Tag Archives: Michael Grant

YA? Or actually for old, proper adults?

When I read the two books by Michael Grant recently, Silver Stars and his WBD book Dead of Night, I thought – again – about what makes them YA. Why not just plain adult? After all, they are about adults. More or less. OK, his characters lie a bit to enlist, just like teenagers did in WWI. But they are to all intents adults, and with what happens in the stories, they definitely become adults pretty soon.

There’s a lot of bad stuff happening, and some of them die. The reader is treated to war scenes that can be quite upsetting, especially when you know they are based on reality. It’s not just something the author has made up to spice the book up a little.

There are relationships that are more grown-up than what you find in ‘high school’ stories. Some sex, as would be appropriate for what is being written about.

Take Elizabeth Wein’s Code Name Verity, which is also about war and also about characters only just adult enough to do what they do in wartime. They are adult enough to appeal to the real adult reader, but not so old that they don’t suit teenagers.

At that age I used to read Nevil Shute, because there was no Elizabeth Wein or Michael Grant. His books were accessible enough, and often about the same kind of topics, but the characters were – generally – older, and their problems also a bit older.

But I think the main difference is still that there is hope. Yes, people die. It would be unrealistic for them not to in a war. But as Michael said in our first interview in 2010, ‘it’s always good to hope, don’t you think?’

While I’m going on about YA war books, we can mention Lee Weatherly’s Broken Sky dystopia, set in a world based fairly closely on WWII. Her characters are also adults, and behaving as such. And to me the books feel like YA, unless I’m thinking this because I know they are. Not having got to the end of the trilogy yet, I still hold out hope that the end will not be as bleak as an adult-only version could get away with.

And anyway, Debi Gliori told me years ago about signing her Pure Dead books for an adult reader, who refused to believe they were children’s books… After all, if you have them in your book club, that surely proves it?

Dead of Night

It is World Book Day. Well, it is in the UK, anyway.

One of the £1 books this year is Dead of Night by Michael Grant. Which is a very good thing, as I was feeling the need for more stories about his girl GIs while I wait for the third full length book.

I’d been concerned it wouldn’t work, or that there would be confusion between this short book and the ‘real’ ones. Would there be spoilers?

Michael Grant, Dead of Night

But no. This is set soon after the squad arrives in Europe, and they are training – and spending Christmas 1942 – in a wet and grey Wales. They are not yet the fully fledged soldiers we met in Silver Stars. And, some of the people who die, are still alive.

This is very much Charles Dickens meets Michael Grant. It’s good.

Silver Stars

Absolutely splendid!

Not a word I normally use, but in this case I must. It’s a nod to one of the characters – a token semi-Brit amongst the GIs – in Michael Grant’s Silver Stars. This is his second book about these soldiers, in an almost true to history WWII. (I hesitate to use the word beginning with the letter a that I’d usually choose, as it has been abused recently.)

Michael Grant, Silver Stars

We return to where we left our friends in North Africa, where they are waiting to be sent on to somewhere else where their lives will be on the line. Again. They are young, but by now they are no longer green, and that makes a difference. Even the girls go out and get drunk and have bar fights.

Another thing I’d never considered, but which Michael points out, is that promotion has its negative sides. You need to lead, possibly send your friends into danger, and this is while you are still learning the ropes yourself. In war, promotion often comes because someone else went and got themselves killed.

Rio, Jenou and Frangie are fighting a more traditional kind of war, while Rainy has to live with the secrecy and dangers in military intelligence. Frangie must deal with the war as well as the prejudice against blacks. Rainy needs to tread carefully and not let the Germans discover she is Jewish. Rio wants to stay friends with Jenou, sort out her romantic problems and escape a rumour that she actually enjoys killing people.

It is funny, and it is horrible. There is so much mud and darkness and shelling and not enough food or soap. I had heard that Monte Cassino was no picnic, but only now I understand what it might have been like.

And when things go well, I was appalled to discover how much less positive the experience is for Frangie. Because she is black. But all our female soldiers are true heroines and role models, even at times when things are FUBAR (Google it).

The worrying thing is that as opposed to last year when I read the first book, things weren’t too FUBAR in ordinary life. Now, I don’t know what to think.

Other than that Silver Stars is the best book I’ve read this year. OK, it’s February, but still.

The 2016 best

Yes, there were good books, even in a year like 2016. Let’s not lose [all] hope, shall we? In fact, after careful consideration, there were more serious contenders than I could allow through to the final round. Sorry about that.

During 2016 I seem to have read and reviewed 154 books. Before you gasp with admiration, I should mention that 40 of those were picture books.

2016 books

And here, without me even peeping at other best of lists, are my favourites, in alphabetical order:

Beck, by Mal Peet and Meg Rosoff

Broken Sky + Darkness Follows, by L A Weatherly

Crongton Knights, by Alex Wheatle

Five Hundred Miles, by Kevin Brooks

Front Lines, by Michael Grant

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, by Dave Rudden

More of Me, by Kathryn Evans

The White Fox, by Jackie Morris

I believe it’s a good list, and I’m glad that two of the books are dyslexia friendly; one at either end of the age spectrum.

And, you are human after all, so you want to know who just missed this list. I’m human enough to want to mention them. They were Hilary McKay, J K Rowling, Malcolm McNeill, G R Gemin, Jonathan Stroud, Kate DiCamillo and Philip Caveney.

Two dozen more on my longlist, and we mustn’t forget; if a book has been reviewed on Bookwitch at all, it has passed quite a few quality tests. So there. You’re all winners. But some are more winners than others.

I love you.

The Makar and the First Minister

In the end it was just me and Shappi Khorsandi’s handbag. Fantastic handbag, actually, and I felt sort of honour bound to guard it while it was sitting there all alone. Now, if you knew me, you’d realise how odd this was. It was mere minutes after I had spectacularly missed taking photographs of Shappi. Twice. Because I didn’t recognise her well enough. And now I know what her handbag looks like.

Jackie Kay and Nicola Sturgeon

This was probably due to the excitement ‘backstage’ after the photo session with Nicola Sturgeon and Jackie Kay. We’d waited, the way you do. And then it happened so fast, the way it tends to with people who have security staff and lots of commitments, but not so many that a First Minister can’t interview a poet at a book festival. They were nicely colour coordinated, the two of them. And it’s a sign of popularity for a politician when she is addressed by her first name.

So I missed Shappi’s photo call, coming immediately after this. Then I missed my unobtrusive photos of Shappi as she was being given the Chris Close treatment. And then everyone left, except for the handbag.

Prior to this I had skipped a book signing with Simon Callow. I decided I already had enough pictures of him, so went and sat in the yurt reading and eating my lunch. Only minutes later he joined me on that bench. Admittedly with an interviewer, but still. You can’t escape the great and the good. Luckily for Simon I hadn’t helped myself to the grapes in the fruit bowl as had been my intention, so he was able to polish them off as he talked.

Zaffar Kunial

Previously out on the grass, I had come across poet Zaffar Kunial seemingly doing an impromptu session with a large group of people. Maybe these things just happen as fans encounter someone they admire…

Holly Sterling

Carol Ann Duffy

Gillian Clarke

Then it was back and forth for me, catching children’s illustrators in the children’s bookshop and the more grown-up poets in the signing tent. Holly Sterling had a line of eager children after her event, and staying with the Christmas theme, so did Carol Ann Duffy across the square, along with her fellow Welsh poet Gillian Clarke. After them Jackie Kay signed, without Nicola Sturgeon. And I finally caught up with Shappi!

Jackie Kay

Shappi Khorsandi

Fiona Bird

Found Fiona Bird signing her nature book mid-afternoon, and she has such an appropriate name for the kind of books she writes! I went hunting for Kathryn Evans and Michael Grant, who had both been hung along the boardwalks by Chris Close. Had to try Kathryn several times, to see if the light would improve.

Kathryn Evans by Chris Close

Michael Grant by Chris Close

And there were no photos, but I glimpsed Kate Leiper, and spoke to both Lindsey Fraser and Kathryn Ross.

Tried to use my afternoon sensibly, so checked out various books in the bookshops. That didn’t mean I actually did sensible thinking, looking up ‘un-known’ names or anything. If I had I wouldn’t have been so surprised later.

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.

And we’re back at Charlotte Square again

Some of the ducks are new. I’m sure of it. The Edinburgh International Book Festival opened yesterday, and my photographer and I joined them for a few hours. Not too long, and not too short. We have learned to pace ourselves in my old age.

Chris Close

We had fortified ourselves with some meze before collecting our press passes, rudely interrupting press boss Frances Sutton’s lunch in the process. Photographer Chris Close was yet again stationed outside the yurt with his camera, and some new boxes, which I genuinely hope he’s not going to ask any authors to balance on. There was new fake grass for the ducks.

Cathy Cassidy

Cathy Cassidy was our first prey, signing after her event, resplendent in her favourite green and with what looked suspiciously like a tub of cookies next to her. Well, signings can take time. And for her they did, as we could see Cathy still signing away an hour later. She had time for a hug before starting, and we talked about how I now live in Scotland and she doesn’t. And her latest book – Broken Heart Club – looks good enough to eat. (I have a thing for such very pink book covers.) Great to see her publicist Tania again, too.

Cathy Cassidy, Broken Heart Club

Came across Michael Grant being interviewed next to the ducks, and was told he’d been looking for me. Gratifying, but unlikely, I say. I was pleased to actually recognise Alice, his publicist, now that I am increasingly losing my marbles and generally failing at things. Michael got the Chris Close treatment, and then we grabbed him for a photo session of our own. We discussed how much money he spent on his daughter’s hair this last year. (Looking on the bright side, he must save on his own.)

Michael Grant

Before going to Michael’s event – which you will be able to read about tomorrow –  we caught illustrator Kes Gray in the children’s bookshop. I’d hoped to chat, but he had a long queue of young fans wanting their copies of Oi Dog! signed. I should have brought mine… Glimpsed his publicist Rebecca before she disappeared, and watched as Falkirk librarian Yvonne Manning did post-its duty along the queue.

Kes Gray

We hobbled off to catch our train home, grabbing seats by the skin of our teeth. This travelling is getting worse every year. In order not to look at all those who had to stand all the way, we buried ourselves in a book each. Lovely, life-saving things, books.