Sunday, 25 September 2016

Review + Guest Blog Post: Fir for Luck by Barbara Henderson (Children's, 11 years +, 10/10E, short 'n' sweet review)

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 21st September 2016, Pokey Hat, 142 pages, Ebook, Review copy

Book summary
When 12-year-old Janet’s village is under threat– she decides to take action. It’s a split-second decision that could cost her everything: her home, her family – even her life.

Can Janet save her village from being wiped out? Or will her family and friends be forced from their homes to face an uncertain future?

Based on real life events, Fir for Luck is a tale of the brutal Highland Clearances, when land owners cared more about sheep than people. 
Nayu's Thoughts
This is a story based on history in Scotland, a hard read full of trials and the occasional bit of humour. If you love animals, especially cats, I advise not reading the cat incident. I was too curious, even though I felt it would be horrid, and it was. I was too shocked to cry, and felt a bit sick (I had just eaten some yummy cake too since the book isn't a fluffy bunny read). I don't have words for that part of the story.

As for the rest, it's gloomy, but Jenny does all she can to save her village. She is plucky, and as she discovers she isn't alone in her courage. I felt desperately sad for her grandmother who was having to relive her past, something that's told in flashback chapters. The end is happy and had me excited for Jenny's future, a future that she wouldn't have had if she wasn't stubborn and rebellious. Her own mother and grandmother have their own inner strengths which she gets to see and is proud of, even if they do berate her behaviour frequently.

Janet stands firm against negative attitudes to what she's doing from a few snobby villagers, who she ends up helping a little because it's the right thing to do, She struggles with being an obedient girl, as society would like her to be, but her sometimes rash actions make an enormous different to her village. Her life is in danger several times, not all from what I expected either, but shows how dangerous life was without hospitals in rural areas in the 19th century.

It's not a book I personally can reread, as it's so hard hitting, but it's one I'll remember for a long time to come. Including the cat part-giving my cat a huge hug when I next see her!

Find out more on Barbara's website, and find out a bit more in Barbara's guest blog post below!

Historical Fiction and Modern Kids by Barbara Henderson 

Fir tree leaves

My story Fir for Luck is set almost 200 years ago. How on earth, I wondered, could I make modern young people care about something that happened so long ago, in a society so very different from ours? 
I tried different approaches at the beginning, playing about with different points of view, tenses, structures, but in the end it boiled down to this: I wanted the true story of Ceannabeinne village, its resistance to the Highland Clearances and its defiance of authority, to be told from a child’s point of view. 

One of the things which had first fascinated me about these events was the fact that the eviction document was sent at a time when the Master knew all the men would be away. He must have assumed it would be easy to subdue a bunch of women and children, but he didn’t reckon on the strength and resolve of these characters who overwhelmed the servant of the law and forced him to burn the eviction document - the writ. My main character, I decided, had to be a girl. More than that, she had to be a spirited girl who riled against the constraints placed on her. A rebel.

The character of Janet began to form in my mind. How could I make it easier for modern readers to identify with someone so unlike them externally? By creating a lot of common ground internally, I thought. I could not change the historical setting, but as I have said before, I could change the lens through which we view it. First person story-telling would remove some of that distance. By choosing present tense, I removed one more barrier – the reader would now experience everything Janet experienced, as it was happening. 

I am well aware that the writing community is split on this issue – there are some who favour present-tense storytelling while others abhor it. In the end, I decided to write in a way which would feel most natural to me and tried not to worry about what publishing officials would think. 

Once the flashback strand was completed, I decided to set it apart, not only in italics but through a past tense narration, It creates a little bit of distance between readers and Anna, and probably protects young people from identifying with the cruellest, grittiest parts of this tale, allowing them to focus on Janet instead.

In Fir for Luck, I tried to aim for a faster pace than I had seen in classics like The Desperate Journey, to appeal to a modern audience, and short, punchy chapters should hopefully keep a modern young audience more engaged. 
But the most effective way of making Fir for Luck appeal to modern readers was nothing to do with me.

Kids hear that they should never judge a book by its cover, but we all do it. Now, some sort of old-fashioned image of a child in period costume would immediately communicate distance to modern readers. That character is nothing like me, they might think.
Nayu: There's more to the cover than I realised!
By focusing on the character of Janet, and zooming in so closely on her face in the cover, Cranachan’s in-house designer has created a common bond. Janet does not look remote. The cover, in some sense holds up the mirror image to a modern reader, challenging them: Look at me! I may have lived two hundred years ago, but look. I’m not so very different from you. The fire in my eye hints at the threat, it flags up the stakes. It could happen to you, as it it did to us.
Combining that simple design with modern narrative style and pace I hope that it will enable a modern reader to care about Janet, about her world and her plight. The history may be old, but the story should feel fresh, edgy and relevant. 

I’ll soon see what modern readers make of it. And that makes me just a tiny, little bit nervous…

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