Journalist me: why did you choose The Goose Road as the title for your book?
Author me: I wrote the story under the working title of The Butterfly’s Wing, which is a metaphor I borrowed from the founder of modern chaos theory, Edward Lorenz, who once asked, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?” in order to explore the mathematics of how microscopic disturbances in complex systems like the weather have immense knock-on effects.
In my original story, the actions of my protagonist, Angelique Lacroix, caused terrible, unintended consequences, but my editor at Walker felt that was too cruel to her as a character, and too shocking to the readers, so I let this element of the plot sink beneath the surface in later edits. That meant The Butterfly’s Wing didn’t work as a title anymore.
So your editor told you to change both the book and the title?
She asked me to change them, yes. But that’s one of the great things about working with an editor: they see things in your story that you don’t. They also understand the readership with their readers far better than a debut author. Also, I absolutely agreed with her that there’s no point whatsoever in having a title you have to explain to the reader. That defeats the whole point of a metaphor.
Where did The Goose Road come from, then?
I’d read a lot of First World War fiction and poetry while researching the background to the story. The Western Front in 1916 was a terrible place to be. The full weight of industrial-scale artillery shell production was crashing down on soldiers of both sides. So for the new title I went back to the soldier-poets for inspiration.
In 2014, the Imperial War Museums had published a wonderful collection called First World War Poems from the Front, edited by Paul O’Prey. I drew up a long list of possible titles from imagery in these poems.
The Goose Road sets out on its second and final week touring bookish websites in a far, far better place than I could ever have imagined a week ago.
At the time of writing, it’s holding Amazon’s No1 Bestseller slot for European historical YA fiction, having jumped there on Saturday – just two full days into publication – and pretty much held there, with one or two wobbles, ever since. Fan. Tas. Tic.
The Goose Road is also the proud possessor of that rarest of beasts for a debut: a review in a national daily newspaper.
The Telegraph called it “a gem” amid the many First World War titles being released in time for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice that ended the 1914-18 Great War.
Reviewer Emily Bearn left me speechless – for an hour at least.
Seriously, though. I’m immensely proud to have produced a work of fiction, on a subject I think is terribly important, which is being well received by adult, teen and young reviewers alike.
For the views of young readers, do have a look at this from Love Reading 4 Kids’ featured books of the month. Hurrah!
To crown this wonderful first week, Michelle Toy announced The Goose Road would also be her Debut of the Month for the British Book Challenge she runs on her respected book site, Tales from Yesterday, which is a particular accolade in the hotly-contested month of April.
This is what’s in store:
More giveaways. We’ve got five going at the moment. See the Week 1 post for a full list of links
An article about The Goose Road and why I chose it as a title
Two author interviews
More guest blogs.
I’ll update this post with links as and when they go live.
Meanwhile, enjoy London Book Fair week, and Happy Reading!
PS Here – finally – is that picture I’ve been blathering about for days. That me and Jane, owner of our local independent Habour Bookshop, celebrating the arrival of The Goose Road on her shelves.
Jane & I first met at our children’s school’s Christmas fair, staffing the second-hand book stall. So for all I’m shouting about Amazon, please, please support your local bookshop!
Wow! What a week. Publication day came and went amid a blizzard of Tweets and Likes and Shares, and fish & chips with friends, flowers from my fab agent, and a great sense of something big reaching completion. But then…
The weekend arrived and things really took off. The Goose Road hit AMAZON’S NO.1 BESTSELLER slot in its main marketplace (it’s still holding on in there at the time of writing. Ye-ha!) Then I learnt The Telegraph newspaper was running a wonderful review in their Saturday edition. A rare and special thing.
And the reviews kept coming, and at last I started to feel the love that I’d poured into Angelique and her life returning from readers. That’s an amazing feeling.
I also saw my book in real life at our wonderful local indie bookshop, The Harbour Bookshop, in Kingsbridge, Devon. I’ll manage to upload the picture of owner Jane and me grinning like idiots one day. Meanwhile it’s on my Instagram feed.
As there’s been so much going on in the first week of the launch tour – with lots more to come in the second – I’m updating this post regularly to keep track of what’s where online, including the FIVE giveaways of free copies of The Goose Road which are currently running.
Sarah Barnard also reviewed The Goose Road and ran my first tour article, asking why girls’ voices are still so hard to hear from World War One. This is her website sarahlikesbooks.wordpress.com and the launch blog is here
Madeline Fenner hosted the tour on the eve of publication, with an article about why I love historical fiction both as a reader and a writer.
Rhoda Keller kindly published the second extract alongside her lovely review and the next giveaway, UK only, running until April 12th on http://www.strupag.com/
My big Book Birthday interview with fab fellow author Kerry Drewery (of Cell7 fame) came out the same day on Author Allsorts here
YouTuber and reviewer Alex Pattinson had wonderfully kind things to say about Angelique’s journey on April 6th on both her YouTube and Tumblr review sites, and added my article about the inspirations behind the book. Locatable via: http://alexsfictionaddiction.tumblr.com
This is a link to my article about the inspirations behind The Goose Road, but I’m not sure if WordPress and Tumblr are talking to each other via this blog. [Alternatively, the whole thing is here! I must get the hang of WordPress one day!]
The next generation of talented & professional writers for young people to graduate from the MA at Bath Spa included a signed copy of The Goose Road in a promotional giveaway, show-casing the work of alumni. They’re show-casing their own work as Torchlight. Here is the link to their webpage
The giveaway is on Twitter: retweet to enter the giveaway and follow:
Faye Rogers launched the FIFTH giveaway on Twitter first thing Sunday morning, and added a brand new, never seen before extract. It follows on from Chapter 1, my featured blog above this one. Read on here.
To enter Faye’s giveaway (still UK only, I’m afraid) RT her giveaway tweet and follow her handle (and mine if you fancy!) Hers is @daydreamin_star .
Sunday also saw uber-book blogger Michelle Toy, of Tales of Yesterday fame, announcing that The Goose Road was her selection for Debut of the Month – always a fantastic accolade but a particular honour in April with such a strong field of contenders. Super proud to have been chosen, Chelley. Thank you very much.
Watch out for Book Challenge reviews on her site.
Arriving soon on joshandabook.co.uk will be my article “Myths, Mistakes and other inner debates about naming The Goose Road”, a rather rambling version of the story behind the decisions I made when choosing a title and the meanings behind it.
Plus more interviews and articles, and giveaways! What a week to coincide with London Book Fair.
Heart-felt thanks to everyone who made this tour happen: Walker Books and Jo Hardacre, and all the wonderful bloggers, reviewers, fellow writers, bookshops, teachers and readers who are taking the time to share their thoughts.
Before I could begin the story that became The Goose Road I had to give myself permission to write about a subject as shocking & sad as the First World War.
Today, after years of research, that seems odd. I now feel on firm mental ground in WW1, eager in fact to return. But back then I felt presumptuous. Almost guilty. How could I possibly begin to imagine what it was like?
Yes, I did a ton of research in books and online, in lecture halls and museums. I had to get the facts right out of respect for the dead. But that wasn’t enough. I needed a deeper, more visceral connection. With hindsight, two types of research were critical to building that emotional bridge to the past.
First was place, by which I mean being there physically, walking through the cemetery-strewn fields of the Somme and the rolling hillsides of Verdun, or standing in a zigzag trench at Beaumont Hamel, or paying my respects to the broken & greying skulls of French and German soldiers, laid to rest together.
Second came a few, critical books.
Out of everything I’ve read about World War One, fiction and non-fiction, I now believe it was just five books that led me to a sufficient level of understanding that I finally felt I had the right to trespass into – and then to inhabit – the world of the Great War. They were stepping stones, and I’ll always treasure them.
The first, chronologically, was a venerable copy of The Complete Works of Wilfred Owen which I took with me to Étaples, the Channel port where I knew my story had to end. Owen himself had spent time in this place. Like all British Empire infantrymen and officers, he passed through the huge reinforcement and hospital camp, which dominated Étaples’ old town, on his way to the Western Front. I’d been deeply upset by his war poems when we studied them at school. And here I was, a grown woman, weeping over them again.
The second book, The Price of Glory – Verdun 1916, is a brilliant piece of journalism and narrative non-fiction by Alistair Horne. First published in 1962, he resurrects the dramatic personae of that gruelling battle with dexterity and detail, populating the horrific statistics of slaughter with living, breathing men.
The third book that opened unexpected doors in my mind was Storm of Steel by Ernst Junger, a German officer who survived the war. Dedicated to The Fallen, Junger gives an alternative perspective to the ‘pity of war’ that is deeply embedded in the British tradition of remembrance, thanks in part to the anti-war poets such as Owen.
I brought Junger’s unapologetic account of courage and comradeship under fire in the bookshop at Thiepval, the Commonwealth war memorial to the missing of the Somme – that is, to soldiers whose bodies were so torn apart (evaporated even) by artillery bombardments that they were beyond identification as individual men.
The fourth & fifth books which stands out in my memory are both by Pat Baker, being the first and last in her Regeneration trilogy. If anyone asked me which single WW1 novel they should read, I would say The Ghost Road, the finale, every time.
It may be that Owen is important here too, since he is a character in these stories, and his death vividly told. His fellow war poet Siegfried Sassoon – at the time far better known than Owen – is central to the narrative too. But I think it is the complexity of Dr Rivers that makes these novels so compelling, and the depth of the irony that, as a military psychiatrist, his job is to make officers who are suffering the most awful mental torment as a result of what they’ve seen and done in battle, well enough to go back to fight and kill and quite probably die, like millions upon millions of others.
Dear God, never again.
This post first appeared in An Awfully Big Blog Adventure, the blogging site of the Scattered Authors’ Society, on January 15th, 2018.
I’m turning hay in the top meadow when I hear the squeak of rusty wheels and look up to see Monsieur Nicolas, the postman, pedalling up the lane. I stiffen, suddenly afraid that I know the reason why he’s here.
Please, God, let it not be Pascal.
Soft summer sounds surround me now that I’m still. Grasshoppers. Distant birds. The eternal hum of bees. The creaking of the bicycle is like some infernal machine, let loose in the Garden of Eden.
Please, God, not my brother, Pascal.
I think about that other August day two years ago, when the jangling of church bells shattered the peace of the valley. Pascal and I dropped our pitchforks and ran to the village square just in time to hear the mayor announce, “Men of France! To arms!”
Father left straightaway, but Pascal stayed long enough to show me how to gather the harvest, how to scythe and how to plough. I was twelve years old and so excited. Now my hands are calloused and my back aches like an old woman’s.
Monsieur Nicolas clatters slowly past the orchard, waking the geese. They flap and hiss as they waddle towards the fence. Mother appears at the kitchen door, wiping her hands on her apron. Her back is very straight.
Monsieur Nicolas clambers awkwardly off the saddle and pushes his bicycle up the hill towards our gate. I hold my breath. My legs shake. My vision blurs with tears.
Please, God. Not Pascal.
Monsieur Nicolas stops again. He rests his bike against our fence. The geese clamour and shriek as he opens the gate to our yard. Stifling a cry, I pick up my skirts and run.
It’s Father, Mort pour la France on some distant battlefield. The letter telling us is crushed in Mother’s hand. I bow my head and make the sign of the cross, then ask, “Who’s the letter from? May I read it?”
She turns hollow eyes on me. “It’s from your brother, my angel.”
“Pascal! Is he safe? Is he well? Oh, Maman, does he say when he’s coming home?”
Relief bubbles inside me. I’m torn between laughter and tears. But when I reach out for the letter, Mother’s knuckles whiten as she tightens her grip on it.
“Your father is dead, Angélique. Have you no feelings at all?”
I hang my head, the pain in her voice cutting through me. For her sake, I try to remember something nice about him. One small thing. But I can’t. All I recall are his fists and his belt and his leather razor strop. Pascal got the worst of it, but sometimes late at night I’d hear Mother whimpering as well.
“Well?” she asks, sounding weary now rather than angry.
My gaze remains fixed on the earthen floor and the dust-flecked shaft of sunlight falling across it, while the ticking of the kitchen clock grows louder between us.
Am I wicked, I wonder, a heartless, unforgivable child because I’m not sad he’s dead?
I try to squeeze out a tear, but inside my head I can hear the thwack, thwack, thwack of his drunken anger, and Pascal’s sobs as he rushed up to his room, and Mother’s muffled voice through his closed door, hushing him, telling him not to fuss.
“I am sorry,” I say at last.
I give a tiny shrug. “For you, yes.”
She sighs, then turns her back on me and takes her apron off.
“See to the animals,” she says, “then come in to change. We’ll go to Mass this evening.”
My mourning dress is stiff and tight, a laced-up hand-me-down. Mother is almost invisible behind her long black veil. As we walk down the lane to the village through the warm, rosy dusk, I half expect a bat to blunder into her or a fox to stop and sniff the air as we pass.
Outside the church the village widows flock around Mother like crows. There are Madame Villiard and Madame Arnauld, and poor young Madame Besançon, whose husband was just nineteen when both his legs were blown off at Verdun.
Old Madame Malpas draws me aside, wringing her bony hands and crying, “What’s to become of you, Angélique? You’ll very likely starve! La Mordue will go to rack and ruin without Monsieur Lacroix!”
“Pascal will be home soon,” I say. “Maman and I can manage till then.”
“Manage, child? When your corn’s still in the ground in August?”
“The farm men have been promised leave.”
“And you expect the generals to keep their promises?”
She sniffs loudly, then stumps off, calling to Mother, “Madame Lacroix! What terrible news! Tell me, did he suffer?”
My best friend, Béatrice Lamy, hurries over to me.
“That woman!” she says, rolling her eyes. Then she kisses me on both cheeks and hugs me tightly. “This is unbearable, Angie. I can’t begin to imagine how you feel.”
Guilt prickles me because, just then, I’d been thinking how much I hate wearing black and having to pretend to be sad. I wish I’d told her the truth before, but Mother always said the beatings would get worse if Father suspected we talked about him behind his back.
And now it’s too late. I can’t speak ill of the dead, condemn a brave soldier Mort pour la France. What would Madame Malpas say?
“I’m fine, Bee,” I say. “Really, I am.”
She cups my cheek in her hand. “You’re so brave, Angie. I’d be in pieces if I’d lost Papa. How did you hear the news?”
I lean forward, hiding a smile, and whisper, “Pascal wrote.”
“Shhh, Bee. Not so loud.” I glance around, but the village women are too busy comforting Mother to take any notice of us. “Come on. Let’s talk inside.”
The cold stone church is empty. We sit in the front pew, the one allotted to the newly bereaved. Béatrice takes both my hands.
“Is Pascal safe?” she asks. “Is he hurt?”
“I don’t know. Mother wouldn’t let me see his letter.”
“Oh, you know. She’s upset.”
“Of course. Silly question. I’m sorry.”
Her eyes brim again with sympathy.
Quickly I say, “Do you want to hear the good news?”
“Good news?” Her eyes widen.
I smile conspiratorially. “The farm belongs to Pascal now – the house, the land. Everything! It’s his.”
“Bee! Don’t you see what this means?”
She shakes her head.
“He can get married whenever he wants!”
“Oh!” Her eyes widen further. “But … Papa won’t let me. I’m too young.”
“Pascal will wait, I know he will. And when you’re both ready you’ll live with us, and we’ll be sisters, a real family. Won’t that be wonderful?”
Her eyes shine, then she blushes. “I do love him so much.”
We start to hug, but just then the door opens and the village widows seep inside like shadows, a horde of veiled and silent wraiths.
“I should go,” Béatrice says.
“No. Please stay.”
“But your mother– “
“She won’t mind.”
“Are you sure?”
I slip my arm through hers while we wait, each looking up at the brightly painted statue of Saint Joan of Arc, high on her pedestal. She’s wearing a full suit of armour, and spearing the devil through his blackened heart.