Tag Archives: Elizabeth Wein

I’ve got it covered #2

Kodnamn Verity. You can tell what book it is, can’t you? My second favourite book ever, Code Name Verity. In Swedish. It’s – not surprisingly – very good in translation (by Carina Jansson) as well. I could easily have slipped and spent all night reading it again.

Just like my friend Pippi did recently. When she visited earlier this year, she asked what she should read. Because she was in Stirling, and in Scotland, and because I used to live in Stockport, where she had also visited, I suggested Code Name Verity. Not necessarily believing she’d obey or remember. But it seems she did.

Pippi emailed me to say she’d been kept awake reading until half past two. That’s the sort of thing I like to hear.

Elizabeth Wein, Kodnamn Verity

I thought Elizabeth Wein might like to hear it too, so I made sure she did. Because I leave no one in peace. What’s more, Elizabeth sent me a copy of Kodnamn Verity, so that I can enjoy this marvellous book in more than one language.

The cover is great. I’d seen it online before, but it’s actually much nicer in the flesh. The whole book has a nice feel to it. When I’ve finished stroking it, I might put it away. Or I could always have an accident and…

A reading update

Let me see.., so after my lovely glow from reading about the horrors of war in Abyssinia, I moved swiftly on to Helen Grant’s Urban Legends, her third book about teenagers in Belgium who break into people’s homes, or climb up onto the rooftops of Ghent, encountering murderers and dead bodies galore.

I thought the first one – Silent Saturday – was quite cosy, for a thrillery, horror novel.

Let me tell you how I am doing so far. I have read 24 pages. Seven of those I’d already read (I don’t think it’s déjà vu, but more that the first chapter was printed at the end of book two) and it came back to me quite how scary I felt they seemed last year.

Well this year, my dears, I am scared witless, and I’m only on p 24. As I said.

I hope things will turn rosier as I go along. Because I’m never going to get braver or more fond of horror. I mean, how could those characters just walk with you-know-who, or let someone into their home like that, or go and live all alone, or anything else which Helen no doubt will have written, but which I have not as yet encountered?

I’ll be fine. Really.

But please leave the lights on.

And please tell me he’s not behind me.

Black Dove, White Raven

I was left with a warm glow of contentment on finishing Elizabeth Wein’s Black Dove, White Raven, and I would have started re-reading the book at that point if I could have. While the first pages didn’t set me off quite like Code Name Verity did, I was soon lost in the magic of flying, friendship and adventure.

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove, White Raven

Like CNV it’s a story told through diary entries and flight log books, as well as the odd attempt at writing adventure stories by and about Black Dove and White Raven. I had imagined that they were the flying mothers of Em and Teo, but it’s really the children themselves who are telling this tale. Mainly Em, and sometimes her adopted brother Teo. Em’s voice is almost that of Verity’s. Almost.

Their mothers Delia and Rhoda are soulmates; they fly together, have babies together, live and work together, until the day Delia dies. This is America in the 1920s, so friendship between a white woman and a black woman was never going to be straightforward. Nor is the situation where Rhoda simply takes over as Teo’s mother, or when they all move to Ethiopia to live Delia’s dream.

As the book begins, Em has a problem, and the novel is her way of describing to Emperor Haile Selassie what has happened and why he must help her.

I knew very little about Ethiopia, and even less about the war in Abyssinia. It’s easy to think of that war as merely being far away and a long time ago, and almost unimportant, but Black Dove, White Raven brings it to life in a scary way. We simply have had no idea what Italy did in Africa back then.

It’s easy to say that you should write about what you know, or that fiction is about making things up, so you don’t have to. But if Elizabeth didn’t know Ethiopia, and more importantly, didn’t know how to fly, this story wouldn’t get off the ground. And it’s as well that she practised flying on the outside of planes too, or you wouldn’t believe what goes on in this book.

Black Dove, White Raven is a seductive mix of nostalgia and reality, with courage and friendship at its core. It leaves me wanting more.

Women and war

On International Women’s Day, let’s think back to what they used to do. We finally made it to see the film based on Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, which is a favourite of mine. I was pleased to see the other week that the appearance of the film made the book pop – temporarily – back into the top ten in book sales. The power of movies.

It was a lovely looking film, even accounting for the gore, which was most realistic. My younger self would not have enjoyed it. I’d worried about the cringe-factor of having a non-native speaker play Vera, but Alicia Vikander was perfect. (I might have to dislike her a little for that.) What people who haven’t read the book make of the film, I have no idea. It must be like Harry Potter. You run past the highlights and you will hopefully make some sense of it.

The plot which remained when all the ‘excess’ pages had been dealt with made the whole thing out to be mostly about the romance, and less about years of hard work, nursing in the war. And I suppose the romantic twist at the end was to appease viewers who had cried too much when everyone died. At least they didn’t resurrect those who died in real life.

While romantic, this film did portray WWI as far more traumatising and downright incomprehensibly awful than most war films I’ve seen. And that’s good. We need the negative propaganda. It’s also worth remembering that being allowed to go to university is a relatively new thing. If you’re a woman, I mean.

Kathryn J Atwood, Women Heroes of World War I

I’ve been reading Elizabeth Wein’s new novel, and that is also about the dreadfulness of war and what women can do. (More about that another day.)

And through Elizabeth, I had another well timed book in my letterbox yesterday. It’s Kathryn J Atwood’s Women Heroes of World War I. I haven’t read it yet, obviously, but it looks very promising. Kathryn features the lives of 16 women and what they did in the war. So watch this space.

Daughter liked Testament of Youth, the movie, but I have high hopes of her giving the book a go, too. It is far superior to the film, and everyone ought to read it.

Some February wisdoms

It’s not only the books from my February calendar page (by Kerstin Svensson, who does very nice calendars) that I like, although they look fine. The ‘thought of the month’ appeals to me as well. Hope I’m not showing some dreadful ignorance if I say I don’t know who the Jean Paul who is credited with saying it is:

Calendar page February 2015, by Kerstin Svensson

‘Life is like a book. The fool leafs through it quickly, but the wise man reads slowly, thinking about things, because he knows he can only read the book once.’

Well, that’s my translation, of what is probably a really well known quote…

I felt a bit down in the dumps yesterday (not in a romantic sense, I hasten to add), so pondered this business of re-reading favourite books. Many do, not least authors, who seem to have certain books they re-read every year. My time tends to run out before I get to the re-reads, however.

But as I was sitting there, my newly arranged personal shelves, next to my reading chair, beckoned. Because on the shelf closest to me, I have my top three books. So I got them out, and read the first few pages of all three, as a treat.

They still feel as wonderful as I hoped they’d do, and what struck me about them was how all three start by introducing the main character by letting them talk about a person close to them. No sudden explosions or crazy ways to grab the reader’s attention. Just a low key mention of one of the other characters; a male cousin, a pilot from Stockport and an old woman neighbour.

Very lovely. And if I do go off on a re-reading spree, you know where I’ll be.

I can’t wait

It usually annoys me when people say that. Because it’s usually about some thing that you do have to wait for. So, you obviously can wait, because you must.

At the moment I must. Don’t want to, but I must.

It is Elizabeth Wein’s next book. New book. Soon book, but not soon enough. Black Dove, White Raven is the title, and I feel as if I’ve been waiting forever, after my erroneous understanding it was going to be here last summer. I believe it’s ‘only’ a couple of more weeks now, but still. That’s long. I suppose it won’t be when we get there, but right now I feel a wee bit impatient.

I know I’ve mentioned it before, and as you can tell, I am mentioning it again now. Before I’ve read it, I mean. If it were to replace my second most favourite book, Code Name Verity – also by Elizabeth – I’d be surprised. But I wouldn’t mind, because it would mean it’s a truly marvellous book.

Sometimes a tremendously good book early in the year makes me nervous, in case there is nothing to match it for another ten or so months. On the other hand; you will know the year has offered you something special. Although this year already has, in the shape of Sally Gardner’s The Door That Led To Where. Elizabeth will have to fight it out with her.

But then fighting might not be hard for a woman who thinks nothing of spending a summer strapped to the outside of a small plane, for research purposes. I think we can expect the aerobatics in Black Dove, White Raven to be realistic, as will the flying. We already know Elizabeth writes well about pilots, as both her two recent novels feature girl pilots. The new book – set in the 1930s – will give us two more, one of whom will set out for Ethiopia and a new life there, with two small children, to become part of the Emperor’s new air force of imported black pilots.

I have no idea where this book will be going, but I’m convinced I’ll want to tag along.

(This post has been picked up by Tombola Times and ITV as one of their top ten releases 2015.)

Lions and Lizes

Were I not totally unworthy, I’d love to be best friends with Lizes Laird and Wein. They are so brave and adventurous and so funny. No wonder they write fantastic books. Write about what you know. Well, these two ladies know a lot.

Elizabeth Wein spent the summer strapped to the top of a small plane (which then takes off and flies). The strapping part seemed to be due to health and safety rules. Quite. Otherwise it’d be fun to just stand there, on top of a plane up in the air. Her next book, Black Dove White Raven is about circus flying, which is why Elizabeth needed to have a go. Because she loves flying, anyway, and this was fun.

She showed us photos from Ethiopia – which was the topic for the day – and when Elizabeth Laird looked more closely at a range of mountains, it turned out she had walked across them. When she was young (which apparently made it nice and easy and nothing to write home about!). EL had also once stayed with EW’s aunt and uncle in Ethiopia, many years ago.

Because EL spent a few years in Ethiopia in the 1960s, teaching – as you do. That’s when she witnessed the homecoming of Olympic champion Abebe Bikila at the airport, where she just happened to be. The Emperor met the plane, complete with favourite lion, to honour the country’s hero. It’s the done thing.

Now everyone in Ethiopia runs. Partly to get to school, when that happens to be six miles away from home and you have no car, and partly in the hopes of making it to the Olympics. Elizabeth’s new book, The Fastest Boy in the World, is about a runner. Obviously.

Elizabeth Wein

Elizabeth Wein’s book, which is due out next year, features female pilots; one white and one black. They are part of a group of pilots trained at Tuskegee, who came to Ethiopia in 1935 to set up the Ethiopian Air Force during the second Abyssinian war. The Emperor wanted to have planes and black pilots from the US.

Both Elizabeths have written other books set in Ethiopia; EW’s A Coalition of Lions is set in the sixth century, and EL’s Prince Who Walks With Lions is about a young prince during Victoria’s reign. Liz managed to forget the title of her book momentarily, and made a joke out of it. In fact, both of them are really very amusing and they should make something of this.

They said they will now need to agree in advance who gets to write about what, so no doubt they will divide up Ethiopia between them. EW admired EL’s fictional grandparents, and EL proceeded to unwrap her real grandfather’s real WWI medals. And she didn’t just show us them, but trusted us enough to allow the medals to circulate round the room.

Elizabeth Laird

Asked about writing, EL told the audience to write from the heart. Only you will know your story. Read, write and live/do stuff (which includes being strapped to the outside of planes). EW thinks people should write about what they are passionate about, and she is sure she will have to fight EL for Haile Selassie’s lion.

The best things about Ethiopia according to EL is the weather, how beautiful the country is and the people. EW agrees about the wonderful people and told us about the clever children she met in the middle of nowhere, who were able to write in three different languages.

Books they would recommend were Holes, Journey to the River Sea, Goodnight Mister Tom, Code Name Verity (EL), Noughts & Crosses and Coram Boy. EW added the books by Hilary McKay. (No cause to disagree there.)

Elizabeth Laird writes in her study, which has got a woodstove, while Elizabeth Wein is the wandering type who writes everywhere, liking the noise in cafés and on trains. She thinks it’s important to ‘get out there’ to get the right feeling for what to write. And we were unable to end the event without a very brief description of the time EL was forced to leave Ethiopia, accused of murder…

Boring these ladies are not.