It is my absolute honour to be part of the blog tour to celebrate the new book by the brilliant Hilary McKay, The Swallow’s Flight. I have the absolute joy of sending Hilary a few questions and honestly, doing things like this are some of the best bits of being a blogger!
Erik and Hans admire swallows over the rooftops of Berlin, little thinking that one day they will be flying above England, risking their lives in a war they both detest. Ruby and Kate, great friends despite their differences, find themselves racing towards a danger that neither of them could possibly have imagined. Meanwhile Rupert and Clarry work secretly for peace – and a brighter future for them all…
Tell us about the brand new book. What was your favourite bit of this book to write?
My new book is The Swallows’ Flight, a growing-up story set before and in the early years of WW2. Unlike The Skylarks’ War, it’s written from several points of view. I wanted to show the happenings in Berlin in parallel to what was going on in Britain at the same time.
My favourite bit of the story to write was when these separate strands began to come together. There was less juggling of times and places at that point, and more story telling.
What inspired you to write this story?
Like all my books, The Swallows’ Flight is a patchwork. It comes from many places. One major part is a family story from my editor and friend at Macmillan, Venetia Gosling. She told me about her Granny as a young girl during the Battle of Britain, a shot down plane, and an airman falling from the sky. The German part came from rereading a favourite book of mine: Erich Kästner’s Emil and the Detectives. That book, set in Berlin in 1929, is a detective story with 10-12 year old boys in charge. Ten years later, what might have happened to boys like them?
I included many images and questions in this book, but those were two of them.
How does writing work for you?
Usually a very small moment starts it off, the airman falling as I described, for instance. Then there’s the building of characters and background. I nearly always know how the last chapter is going to end before I begin seriously writing. After that, it’s a journey. Of course, there are diversions and unexpected meetings on the way. Some of these make it through to the final book. A lot get cut, as too distracting to the story. I always aim to prune away 10-20% before the final draft. I think the tightening helps.
Which time period would you like to write about next?
I might carry straight on from where I left off, at the end of WW2. I’m also interested in pre-history- I researched a little to that for the Chavet Cave storyline in The Time of Green Magic. I learnt quite a lot and I’d like to find out more.
What is it about historical fiction that appeals to you so much?
I appreciate the ‘grounded-ness’ of writing historical fiction. The way the stage is set before the story begins. I really enjoy the research- it’s like treasure hunting, tracking down the details. And I absolutely love the fact that nobody in history had a mobile phone. They are far too useful. A generation ago, the chief thing a children’s writer had to do to get a story going was to dispose of at least one responsible parent, as soon as possible, but no later than page 3. Now instead of parents, it’s mobile phones. Modern children’s literature is full of flat batteries, lost signals, and sudden immersions in deep water. You can almost hear the author sigh with relief as the last screen shatters and the characters have to start to fend for themselves.
What’s your favourite thing about being an author?
I like words so much. I like how they have colours and shades and patterns of sound. I like the way that you can communicate an idea, or a joke, or a fear, or a dream by stringing them in lines, like beads. I like making things too, and I love books. It’s nice, writing books. Especially when people read them. I suppose what I like most, in the end, is the people who read them.
That’s the best thing about being an author.
We always love a recommendation here! Is there a book you can recommend for kids and teachers alike?
Yes, there are hundreds of books, but since I have already mentioned it, I recommend Emil and the Detectives, by Erich Kästner. It’s funny, and fascinating, and clever and kind.
A massive thank you to Hilary for answering my questions! It’s so interesting learning all about authors and their writing processes… and plus we all have a new recommendation for our shelves! A massive thanks to the publishers for inviting me to be on this blog tour too!
The Swallow’s Flight is out NOW! Go treat yourself!
Don’t forget to check out the rest of the blog tour! It promises to be a brilliant one!