Monday, 11 June 2012

Pop by Catherine Bruton plus Guest Blog Post (Children's, 11 years +)

4th June 2012, Egmont
496 pages, Paperback
Review copy

Themes: life during a strike, immigration prejudice/attacks/benefits, being friends with the enemy, bucket loads of lying, a mother who doesn't care & wanders off a lot, having to look after younger brother, truancy from school, money worries, crazy world of TV shows, talent, singing, getting the look, learning true value of friendship, emotional read

Summary from Egmont
I reckon we need a plan that’s so massive it’ll change our lives forever...

The first round of auditions was a bit mad. All these wannabe popstars sitting around trying to look wacky/soulful/tragic (delete as appropriate) to catch the attention of the TV cameras.

At least we had a cracking back story. The story of me, Agnes, Jimmy and baby Alfie too; the tears, the tragedy, the broken homes and feuding families, the star-crossed lovers. And only some of it was made up.

If I say so myself, it was genius: a sure-fire golden ticket to stratospheric stardom.

Or at least that was the plan...

Nayuleska's thoughts
Elfie is...Elfie. She isn't as cut as her name implies, but she endures a lot and lives for her little brother. She pretends to be tough & not care about the lack of love her mother gives her. Her idea is mental, especially as it involves her friend Jimmy becoming friends with the sweet Agnes, who as an immigrant is shamefully despised by her new friends' fathers. Elfie does abuse Agnes's singing ability, treats her terribly all for the sake of the grand plan (I hated Elfie at that point) but redeems herself at the end which is rather spectacular for Agnes. 

All three teens have their lives changed from meeting each other. I did like the insight into Jimmy's life as a professional swimmer in training, all the hard work and sacrifice he has to make. My favourite character was Agnes, she really doesn't know what hits her when Elfie enters her life but they become good friends at the end of this 9/10 read.

You can find out more on Catherine's website.

Suggested reading

For more lunatic stunts, try Missing, Believed Crazy by Terence Blacker

I'm delighted to present Catherine's guest blog post - many thanks to Catherine for writing this (& such an entertaining story) I would have loved her as my English teacher - and yes I have a Twilight habit.
Help! My teacher is a teen novelist!

I reckon it must be a total nightmare having me as a teacher! I mean, I have my uses:  I bring jellybeans to lessons, bake cakes with pupil’s names  on and frequently fall off chairs whilst trying to write on the board (why do they make the white boards so high? And why am I so short?)  Ooh, and there are my lucky pebbles which have ensured nobody I have ever  taught has got less than a  B at GCSE or A/ AS Level ( I like to think this is the outstanding teaching as well as the magic stones, myself!)

But there are many downsides to having me as your English teacher. There’s the fact that my aim with the jelly beans isn’t that great and I have been known to take eyes out with flying sweeties; there’s the homework thing (six essays  on ‘The Great Gatsby’ – seriously, Mrs Bruton!); and then there’s the annoying writer business.

Having an English teacher who is also a novelist  has to be the worst thing ever – even if she is, ‘one of the finest teen writers in recent years’ according to ‘The Guardian’ (*curtsies shyly*!)  Firstly there’s the fact that you run a serious risk of appearing in one of my books. Now, for my Year 7s and even for my  old Year 11s, this seems to be OK – in fact  they are always asking me to put them in a novel. But my current Year 10s clearly find this the most embarrassing thing EVER! Which of course makes me want  to immortalise them in literature all the more!

If you’re lucky, I might just nick your name; Jimmy Wigmore, Elfie Baguley, Agnes Rodriguez: the names of my three main characters in ’Pop!’ are all a mish-mash of former pupils and family nicknames.
Or I might just steal the odd mannerism: Jimmy does this blinking thing and hides behind his very long hair  - oh, and  he goes red right to the tips of his ears when he’s embarrassed; whilst Agnes twists her fingers round her wrist and bites her lip when she has stage fright.  Elfie, on the other hand, scrunches up her nose and   does a sort of sideways tippy head thing when she’s telling you a lie – just  as a  certain rather pickly, pesky student of mine (naming no names!) always does when she’s explaining how Twitter ate her homework –  or ET stole her essay – or how  the answers to the test magically appeared on the back of her pencil case!

And, just like said pickly student, Elfie is a total ace at making up stories. Which is a good thing cos when she decides that the solution to all her problems is to enter the North West equivalent of ‘The X Factor’, she’s going to need a whole heap of  colossal whoppers  to make sure they win.   ‘Cos everyone who enters  a TV talent show has to have a story. At least the ones who get through to the final rounds always do. It  might be a battle with cancer or drugs, or a dead dad/dog/goldfish who told you to ‘follow that dream’, or a crippling stutter or stage fright or one-legged-ness or just chronic ugliness... it doesn’t matter: if you want to win you need a healthy dose of misery in your back catalogue. ‘

Fortunately, over the years I’ve heard it all when it comes to creative reconstructions of the truth so I had a lot of material to draw on. ‘My dad put my homework in the shredder, Miss....My dog ate the laptop, Miss ... The goldfish threw up  on my essay, Miss... somebody even once came up with an excuse involving Daleks!  So Elfie’s tales of tears and tragedy, broken homes, feuding families, star-crossed lovers (with Lady Gaga knitting competitions,  Queen Mum cocktails and celeb catfights thrown in for good measure) were all too easy to think up! Or, in some cases - remember!

Yes, that’s the other thing about teacher/novelists– they nick things you say and put them in their books. Of course there was the time my Year 11s tried to persuade me to put the word ‘douche-bag’ in  a novel and then wet themselves laughing  when I found out what it actually meant (who knew!!!) but loads of the stuff my characters say is based on overheard conversations (NEVER talk loudly about your code name for your boyfriend/ your mum’s obsession with ‘One Direction’/your secret ‘Twilight’ habit when I’m around!) Cos kids come up with stuff way better than we writers could ever think of by ourselves. Take some of my fave lines from ‘Pop!’:  ‘How do you even know my kid brother isn’t actually my secret lovechild?’ ‘Because I was there when your mam’s waters broke on the floor in Lidl’ – well,  substitute Lidl for Waitrose (it’s dead posh where I teach!) and I nicked that line right out of the mouths of babes! Seriously I should be paying my pupils commission!

The teen pop band, the pushy parents with Olympic dreams,  falling asleep in the back of Geography lessons, not to mention all the extraordinary outfits (seriously,  I take note on Mufti days!)  - it’s all totally taken from my lovely pupils. Sorry, folks!

Oh, but the worst thing has to be the idea of your teacher match making! And here I’d like to hold up my hands and say, ‘But I didn’t– honest!’ Only try  telling that to my Year 10s! The fact is that when I’m not reading serious literature (‘Pop!’ is inspired by Elizabeth Gaskell’s ‘North and South’ dontcha know!   - even if it is via Richard Armitage from ‘Spooks’ – swoon!)  I also watch a lot of rom-coms  - oh, and ‘Glee’ (my big scene at the Grand Final of the talent show is totally nicked from the ‘Glee’ Season 1 finale!) So, whilst I like to think there are serious contemporary issues in the book (the impact  of recession on kids in the UK, oil refinery strikes, the cultural impact of reality TV etc), there’s also a wee rom-com love story  going on!  And this is what my Year 10s are, ‘SOOOOOO embarrassed!’ about!

Allow me to explain: Jimmy (lovely, tall, gangly, shy Jimmy – who is, it’s true, partly modelled on many a tall, shy, gangly Year 10 I have taught past and present) has been in love with Elfie since he was eight years old and he saw her doing handstands up against the wheelie bins, flashing her knickers for all the world to see. And he’s basically been doing whatever she asks ever since – ‘one time she persuaded me to pierce her ear with a fish finger and a safety pin. Another time she tattooed my arm with a permanent marker and it wouldn’t come off for weeks.’  Jimmy reckons it’s just easier doing what Elfie tells him, to be honest – even if it does mean pretending to be the teen father of her love child or caught in a crazy love triangle with Agnes.  Which he sort of is ...

Agnes is the shy girl who sits in the back of the classroom and nobody talks to her because her dad’s a strike breaker. But when she opens her mouth to sing, she turns into a star. She’s the  sort of girl who looks like a supermodel but doesn’t know it  and has no idea how talented she is (there’s at least one in every class!) When Elfie decides that Agnes is her ticket to stardom, Jimmy and Agnes get thrown together  and maybe – just maybe  they can get over their chronic shyness and perhaps ....  maybe .... Oh, I’m not telling. You’ll just have to wait and see.

But,  the problem is that  since ‘Pop!’ came out all the Agnes and Jimmys that I teach  won’t even look each other in  the eye, so let’s get one things straight: ‘Pop!’ is not some crazy ‘my teacher is a matchmaker’ scheme. In fact, you should all be off doing your homework and reading Dickens, not snogging and dating. None of that nonsense till your GCSEs are over, I say!  Cos I might have nicked a lot from the classroom but   Jimmy and Agnes’s romance isn’t based on my students; it’s me and my hubbie (seven years of ‘will they- won’t they?’ friendship  it took us to get together – seven years!!! Seriously, there’s shy and then there’s ridiculous!)

Nonetheless, I reckon I owe my poor long-suffering pupils an apology! So, I’m really sorry! Sorry about all  the times I’ve gone on and on about, ‘Well, in my  next book ....’; sorry for the terrible hypocrisy  (‘Always plan carefully before you start writing,’ she says.  ‘Never leave assignments till the last minute... semi-colons matter ... avoid using slang...’  Oh Mrs Bruton, you need to follow your own advice, madam!); sorry for eavesdropping and metaphorically borrowing from your wardrobes; and  sorry for seeming to meddle in your love lives (even when I’m totally not!)

I’m seriously hoping that putting the deputy head in ‘Pop!’ and giving you a thank you in the back will make you forgive me.   Or perhaps when you’re about ninety (and I’m totally dead!) you might decide  having a novelist for your teacher is a cool thing to tell your grandchildren.  Or perhaps if I just stopped setting so many essays, you’d feel more inclined to overlook my crimes... 

In the meantime, I think I’d better get baking! Pop-cakes, Year 10?

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