Louise Twist of Books for Boys fame interviewed me for THE GOOSE ROAD’s launch blog tour. Here’s what we discussed.
Did you do a lot of research for The Goose Road? If so, what stuck in your mind most?
For the book, I did months and months of research in the UK, France and online, spread over three years, but I’ve continued to read and think about WW1 ever since. I believe all historical periods are important to understand, as far as one can, before embarking on an imaginary journey through them. Readers – especially young people – will (hopefully) absorb our stories at a visceral and emotional level, so the “truths” we present to them in fiction might well become more significant and long-lasting than the “facts” they pick up in history classes.
I also wanted to understand this terrible time better myself. The more I researched it, the more it struck me how little I knew. So many images one has from the First World War are about the hell-on-earth that was the Western Front, but the Eastern battles were dreadful, too. The Serbians suffered terribly, as did the Russians. World War One bought down Empires, and globalised international relations, and began the great 20th century confrontation between Communist Russia and the capitalist USA which still reverberates today. I’d love to continue to research those years, and write about them again.
Is there a scene in The Goose Road you enjoyed writing more than others?
The most powerful scenes for me are also the saddest, but saying I enjoyed writing them best seems a bit weird. Yes, there is huge satisfaction to be had in deciding – invariably after a long struggle – that you have, finally, said what you meant to say. But in terms of actual writing fun, it would have to be a scene with Napoleon the gander, especially the one with him and Rene in the orchard. I love Napoleon. He’s so gutsy.
What inspired you to read as a child?
As a young child, I remember being drawn to strangeness in stories and fairy tales from distant places. When Dad read us Swallows and Amazons, I liked Missee Lee, set in the Far East, more than their English adventures. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader thrilled me, too, and the Slavic folklore of Baba Yaga. I was slow to start reading, but once I’d got the hang of it I devoured books during school holidays. The Crusades fascinated me when I was about 10 or 11 years old, and early medieval courts, the She-Wolves of France as their queens were called, and Eleanor of Aquitaine, all of which led me to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings in my early teens.
How would you inspire boys to read more?
I feel like the worst person ever to answer that question because my son NEVER reads for pleasure! That said, I suspect I know at least one of the reasons why: the pedestrian, old-fashioned, set texts he was forced to slog through at primary school before he was allowed to choose his own books. Why the powers-that-be limit children’s reading this way is beyond me. Sure, some parents will object to anything novel (no pun intended) as will some governors, but I’m dismayed when teachers also restrict their pupils’ reading. I think a great first step to encouraging boys to read more would be to stock libraries in both primary and secondary schools with a wide range of books, including lots of Barrington Stoke titles for reluctant readers, so that every child has access to the wealth of brilliant authors writing for young people today. Sadly, I suspect this is very unlikely to happen in the current educational climate, and with libraries and professional librarians everywhere under attack from public sector spending cuts.
What is your favourite book to read to children?
When my son was little, we loved Debby Glori books at bedtime. Puzzle books were wonderful too, and picture books about the natural world. We shared and discussed them all the time. As a primary school governor, I used to read anything the child wanted. I think their taste in books is more important than mine.
Which book do you wish you had written?
I’m not sure how to answer that. I wouldn’t want to have written any of my favourite novels because then I wouldn’t have discovered them, and been transported by them. So I’m going to cheat and say I wish I’d been commissioned to write The Definitive Guide to African Wild Cats, then I could live in a tent far out in the bush, researching animal behaviour and listening to the fantastic sounds of the African night beside a campfire.
First published April 9th, 2018