the coast of France.

Like Jatinder, he’s somehow turned into a real pilot, and he needs to grow up fast to deal with a dangerous situation.

Tom Palmer has clearly watched The Great Escape a few times, but there are worse films to inspire a bit of plot, and perhaps young readers today, whether dyslexic or not, won’t have seen the film.

This timetravelling into old wars appears to be connected with the boys’ soccer school host, Steve, whose house sits right next to an old airfield, and who enjoys talking to the visiting boys about what things used to be like. So here we have Britain’s pride, the two world wars, and these stories show us pilots from other backgrounds coming to help the British fight a common enemy.

It’s exciting and not a little emotional. The boys from today learn a lot from their visits to the past. And so should we, about all kinds of things.

(Naturally there is a Spitfire to build.)

Broken Sky

This is the kind of novel you simply read and read until you get to the end. L A Weatherly’s Broken Sky (with the subtitle Trust No One, which you should keep in mind at all times) is a futuristic historical sort of WWII story.

It’s 1941 in a new world, one long after our 1941, but with a lot in common with the real WWII period. Our world was destroyed in one too many wars, and now they have Peace. War is not permitted. But to keep some kind of balance, fighter pilots fight one-on-one to determine which country gets what and when.

L A Weatherly, Broken Sky

Amity is such a pilot, 18 years old, and based near what used to be Los Angeles. The country next to her Western Seaboard, is Central States and they have a leader who reminds me very much of a certain presidential hopeful. He is just as scary, too, and there is a female character rather like the two-faced woman in a recent Danish television series.

I like the way we now have girl pilots as main characters in books, and how there can be an alternate WWII, allowing the writer to change reality a little, while still keeping much of what we are used to.

Under the surface things are not as neat and clean as people have been led to believe, however. The reader discovers this from the start, as Lee begins with almost the end, and you know how bad it will be. Just not how it got like that.

It’s exciting, romantic and simply a marvellous read.

‘Trust no one’ is what you need to keep in mind. And you think, ‘yes, but…’ and I suspect we shouldn’t do that. Unless there is lots of double and triple bluffing going on. Which there could be. Perhaps.

There is one thing wrong with Broken Sky, and it’s that there are two sequels still to come. I want all of it now!

Planes

‘You could have asked for a Spitfire,’ said Daughter.

Well, maybe I could have, but I didn’t and it’s not important.

I might have mentioned that Elizabeth Wein was handing out planes at the Scottish Book Awards in Glasgow in March, and I got one too. Not a Spitfire, obviously. Elizabeth handed out more planes at Yay!YA+ in April, but I felt it would have been greedy to ask for another one.

The not-Spitfire

I’d be willing to bet my plane isn’t a Sopwith Camel either, as that is a WWI plane and I trust Elizabeth went for WWII ones. Although, she did set her Ethiopian adventures during the period between the wars, so not necessarily.

Anyway, when she was last here Daughter asked for permission to build my non-Spitfire on account of her past as a plane builder. Apparently she used to buy them at the post office when she was little. I don’t remember that at all.

When she turns up this weekend I might get her to build Tom Palmer’s Sopwith Camel, even though it is not a Spitfire, and not polystyrene but the inside of a book cover.

There is something about planes.

Flyboy

Time travel and Sikh fighter pilots isn’t the first thing I associate with Tom Palmer. Football, yes, and that’s in here too, along with the mysterious return to WWI as experienced by Jatinder when he goes to football summer camp.

Tom Palmer, Wings: Flyboy

Take To the Skies, Wings: Flyboy, is the first of three war time books Tom has written for Barrington Stoke, and much as I like sports books (well, I try), I thought this seemed much more my thing.

Young Sikh Jatinder likes football, but he gets angry with himself for being too cautious. So when he reads about a Sikh fighter pilot who used to be stationed where he is staying now, he is intrigued. He also sees what could be a ghost.

Jatinder is more than intrigued when he suddenly finds himself in the shoes, or more precisely in the plane, belonging to this WWI hero, and discovers he is now a grown man who has to do what grown men at war do. And being too cautious isn’t an option.

Very exciting, and very educational. This is the kind of war time history we need to learn about, and what better way than with a spot of time travel?

Really looking forward to the next two, and while I wait I’ll see if I can build the Sopwith Camel included inside the covers of this book. It’s not every book that comes with its own plane.

The Girl in the Blue Coat

Set in the Netherlands during WWII, Monica Hesse’s novel is about 18-year-old Hanneke who delivers black market goods around Amsterdam for her boss. It’s not quite resistance work, but it’s not legal or safe. Hanneke learns how to flirt with German soldiers, so they won’t think of what she might be carrying, right under their noses.

That’s until the day one of her customers asks her to find a Jewish teenage girl for her; someone who has gone missing from the hidden room where she was kept. Hanneke is reluctant, but she is good at finding things.

Monica Hesse, The Girl in the Blue Coat

This is interesting, because it shows us the war in yet another place and from a different angle than the usual ones. I didn’t know all that much about the Dutch in the war, except for what you learn from Anne Frank.

You can’t really know what people are like until something happens which proves that some are much better human beings than you’d thought, or occasionally, much worse. It seems that more people were satisfied to be quietly cooperating with the German invaders. I don’t know whether this is true, but Monica has done a lot of research. She knows what food people might have liked, and she’s discovered a lot of Dutch facts. However, to my mind, the book has quite an American feel to it, which is hardly surprising as Monica is American.

The plot is exciting, though, and as always, I should have paid full attention to what gets mentioned, as it all turns out to have been relevant in one way or another. Though I did guess at one of the core secrets early on.

A very enjoyable read, if you can say that about a Holocaust novel. There is a lot of bad, but also much that is good.