Tag Archives: Deborah Ellis

What about Deborah?

The Breadwinner

When I got to the last page of the Guardian Weekend last week, I stared. It was a film poster for a new animated film called The Breadwinner.

I thought, ‘it might be based on the book by Deborah Ellis.’ I began searching for the proof that it had something to do with this marvellous, if disturbing, tale about the young girl in Afghanistan who ends up as the breadwinner for her family by pretending to be a boy.

But there was nothing. Angelina Jolie gets a prominent mention, as executive producer. Well done. The film is by Nora Twomey. Well done again. There are various quotes about the film’s excellence.

There is some small print, but I am fairly certain that I squinted enough, and Deborah’s name wasn’t there either.

So I googled the film, and lo and behold, it is based on the book. It’s not even pretending not to be. Wikipedia lists her, and an interview with Nora begins by mentioning her.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Film posters are large. There would have been room for the name of the person who thought up this whole story in the first place. Even if they have altered a lot, there is the sense of the original plot, the original characters.

If Deborah had been a really well known, big name, I suspect it would have been plastered all over the poster.

That said, I look forward to seeing the film. It’s out on May 25th.

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Best of 2014

I was about to say that whereas I had told myself I’d go for fewer books on my best list of the year (best books, not best list) this time, it has proved too hard to do. But then I discovered I managed to slim the list last year, so I have a bit of credit and I can let the list swell. Because I must.

Can’t even offer you a photogenic pile of best books, with most of them still hiding in boxes. Besides, one of the best comes on Kindle, and the Resident IT Consultant’s e-reader isn’t the prettiest of things to take a picture of.

2014 was a good year for series of books coming to an end, be it the two-pack type or the trilogy or the ten-pack. I decided not to put those on The List, but I am happy to mention them.

They are Timothée de Fombelle with Vango 2, Caroline Lawrence with the fourth book about Detective Pinkerton, Derek Landy at the end of his ten book Skulduggery Pleasant marathon, Lucy Hawking and the fourth book about George in space, Gennifer Choldenko and the last Al Capone story, Deborah Ellis about Parvana again, Teri Terry’s dystopia had as satisfying an end as you could hope for, Gillian Philip finally finished her faeries in Icefall, and Che Golden sorted her fairies out too.

Helen Grant and Eoin Colfer did beautifully with their second books from Belgium and time travel London, so there is more to look forward to there.

Two authors are standing shoulder to shoulder on my awards stand this year; Michelle Magorian and Nick Green. Michelle for Impossible! and Nick with his Firebird ebook trilogy.

The runners-up are – in no particular order – Ali Sparkes and Destination Earth, Sally Nicholls and Shadow Girl, Cliff McNish and Going Home, Tanya Landman and Buffalo Soldier, Ellen Renner and Tribute, Simon Mason and Running Girl, Carl Hiaasen and Skink No Surrender, Robin Talley and Lies We tell Ourselves.

Thank you everyone, for hours and hours of good company, and please keep up the good work!

‘People respond to courage’

While I eyed up the new furniture at MMU (would anyone really notice if I walked off with one of those sofas?), the other people who had come to hear Deborah Ellis speak scoffed wine and canapés. Deborah is back in the UK for the first time for years, so I’m not surprised her fans wanted to see and hear her.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Deborah’s interest in Afghanistan started in the late 1990s, when she visited refugee camps in Pakistan a couple of times. She based her idea for writing books about it on the fact that if you know who someone is, you have a relationship, and it’s much harder to hate them.

She heard about two girls who dressed up as boys and went out to work to support their families, and they became her character Parvana, and as she herself has an older sister, it wasn’t at all hard to write about family members who drive you crazy, because that happens wherever in the world you happen to live.

When asked about writing torture scenes, she described water-boarding, and discussed how you know what counts as torture, as well as saying she hopes her fellow Canadians have not taken part in it, but she’s not sure. Deborah reckons children understand complicated situations well, and always ask astute questions wherever she goes.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

Her wish was to show the Afghan people as warm and welcoming, and she pointed out that the Taliban are people too. Trying to explain why the parents and grandparents in My Name Is Parvana didn’t want their children to go to school, she said that if none of them had attended school, it’s hardly surprising they were nervous about it.

Asked about how to deal with writer’s block Deborah recommended doing something real, like the washing up or mowing the lawn. On how to become a writer she suggested reading a lot, as well as reading more advanced things than usual and also different stuff than what you normally read. Then you just sit down and write and 90% of it will be garbage, but you’re allowed to spend 20 minutes a day on writing bad stuff.

Deborah Ellis at MMU

The teachers in the audience use The Breadwinner in the classroom and find that it provides openings for all sorts of discussion and tasks among their students. Not bad for a book which Deborah only hoped would sell $3000 worth for the women in Afghanistan.

Before the book signing at the end, Deborah read a short piece from her new Kids of Kabul, which is based on interviews with children. The one she read was about ‘Frank Sinatra.’

This was a marvellous early start to the 2014 Manchester Children’s Book Festival. (The regular programme will be available very soon.)

My Name is Parvana

Parvana is another displaced young girl. You might have met her in Deborah Ellis’s first two books from Afghanistan, The Breadwinner and Parvana’s Journey. If you have, you will know that this is no ordinary girl, except she is of course a normal girl to whom horrendous things have happened, and she has risen to the challenges thrown at her.

Deborah Ellis, My Name is Parvana

After having to dress up as a boy to become her family’s breadwinner, and after her long trek to find her family again, she lives with her mother and two sisters and the two boys she found on her journey in a refugee camp. Her mother starts a school for girls, and in My Name is Parvana we see the birth of the school, and running parallel with that, we see the end of it as well, with Parvana captured by American troops and treated as a suspected terrorist.

As with so many novels set in WWII, for instance, this book contains a lot of very horrible acts, but like the children in those other books, Parvana almost treats their abominable lives as the norm. She’s not into politics. She simply thinks about actions on her own level.

She tries to keep calm by wondering if the US soldiers are actually taught how to torture prisoners, how to endure their screams, and she wonders for what she herself might behave like they do. She reckons the key to the library might tempt her. (Her mother punishes her with periods of no reading.) And she finds she doesn’t much care for Donny Osmond.

So there are small bits of humour nestling in the tale of her captivity, as well as the rise and fall of her mother’s school for girls.

It had been so long since I read the first two books about Parvana I had almost forgotten quite how marvellous they are. But I remember now. And I will need to catch up by reading Mud City, which is about Parvana’s best friend, who dreams of going to Paris, by way of the purple lavender fields of France.

I usually say that we need the WWI and WWII novels to learn what happened. We need the books about what happens today even more. It is still going on. Too many people are getting away with too much.