Tag Archives: Michael Grant

On doing the impossible

The good thing about the Edinburgh International Book Festival is how impossible it is. The many famous and wonderful authors it will be impossible to see there, simply because they have so many such people coming.

The 2016 programme was unveiled yesterday and I have scanned it for the best and most interesting events. Of which there are a lot. So to begin with I will plan not to see quite a few tremendously big names in the book business, since even at a distance I can tell I can’t possibly get them on to my wishlist. Then comes that list, and then comes the more realistic list, and finally comes the actual list I will actually be able to do.


Best of all would be to have no opinion, but to go along one day, or two, and pick something off that day’s menu, where tickets are still available. That would be excellent.

I can’t do that.

There is a follow-on from last year’s YA debate with Daniel Hahn, and Anthony McGowan and Elizabeth Wein among others. Chris Riddell will deliver the Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture, making it unmissable, and Michael Grant is back in town with his WWII alternate history.

Meg Rosoff will be talking about Jonathan Unleashed, and Francesca Simon is ‘doing away with’ Horrid Henry! Cornelia Funke and Vivian French have things to say about dyslexia, Nick Sharratt will talk nonsense (poetry), and Theresa Breslin and Debi Gliori and Lari Don and all those other lovely Scottish authors are coming.

Debut writer Kathy Evans is talking to Jo Cotterill, and Lucy Coats has some more Myths up her sleeve. And so does Kate Leiper, I believe.

Jackie Kay is doing stuff, and many of our finest crime writers are coming along to kill and thrill, and there are Swedes and other Nordic authors; some expected, others more unexpected. Quite a number of children’s authors are doing adult events, which I think is a good idea. Politicians will be there, talking about all sorts of things.

I know I’ve already mentioned Daniel Hahn, but as usual he will be doing so much that he should try and get a rest in now. Just in case. Hadley Freeman is coming, which makes me quite excited. Lemn Sissay.

Who have I forgotten? You see, it’s impossible. There are so many!

Those boots

I couldn’t help noticing the boots as I read Michael Grant’s Front Lines. Just as you generally can’t avoid the famous German army (well military, anyway) leather boots.

You get them in books and you get them in films. And until the other day, I’d not stopped to think about them. They sound/look really nice. Unless you are on the other side, perhaps down on the floor being kicked, or simply hiding underneath something, hoping not to be discovered. That’s when fictional characters tend to mention the enemy’s well polished leather boots.

They appeared in Front Lines too, and I was struck anew by them (not literally), as our American soldiers were in pretty bad shape; tired and dirty. I’m guessing their heavy duty US boots were pretty disreputable looking by then. But here is their scary German enemy officer, strutting his perfectly kept boots in front of them. Why is he not all covered in muck?

I suppose in this case he’s not as tired, having come in a vehicle, but occasionally even the Germans had to walk/march/drag themselves places, surely?

So are the shiny boots a myth, or did the Germans always manage to polish their footwear, no matter what they were doing, or where?

The other thing I wondered was how come a country – any country, I guess – at war and suffering shortages of almost everything, can have these lovely boots for everyone who needs them? Civilians neither eat enough nor have proper clothes to wear, but the military have boots. Guns I understand, but perfect uniforms?

Is there a – fictional – world where the allied soldiers had more perfect boots than the Germans?

Front Lines

My overriding feeling right now is that there is nothing to read. That’s because I sat up late, wanting to finish Michael Grant’s Front Lines.

What a book! I strongly suspect it’s the best Michael has written, which is why I had to sit up to finish the book, and why I feel so empty now, and why I’d like to tie him to his writing chair and tell him to hurry up with the next book.

Michael Grant, Front Lines

I have spent countless hours in the trenches of WWI, as a soldier and nearby as a nurse, in many fantastic war novels for young readers. I have read loads of WWII novels as well. But what struck me this week was that they are the war as seen from England, or maybe Germany, and even Italy, say. I’ve read many pilot stories (among them my second favourite book ever, Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein), and I’ve been at sea, and I know about food rationing and clever dogs and so on. Americans are the dashing heroes who bring oranges and nylon stockings and are always riding in as the cavalry, being gallant and fun.

In Front Lines, for the first time, I have crawled in the desert with my rifle, hungry and dirty and desperately tired. And I have done this both because Michael’s book is the first I’ve read that takes you to the non-gallant places where war was fought, and also because of his genius idea to have women drafted.

I liked the idea when he described it to me in the summer, and I absolutely love it now that I’ve read the first book. It is so simple, while being so clever and so moving.

We meet four American girls, not all of them even of age to volunteer, who sign up to go to war. Two friends from a small Californian town, a tiny black girl who dreams of becoming a doctor but is so poor she signs up to feed her parents, and a Jewish New York girl with plenty of ambition.

The reader accompanies them to where they volunteer, and then on to camp where they learn to become soldiers, meeting prejudice from older military personnel as well as the young men who have joined up, who all feel girls have no place in the army or at war. To be Jewish, or black, is even worse, and there is plenty of name-calling.

Over time you come to half accept even the more moronic members of the group of soldiers, just as the girl soldiers do; when fighting and suffering together there is a certain unavoidable camaraderie. People die, and the new young soldiers witness death wherever they go.

This is so realistic and so very interesting, and above all so tremendously exciting. I simply want the second book to be here now!

(In the bibliography Michael mentions reading Code Name Verity while writing Front Lines, and trying to make his book be as good as Elizabeth’s. He’s close. Very close indeed.)

Diversest of them all?

OK, I’ll stick my head out again. Not as much as some, but at least a token.

I was surprised two weeks ago by the reaction to my blog post about the storm surrounding Meg Rosoff and her feeling that she preferred to write the books she wants to write and not the ones that others feel must be written. But then that is the whole point of a – relatively – free society. We are allowed to think differently.

Before that I had read Michael Grant’s piece on how he feels he’s the most diverse YA author around. It was a bold statement, which I admire him for. I don’t know if it’s true, but I’d say from what I know that he’s at least partially right. I am very fond of Edilio in Gone. Lots of us are. He’s an immigrant. He’s not white. And he’s gay. And that all seems perfectly normal. He is hopefully not in there to be a token character, but simply to be himself.

Michael Grant

Now it seems Michael is being accused by ‘fans of diversity… [who] are enraged that I’ve done what they claim they want everyone to do.’ While that sounds a little outrageous, it also has the ring of truth to it. Many people with an agenda will get annoyed by almost anything, even when it doesn’t make sense. Because it’s being annoyed that is so satisfying.

Michael is no scaredy-cat who will hide behind bland words. On the contrary, he goes right out there and says what he thinks and feels. He looks like a tough guy, but I’m sure he’s like the rest of us on the inside. We can all feel hurt and baffled, but many of us retreat and say nothing when things go wrong. Not so Michael.

I’m glad he says it out loud. Someone needs to say it. Some mornings the emperor really does forget to dress.

Another Michael Grant interview

Michael Grant

And by that I mean another interview. Not another Michael Grant. But you knew that.

Michael is always very American, and very professional, about being interviewed. And as I enquired about his wealth – again – he enthused about John Lewis and what a good value wallet he’d bought there!

If you’re a fan of Michael’s books, rest assured there are more in the pipeline than you can shake a broomstick at.

Read about blue hair and lovely fans and all the rest here.

The Tattooed Heart

The Tattooed Heart is the second Messenger of Fear novel by Michael Grant. I hadn’t read the first one, except for the first chapter, which came as part of the press release, I think. So I sort of had an inkling what it was about.

Michael Grant, The Tattooed Heart

I wasn’t inkled enough, though, I’d say. It didn’t go in the direction I’d imagined, and from the second novel I could almost deduce what must have happened, so I didn’t feel left out. (It seems that Mara, who is the main character, did something bad, and she is being punished for this by acting as the Messenger’s assistant, when he goes round the world finding more people who have done bad stuff, and sort of help even out the score a bit.)

It’s not so much horror, as political/social, with a supernatural twist. Mara and Messenger can move back and forth in time and place, witnessing what happens, or has happened to people, like the half dead drug user they encounter one night.

I was both pleased (I suppose as seen from the victim of unfairness point of view) and horrified (the Play or Pay deal is rather off-putting) in equal measures over what Mara and Messenger do. It’s thought-provoking, and it deals well with looking at cause and effect in a way we don’t often get in fiction. I liked that. The tit for tat is more disturbing, but then so were the underground worm creatures in Gone.

Very different from Michael’s other books, but it’s good to go outside the norm. And in a way I do wish I knew exactly how Mara did the bad she did in book one. Although I might not like her if I did.

2 x Michael Grant

The place I had to be on Saturday afternoon was a nearby author hotel, where I was going to interview Michael Grant. Again. (He interviews so well! How can a witch not go for him over and over again?)

Michael had just arrived in Edinburgh, but had skipped immediate jetlag by doing research in England first. Some nautical research, and a wide-eyed new discovery in the shape of the London Oxford Street branch of the shop that is never knowingly undersold. Michael loved it, and had had no idea such a place could exist.

He looked better than ever, tanned and thin, and pretty unstoppable. This time I made sure he had coffee that didn’t politely go cold, although it might have been dreadful coffee for all I know. I had the tea.

I’d been reading his new book, out later this week, the second and last in his Messenger of Fear series. I wanted to ask why he’d gone in such a new direction, and what will happen next, and then what comes after that. Lots of books, is the answer. We got to admire his daughter’s new hair, which cost a fortune, and my photographer learned some financial tips from Michael’s son (who wasn’t there, and nor was his sister).

We got longer than planned, as Michael was hungry and wanted a sandwich as well. He can eat and talk at the same time.

Afterwards we walked over to Charlotte Square for his event, and I can tell you that was one long queue he had, waiting patiently. It’s always good when there are lots of teenagers at teenage events.

It was fortunate that Michael had already shown us the disgusting images on his laptop, so they didn’t come as a complete surprise when he started off with them. (His wife doesn’t like them, either.) And he set us a problem to solve, making the tent into a sealed brick building, with monsters coming out of the floor, wanting to eat three humans. He wanted to know what our monsters looked like. (Blue, in my case. A bit blobby.)

This time Michael had decided to preempt the perennial question about where he gets his ideas from, not wanting to get annoyed, or claim that they come from Tesco, next to the yoghurt. That’s partly the reason he’d found himself this software that produces such creepy and disturbing pictures.

At one point I thought Michael claimed not to have been on a riding course (and I could just visualise him on this horse), when I worked out he’d not been on a writing course.

One of his book ideas he described to his editor as The Seventh Seal, but with fewer Swedes and more teenagers. (You can never have too many Swedes.) As for sex, that is more fun to do, than to write about. Although we learned that he has a past writing Sweet Valley Twins books, which is actually a bit disturbing.

Michael has completely ruined his editor, who has gone from someone who recoiled from his suggestions, to actively embracing them. With Messenger of Fear he put in everything he could from his own fears, which have mostly to do with his children, and if he got rid of them, his wife. (He has tried.) Then it’s fire, and small closed in places.

Michael Grant

He’d never put himself in the books, but when asked who in Gone is most like him, it’s Quinn, ‘the unreliable friend, the backstabbing little shit.’

And on that note we stampeded to the bookshop next door, where he signed books until he eventually got rid of his fans.

As for me, I can’t now unthink some of the ideas Michael has put into my head; from bricked up book festival tents, to being the one fed to the monsters.