This is my new book. It’s called Combat Zone. It’s out this week.
Combat Zone is about a school rugby team that takes part in the UK schools’ championship at the same time that most of the players’ parents are involved in a conflict in the Middle East with the RAF.
There is a lot going this autumn to help Combat Zone take off. The highlights are:
* an event at Cheltenham Literature Festival this Saturday 11th October at 3 p.m. – the event is called Football v Rugby, which means I have to bring both my football and rugby posts down from Leeds.
* a launch event at the RAF Museum in Cosford on November 20th, where we will be joined by some of the RAF rugby team. The RAF is a large part of the content of the book – and they and their children helped enormously with the research. You can read about that here.
* a day of events at my Patron of Reading school in Edinburgh, Stewarts Melville.
* a pilot set of events in East Grinstead, working with two schools the public library and the local rugby club, to see if we can reach a whole community through four different venues.
* dozens of school and library events in rugby strongholds like Leicester, Exeter and more.
In addition, I am working up five projects to do with rugby union and literacy. For the RFU . To be delivered in 2015, Rugby World Cup year. There’s more about that on a previous blog, here.
Over the last two years I have been working closely with the RAF Museum in Cosford and the primary school at nearby Albrighton. It has been invaluable to me as a writer.
Over the next twelve months my Rugby Academy series will be published by Barrington Stoke. (Find out more here.) These books feature children with parents involved in a dangerous RAF humanitarian relief effort. Without the help of both the museum and the school, I would not have been able to write the series.
But there is more.
I visited RAF Cosford today to talk about how we can work together to promote reading for pleasure. The museum has dozens of astonishing artefacts that would stimulate most children. Spitfires. The recently recovered Dornier. A soon-to-be launched exhibition of fragile WW1 planes.
And behind those artefacts there are stories. Each plane – be it from WW1, WW2, the Cold War or between and after – has a wealth of stories that we can engage both boys and girls with. I can attest to this having visited the museum with school children and my ten-year-old daughter.
In fact, it was making an Airfix model with my daughter that inspired my future series of books, due out in 2016.
I am thrilled to announce today that Barrington Stoke will be publishing three books in that series called Wings.
The books will blend the excitement of making model aeroplanes and seeing the real thing at RAF Cosford with the true stories of adventure, sadness, fear and courage that many of the planes in their collection inspire.
I’ll have much more to say about both new series of books and my relationship with RAF Cosford over the next few months.
During the next two weeks I will be visiting all of Leeds’ thirty-six public libraries. By bike.
I am doing it because cycling is the big thing for kids in Leeds at the moment: the Tour de France starts in the city on July 5th and everyone is getting pretty excited about it.
Also, because I want the next big thing for kids to be libraries.
I’ll have half an hour in each library – four a day – to talk to a class of year three and four children, visiting from a local school. I’ll ask them if they use libraries and tell them about how Leeds Libraries changed my life. I am also going to read them a story I have written for the tour. About a girl who goes on a different adventure each time she borrows a library book. Which is kind of what libraries do.
There’s a full schedule of my tour on my website. It’s about 250 miles in all. The worst/best day is 40 miles. I’m a bit worried about that one, to be honest. I’m not a great cyclist. But I’ve done a bit of training. I should be okay.
The highlights – for me – will be Leeds Central Library and Oakwood Library. The places where libraries worked their magic. It’ll feel good returning to those. I wouldn’t be an author if it wasn’t for Leeds Libraries.
More importantly, I wouldn’t be a reader. I love reading. It makes me think. It makes me happy. It gives me something I can’t even put into words. I want to get that across. Somehow.
Earlier this month I went to the Somme, to visit the scenes where WWI was fought nearly 100 years ago.
I was there to make videos for a new website that will be live later in April. The website is called www.readingwar.co.uk and is an attempt to help children to understand what happened between 1914 and 1918 in Europe and beyond. It will feature my new book, Over the Line and another book, Tilly’s Promise by Linda Newbery.
Both of us have made videos about how we wrote our books. Some of mine are set in the places where the book is set. Delville Wood. The English Channel. A network of reworked trenches.
The most important video for me was when I revisited Sid Wheelhouse’s grave. Wheelhouse played for Grimsby Town and features as an uncompromising defender in the first chapter of Over the Line. I also described his death in a gas attack in 1916.
When I visited his grave two years ago – while I was writing the book – I was deeply affected. I knew I had to work harder to get his character and circumstances right.
But it wasn’t easy. How do you describe a man choking to death under gas attack over 95 years ago? I am pretty sure my first visit to his grave helped me to understand the gravity of what I was describing. I hope my second visit and the video I made are respectful too.
Reading War goes live next month. I’ll alert you on this blog. Over the Line is out now. You can get it in bookshops and libraries. I can post out signed copies too.
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