Tag Archives: Tony Bradman

Daisy and the Unknown Warrior

I don’t know why I never thought of it before. Like so many other tourists, I have visited the grave of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey. But I took it at face value, not considering what it stands for or how it came to be there. And as someone from a country that wasn’t at war, it somehow didn’t strike me as quite as important.

I am sorry.

Tony Bradman’s short book for Barrington Stoke, Daisy and the Unknown Warrior, tells the story of 11-year-old Daisy, who in autumn 1920 hears about the plans for burying an anonymous soldier at Westminster Abbey on Armistice Day. Her father never came back from the war, and the family don’t know where he’s buried. She immediately senses that the unknown warrior is her dad.

She vows to make her way there to see what happens to her father. And it seems that so did thousands of Londoners, to see their lost warrior.

After a while Daisy realises that not only does she feel better for having seen somebody’s coffin given this special treatment, but that this goes for everyone else there too. This Unknown Warrior really is the soldier these people have lost, every one of them.

Master Will and the Spanish Spy

You can learn new things, even in the short 80 pages of a Barrington Stokes book. Here is Tony Bradman with another brief Shakespeare tale. This time it’s set while Will lives at home with his parents and siblings, going to school and getting bored and skiving off to go and see the theatre company come all the way from London.

He meets Mr Burbage, and although we can’t know what actually happened back then, it feels like true history is taking shape as Will gets to know the travelling actors, and meets ‘real’ people. The way he falls in love with the theatre is truly inspiring, and feels like it could have happened that way, and it would explain all those famous dramas we still have to enjoy.

Tony Bradman, Master Will and the Spanish Spy

The Shakespeare parents have their troubles, and life isn’t always easy or safe. Will sees something odd when he’s out and about, and feels it needs dealing with, just in case. Sensibly, he speaks to the older generation, and something can be worked out.

I had no idea that Spanish Spies could have such a devastating effect on both themselves and on others. And then there’s the plague…

The ability to read

Toby in Tony Bradman’s The Boy and the Globe was able to read. He was young, and an orphan, and so desperate he took up a [short] life of crime in order to eat. But he could read.

He got enjoyment from a book one of the other thieves accidentally stole, and Toby helped this boy, purely by being able to read. And when they ended up thieving at the Globe, it was the reading that eventually got him his better job, as an actor, as a friend of Shakespeare’s, and more.

Ned in Mary Hoffman’s Shakespeare’s Ghost could also read, as could the young girl who wanted to marry him. Both were poor, and Ned was an orphan like Toby. He couldn’t have done his acting without being literate. Or maybe he could, but it would have been much harder.

Set in a period when I suspect most normal children, by which I mean not terribly well off, would never learn how to read, this is remarkable. But had they not been able to, the plots for the books they feature in wouldn’t have worked.

It’s probably not just a plot device though. I’d like to think of it as being there to demonstrate to children how well someone can do just because they have this basic skill. A skill that many still don’t have, or not to the degree we’d like them to.

And for all the Government’s harping on about ‘Literacy,’ they are not necessarily helping. Especially not when they remove the places where the children could go to practice and enjoy their reading skills. You know, like libraries.

Toby and Ned got to where they wanted through reading. I assume that’s what the people in power are afraid of.

The Boy and the Globe

Did anyone notice that it’s just been the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare? Not that I feel it’s quite proper to celebrate anniversaries of deaths, but still.

There are a lot of books out with some kind of Shakespeare connection. Tony Bradman’s The Boy and the Globe is one of them, and it’s a Barrington Stoke Conkers book. It’s the one I mentioned a few days ago as having given me so much more pleasure than the book I abandoned immediately before it.

What’s so fun is seeing what different authors can do with the same theme. The Boy and the Globe is just one story set in 1611, featuring a young orphan. Toby is forced to take up a life of crime in order to eat, but it’s not something he wants to do. By chance he ends up thieving at the Globe one day, and is discovered, in more ways than one.

The boy is befriended by Shakespeare, who is struggling to write a new play, and inspired by a book Toby has just read, he suggests the plot for Will’s next masterpiece, The Tempest.

Tony Bradman and Tom Morgan-Jones, The Boy and the Globe

He gets to do a bit of acting, too, as Shakespeare writes a part for him, and from then on it’s less crime and more theatre for Toby.

Lots of fun and pretty instructive of life in London at the time, as well as giving a theoretical glimpse into the life of Will. I expect any parent of a child who reads this to be forced to make a trip to the Globe before long. (If they are careless enough to mention it’s a real place.)

Illustrations by Tom Morgan-Jones, and lots of Funne Activities for Boyes & Girls at the back of the book. (We really ought to celebrate dead people a bit more.)

What to call Father Christmas

Does Father Christmas have a first name? I suspect that depends on who you are, or which Father Christmas figure you subscribe to.

I read Tony Bradman’s glowing review of Matt Haig’s A Boy Called Christmas in the Guardian. Not having received a copy of the book, it wasn’t one I’d imagined I’d be reading. But I was pleased Tony liked it so much.

What struck me was the character in Matt’s book, who apparently is called Nikolas, and lives in Finland. It’s easy to see that the step to him becoming Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus is a fairly short one. And I assume the name Nikolas was intended as a clue.

It would be to me now, as it probably will be to English language readers in general. But he isn’t always called Nick something. Not everywhere.

I have no idea what he is called in Finland; either in his Christmas role or in private. But in Sweden he doesn’t have a name. Or if he does, we don’t use it, and we wouldn’t call him Niklas, or even Klas.

He is Jultomten. So really Yule-something or other. I can never decide what tomte is best translated as. He’s a blend of all the little helpers you have around the home. Elf. Brownie. Those sort of creatures.

I could be wrong, but there is very little that’s religious about Jultomten. He simply gives us the things we wish for anyway. All in return for some porridge. No alcohol. No mince pie. After all, what is a mince pie?

It’s hard to work out that your norm is not someone else’s. That they might not have your norm at all, even in a lesser form. No Niklas. No pie. Not even a carrot for the reindeer.

What’s more, we don’t lie to our children. We/they know he’s not real, but that doesn’t stop the fun. The child knows, as much as a child can know these things, that the gift was from his/her parents, an aunt, a brother, a neighbour, or their best friend. That doesn’t make Christmas or Jultomten or the giving any less special.

Anzac Boys

In time for Anzac Day tomorrow, I bring you Tony Bradman’s Anzac Boys; a dyslexia friendly short novel on WWI as seen from the other side of the world. And a little bit from ‘our’ end as well.

Tony Bradman, Anzac Boys

Tony writes about orphans Bert and Frank, who first end up in a children’s home in London in 1906 when their mother dies. They are soon sent off to Australia, to a ‘better life’ as the priest at the orphanage says. Bert is 12 and Frank is 9, so Bert needs to look out for his little brother and promises him always to be there.

When they arrive in Australia they are separated and there is nothing Bert can do to help Frank, who is shipped off to New Zealand. What follows are eight years of hard work on farms, often being treated badly, but with life getting a little better for Bert once he’s old enough to be allowed to have a say in where he goes and who he works for. And then war breaks out.

Bert enlists and is sent off to ‘Europe’ to fight, and much to his surprise and delight he finds Frank again, with the New Zealand army. But Frank hates his brother for deserting him.

We follow the brothers to Gallipoli, and I’m not going to tell you what happens there…

This is very sad, and very inspirational, and most of the ‘ingredients’ are true, even if there were no actual Bert and Frank Barker.

Stories of WWI

This is a beautiful collection of short stories featuring WWI. Edited by Tony Bradman, some of our bestest children’s authors have come up with their own interpretation of the war. It’s interesting how writers can find such diverse starting points for a story on one and the same topic. Many of them have based their story on memories of grandparents or other relatives who fought in the war, or who were among those left behind, or who had to live with the fall-out of what happened to family members.

I can’t pick a favourite. They are all special in one way or another.

As I always say about anthologies; they are the perfect way of enjoying many writers in small doses, and this collection proves again that the short story is a wonderful, handy size of fiction.

Some of the contributors have written stories about soldiers from other countries, thus highlighting the world aspect of the war. Germans are/were human beings like all the rest. They didn’t eat babies. Young men from Australia and New Zealand came to Europe to fight. And so did Indians who sometimes had no idea of what was going on, and the Irish who had issues at home, while fighting for a country that was also the enemy.

If you like war stories, this is for you.

The long day

You can’t get into Charlotte Square before 9.30. I’d do well to remember that, and I could – and should – stay in bed for longer. But a witch can always read, so on Tuesday morning time was killed with Theresa Breslin’s Ghost Soldier.

Thanks to Theresa’s generosity I was able to be her husband for the morning. Not as nice a one as her regular Mr B, but I did my best. And I can confirm that while I was in the authors’ events prep area, I didn’t hear anything. At all.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

Then I went along to Theresa’s school event with Mary Hooper, and afterwards in the bookshop I listened in amazement as Theresa asked a female fan (obviously in her upper teens) if she was the school librarian  – from one of the visiting schools. It was quite clear that she was a mature upper secondary school student. No. Apparently she was the head teacher. (The librarian was the greyhaired ponytailed gent next to her.)

Eating a sandwich very fast before my next event, I ended up letting four Swedes share my table. I didn’t share my Swedish-ness with them, however. I listened as they speculated on the nature of Charlotte Square. Apparently it’s a bookfair of some kind. ‘But where are the books?’ one of them asked. Quite. The book festival as a mere coffeeshop for tourists.

Ran into Keith Charters, who was clutching 60 copies of  David MacPhail’s Yeti On the Loose. Did some heavy hinting, which resulted in Keith handing over 59 copies to the bookshop. I mean, he had promised me one ages ago.

After school event no.2 I chatted a little with Linda Newbery, Tony Bradman and Paul Dowswell, getting my anthology signed by all three, each in the right places. Then went in search of Cathy MacPhail’s son David, and found him where I thought he’d be but not where Keith had said, along with his mother and a lovely baby. I’d been told he’d be a slightly taller version of his mum, which as Cathy drily pointed out wasn’t hard to achieve. I forgot to take a picture, but got my Yeti signed with an extra generous RAAAAAR! Then I admired the baby.

Wrote yesterday’s onsite blog post, before learning that Son and Dodo were coming over to entertain me, and to have coffee. It had got unexpectedly warm and sunny, and Son complained. We chatted, saw Ian Rankin arrive, noticed the longbearded gent from earlier years, and came to the conclusion that the scones which used to be of almost home made quality, were just dry and boring.

Son and Dodo went off to search for more Maisie books, and I had my Dyslexia event to go to. Glimpsed Nicola Morgan and Val McDermid (not together) and then it rained and got unexpectedly cold. I repaired to the yurt for a restorative sandwich and an even more restorative sip of cola to keep me awake, as well as find that cardigan I suddenly needed.

Arne Dahl

Anne Cassidy

Waited for Arne Dahl to turn up for his photocall, and did the best I could when he did, considering how dark and wet it was. He seemed bemused by the attention. While waiting for Arne’s event with John Harvey (whom I’d have snapped too, had I known who he was…) I walked over to the children’s bookshop and caught Anne Cassidy and Emma Haughton (who does not have long brown hair, after all) signing post-event.

Emma Haughton

And after a much longer day than someone my age should attempt, I limped along Princes Street for my late train home. Someone at Waverley told me to smile. He’s lucky I’m a peaceful sort of witch.

Was it Franz Ferdinand’s fault?

My second WWI event participants agreed that the war would have happened anyway. Things were tense in Europe.

School events are the best. The topics seem more interesting and the theatres are full, and the questions asked by young audiences are sometimes good, sometimes a little unexpected.

Theresa Breslin, The School Librarian and Mary Hooper

I successfully became 13 again for a whole morning listening first to Theresa Breslin and Mary Hooper discuss their WWI novels with chair Jane Sandell. Theresa’s Remembrance has been re-issued and Mary has a brand new novel out, Poppy. For added interest Theresa brought along a hand grenade. She claimed it is empty.

They both set the beginning of their books in 1915, because that’s when conscription forced ordinary men to join up, and Mary was quite taken by the idea of platoons made up by friends, football teams or factory workers. This meant that when things went badly, whole areas would be depleted of all its men.

The effect on women was that they had the opportunity to do what men usually did, and Theresa couldn’t resist returning to her story about the rich girl whose first task as a volunteer nurse was to fill a bucket with amputated limbs.

Theresa Breslin and Mary Hooper

Class boundaries disappeared to some extent, although at first it was only well off women who could volunteer, which is why Mary had to arrange some financial help for her Poppy, who was working class. Theresa agonised over whether to allow her WWI characters a happy ending, with a baby, when she realised that the baby would definitely end up being slaughtered in WWII.

It was Remembrance Day 1999 that inspired Theresa to write Remembrance. She could see that there were no books about the young of WWI. Mary remembers a real life story about a dog that jumped into the water after its master as he sailed off to war, which she felt was so poignant.

Paul Dowswell, Tony Bradman and Linda Newbery

There was barely any need for a break before Tony Bradman chatted to Linda Newbery and Paul Dowswell, two of the twelve contributors to the WWI anthology he edited.

Linda has written about the war before, and in her story Dandelions For Margo, she wanted to concentrate on the role of women, especially the Land Army. She read an extract about a German plane crashing near where her characters lived. (And she had a sweet explanation for the title of her story, which hinges on the similarities between a tortoise and a hand grenade…)

Paul wrote about the Unknown Soldier, and he talked about a photo of some soldiers taken in the morning before the battle of the Somme. He too mentioned the Pals Battalions, and described the outbreak of WWI as similar in euphoria to a football final.

They discussed some of their other books about war, and Tony became rather outspoken about Gove’s view of ‘noble sacrifices.’ He suspects there will be no OBE now. Both Linda and Paul advocated a trip to Flanders for anyone with an interest in WWI and described the vast fields of crosses, as well as tiny cemeteries with perhaps only twelve graves.

Tony said he’s particularly excited to be talking about this here in Scotland, a month before the referendum, and made comparisons with Ireland a hundred years ago. And as they all pointed out, it wasn’t only the British and the Irish who fought, but Indians, West Indians, and even the Chinese were forced to join in the war effort.

Paul Dowswell, Tony Bradman and Linda Newbery

The Siobhan Dowd Trust Memorial Lecture #1

Having been – sort of –  ‘in’ on Siobhan Dowd’s memorial trust since its start, there was no way I wouldn’t go and hear Patrick Ness deliver (such a posh word) the first lecture in aid of the trust. He is well known for calling a spade a spade, so my feeling was that it wouldn’t be boring.

Tony Bradman

It wasn’t. Introduced by Tony Bradman, Patrick got his usual superstar greeting from the audience (I’m trusting there were lots of young people in the theatre…), before offering us his 90 minute talk in 28 minutes. He talks fast when he gets nervous. Apparently. He reckoned there would probably be time left for some Q&A at the end.

The end. Yes, for him that was meant to come at the age of eight, in 1980, according to the pastor in his pentecostal church in Washington (state). They were all going to die.

Patrick fiddled with his stopwatch as he told us about Siobhan’s first short story, which she offered Tony Bradman for his collection Skin Deep. Just hearing about it again made my hairs stand on end. It’s that good. Siobhan was that good. ‘Just plain damned good’ as Patrick said.

Children have always suffered in silence. Not just being condemned to death by their pastor, but he told us about the poor girl who was certain she’d die a death by artichoke. Being young is ‘impossible.’

And it’s wrong to use the word ‘them’ for children. We’ve all been children. Patrick sees himself as one big warehouse, storing all his previous ages, because he is all those ages at all times. He at least had Judy Blume when he was young. And whereas he wanted to write, his understanding was that only famous people become authors.

He wanted to write about being young and gay in Washington, because there is a lot of shame involved in being young. And Siobhan Dowd was the writer Patrick always wanted to be. ‘Stories told with love.’

On the calling a spade a spade, Patrick felt that the first question put to him on Saturday evening was more of a comment from the member of the audience (How I resent those who use vaulable time voicing their own opinions at times like these!) The next question was more a ‘Patrick compliment’ kind of question, about what message he’d leave his eight-year-old self if he could.

Patrick Ness

Adept at avoiding tricky corners, Patrick wriggled out of a favourite list of books, which was the third question. On that note we ran out of time and Patrick attempted a fast escape out the fire exit, at which point he discovered a witch sitting nearby, so he said a quick hello, waved and ran.

The queue for his book signing was long and I’m sure he was there for a while. If people will insist on being photographed with their favourite author and can’t get the camera to work, queues like these will take forever. Although I saw Patrick later, so he must have escaped eventually.