Monday, 13 April 2015

Guest Post: Nigel Quinlan on Weather, and The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox

I am really excited to present debut author Nigel Quinlan on the CountdownYA tour today, with one of his first blog posts, I believe! I was already really looking forward to The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox before this fascinating post, but after reading this post the book is going to the top of my TBR as soon as I get my hands on it!

All I wanted to do was write a story about a phone box. That’s how it started. A phone box like the one halfway down the street, next to the Post Office in my little village of Murroe in the Irish south-west. The phone box I had in mind, I decided, belonged to a family who had to look after it, protect its magic, keep its secret. And what was that secret? Oh, it almost didn’t matter. Let’s say, seasons. Better capitalise that: Seasons! The Seasons pass through the phone box four times a year! There you go, simple! Now, back to the family and their adventures. Mum, Dad, Neil, Liz and Owen. The Maloneys. They own a B&B, and the phone box is right next to their house, which is more or less the middle of nowhere and, and yet also one of the four corners of the world. And what happens? Well if you’re a family devoted to the movement of the Seasons, then what’s the most awful thing that can happen? Let’s say, one year, the Autumn doesn’t arrive. There you go! Adventures! Complications! Mystery! Excitement!

The difficulty, I thought, would be telling the story of how something as ancient as the passage of the Seasons through the four Doorways of the world ended up happening in an Irish phone box. Phone boxes might seem old and obsolete in this day and age, but there weren’t very many of them around in the Stone Age, which was when the first Weatherman and the elementals that would go on to become the Seasons reached the agreement that allowed humans to get on with their huntin’ and their gatherin’ without getting blown away by a high wind every five minutes.

(At this point, Liz would point out the first Weatherman could easily have been a woman, despite the name, and Neil would roll his eyes at her. Neil knows she could be right, but as her older brother is obliged to roll her eyes at everything she says.)

But it turns out that coming up with a mythology based around Seasonal Doorways that stretches from the pale mists of the Paleolithic era to more recent family feuds and skullduggery is actually fun, and sets up most of the plot that gets things rolling and makes life difficult for the Maloneys and their Weatherbox.

Weather, it turns out, is tricker. Weather, it turns out, is a right pain in the neck.

It’s not so much the weathermagic. You can pop up a load of Weird Weather, threatening snowstorms in September and indoor hurricanes to your hearts content, but when you’re talking about the Seasons, the four Seasons, suddenly you can’t stop thinking. Weather is big. Weather is huge. Weather is global. We breathe air we drink water and all our food depends on weather, the clothes we wear the places we live, whether we could be bothered to go outside today.

And then: FOUR Seasons? That’s downright parochial. Lots of places don’t have Seasons as we do, stuck out here on the far edge of Europe, toes dipped in the North Atlantic, with only the Gulf Stream keeping the icebergs and Polar bears at bay. To assume that my big fluffy benign Seasons were proper embodiments of the weather over the whole world at a particular time of the year was daft. Autumn in Ireland isn’t Autumn in a South American rain forest or an equatorial desert or at the North Pole.

So my Seasons became something larger, darker, more complex and difficult to define or comprehend. We might call them Seasons, but that’s a crude approximation. They are living systems that cover one quarter of the globe at any particular time, incorporating wildly different local conditions, depending on various atmospheric and topographical conditions, but mostly depending on where they are in relation to the sun. Luckily I’d fixed the dates of the changing of the Seasons at the equinoxes and solstices, which depend on the relative positions of the sun and the Earth, and not on local cultural or historical factors, and, and...

Oh God, this was exhausting. But I had to work it out. Any of this might be relevant to the plot or the mythology of the book. Most of it doesn’t even get mentioned, because six chapters explaining in detail how the real world and my made-up world interlink kinda threatened to stop the story stone dead, but it’s there by implication. Also, I am bad at science, so I almost certainly getting everything wrong.

I worried about this stuff a lot, more than I needed to or should have, perhaps, but it was nothing compared to the headache I gave myself when I remembered Climate Change. I mean, I never forgot about Climate Change, it just took me an awfully long time to realise that if I was writing about weather magic in a setting that is identical, more or less, to the modern world, I really needed to think about Climate Change.

So I did. And I worked it out. And then I changed it. And then I revised it. And then I had a great idea that I worked into the plot itself!

And then I revised it out in the very next round.

So all my tortured thinking about weather is there , just not much of it is on the page. It floats above the book, an invisible mass of air and moisture and fluctuating temperatures and areas of high or low pressure. In places it is completely still, in others it blows a gentle breeze on the reader’s face, and in places it sheets down like silver nails made of water and Vikings.

Still, though. The Maloney’s Magical Weatherbox is a story about the Maloneys, their Weatherbox, and their magic. It’s got a bog beast and hags and a tourist of magic and a gang of secret Celtic warrior ninjas. It’s also got weather. Weird Weather. It fits right in.

While impatiently waiting for his book, you can follow Nigel on Twitter! And don't miss tomorrow's #CountdownYA post, from Taran Matharu at one of my very favourite book blogs, Snuggling on the Sofa!

Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Guest Post: Paul Dowswell on Bomber

Another year, and another Countdown! We're celebrating brilliant books coming out on the 7th May (mostly, with a couple the week afterwards.) I'm thrilled to kick us off with Paul Dowswell, whose book Bomber is upcoming from Bloomsbury, answering a few questions about it.

Where did you get the idea for Bomber and how did you research it?

My book is about a Flying Fortress crew operating out of East Anglia during the Second World War. It was inspired by family trips to visit friends who live in a converted pub called The Green Man, in Kirkstead, Norfolk. During the war this pub was frequented by American airmen from nearby Seething airbase. 

Whenever I visit, I am haunted by the thought of these young men drinking their ‘warm’ beer on the nights before their bombing missions, when many would have been blown to pieces over places like Berlin, Stuttgart or Schweinfurt.

I like to walk the same streets as my characters, so where ever possible I visit the places where I set my stories. So last time I went to Kirkstead my friends took me to Seething. It’s an airfield now, rather than an airbase, but the main runway, and the control tower are still there.

The control tower at Seething in 2014. This is a museum now and it’s open to the public.

The view from the control tower during the war.

I also went to the RAF Museum in Hendon, London, to spend a fascinating afternoon looking at the Flying Fortress they have there.

Paul with the Flying Fortress at Hendon.

I watched the 1949 film Twelve O’ Clock High, staring Gregory Peck, to try to get a feel for how American airmen spoke, and also scores of You Tube documentaries and snippets on Flying Fortresses. Most importantly, I read many books about the air war over Europe, and the French Resistance escape routes used by downed Allied pilots.

What’s real and what’s made up?

When you write historical fiction the question often arises, what’s real and what did you make up? In my story the planes and airbase are at Kirkstead, so that’s all made up, but it’s very like Seething, which was home to Liberator bombers rather than Flying Fortresses.

In the story I wrote there are raids on Schweinfurt on August 17, 1943, and October 14, 1943. These are based on actual USAAF raids on that city on those days.

There’s also an episode in my book loosely based on the famous story of the Memphis Belle, whose crew were lionised by the American media when they completed their twenty-five missions in 1943. 

All my main characters are fictitious although I have tried to reflect as accurately as I can the thoughts and experiences of the United States Eighth Air Force crews in 1943, and the extraordinarily brave members of the French Resistance. I often feel grateful I have never had to conjure the reserves of courage required by the characters in my novels.

Why did you write about a Flying Fortress?

The B-17 Flying Fortress is a fascinating aircraft. Its Art Deco curves make it one of the most beautiful aircraft of the Second World War. Although it had a reputation for toughness and   durability, it never quite lived up to its name. Of the 12,731 B-17s built between 1936 and 1945 4,754 were lost in action. Over 1943, when casualties in the air war were at their highest, it has been estimated that a Flying Fortress crew had a one in four chance of completing their 25 mission tour. Not all of the 10 man crew would necessarily be killed, of course, when their plane was shot down. Many airmen parachuted to safety to escape from occupied Europe or spend the rest of the war in a German Prisoner of War Camp, but those are still daunting odds.

In the UK, you can see B-17s at Duxford in Cambridgeshire and Hendon on the edge of London. In the United States, there are at least 30 B-17s on display at museums, and several of these are still able to fly in air shows.

(Photo of Paul Dowswell, by David Rann.)

Thanks Paul for a brilliant opening post! Keep checking back here for the full schedule, updated daily, with tomorrow's post coming from Sarah Mussi at Luna's Little Library.