Chris Cleave Meet the Author


Chris Cleave

Chris Cleave talks to James Naughtie about his novel Everyone Brave is Forgiven, a story of a society torn apart by the threat of destruction and an account of the cost of war.


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visitors are directors, thank you for being with us on BBC News. That

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is a look at what the economy has on hold, now it is time for Meet the

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Author. Chris Cleave knows

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how to spin a story. His novels Incendiary and Gold

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were huge bestsellers, gripping thrillers that

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were also psychological studies. His new novel, Everyone Brave

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Is Forgiven, takes us back to the early years

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of the Second World War, to the London of the Blitz,

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at a time when no one quite knew It is the story of unlikely,

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enduring love, a picture of society pulled apart by the threat

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of destruction, and an account of the human cost of war

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and human resilience. Chris, many people have written

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novels set in the Second World War. What made you want to

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do it one more time? I'm always writing about the time

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that we are living in now. I became really interested

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in the idea of unity, and the idea of the country coming

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together and putting aside its differences to face down

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an existential threat. And the last time that we did that

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really was the Second World War. And so I thought if I could go

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back into that period, and research it with fresh eyes,

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trying to understand how it had felt at the time,

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at the outbreak of war, when people weren't sure

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whether it was the right course of action to take,

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when the country was still, at the beginning, disunited

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about whether we should appease Hitler or whether we should fight,

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that difficult time at the beginning of the war is a period that I think

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is really unexamined. Those of us who were born

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after the war like you and me tend to forget how uncertain

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that time was. Most people felt strongly

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about the threat, and strongly about people who had been caught up

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and decided to go and fight, but We now look at the war movies

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and the war novels and they tend to show these very stoical figures,

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square-jawed and brave. They take these insane risks and it

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always pays off for them. But in real life, these

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people were frightened You tell the story through

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the interlocking stories of I suppose four people really,

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so it's through them It's through an individual that

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you get a picture of London? Because I wanted to immerse

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the reader in their experience of becoming part of that fighting

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machine. It's the becoming that I found more

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interesting than the being. I think that a muscle

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is the best model for courage. At the beginning they were nervous,

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they were frightened and they had And of course, bravery, your title

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Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a beautifully ambiguous and sort

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of penetrating title in the sense it makes you wonder,

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what is this book really about? But you reveal how bravery comes

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in all shapes and sizes. It means different things

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to different people. To stand up in peace time

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against a policy of one's own government might be construed

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as a brave action but in wartime that is cowardice,

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that is treachery, that is betrayal. That transitional period between

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peace and war is interesting. Not just people's ability

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to be brave changes, but the notion of what bravery means

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changes and it changes with each individual at different

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speeds and I like that. One of the ways you get

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into that is to cross social The woman we meet at the very

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beginning of the book comes from a particular

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segment of society. Finishing school but didn't finish

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it, I think you put it somewhere. And you meet people in different

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walks of life and you've got a very acute sense of where those

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boundaries were and however, I like the fact that the boundaries

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haven't changed either. You could be living in 1939 and know

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exactly where the fault lines in society were between the haves

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and the have-nots, where the racial That society is very recognisable,

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and as a writer, something I have often done is to look at things,

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where are those fault lines in our society and how can I voice

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people on both sides of those, and try to show the enormity

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of the fractures in our society. They don't heal,

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they haven't healed. And yet it's not a book

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that is driven, it seems to me anyway as a reader,

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by anger or bitterness or envy from one side

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of society to the other. It's a very generous

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book in that sense. I mean, you're quite inside yourself

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I think, almost sentimental? I wouldn't write about people

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unless I really liked them. I like people who have reinvented

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themselves, who have been hurt. I think everybody has been hurt

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by the time they are grown up. I liked the fact that people don't

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just stay on the mat. They do get up and they do help each

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other and they do help each other across those fragmentation

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lines in society. I write about people because I do

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think there's an enormous You're talking, in telling

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the story of these people, That seems to be the characteristic

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you find most inspiring I think it was amazing

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the way people dug in. We know now, we can watch a war

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movie or we can think back to the Second World War and think,

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they only had to tough it out until 1945, and some

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people as long as 1946. They didn't know what

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they were embarking on. They didn't know how

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long their suffering would continue. I liked the sense of humour

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that was starting to develop. I wanted to show that the sense

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of humour that my grandparents had, I remember talking to my grandfather

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about his first parachute jump. He said in the back of the plane

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the Sergeant Major would cheer us up and he said, never mind, lads,

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if your parachutes don't open, you can just take them back

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to the packing shed! They joked their way through the war

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because they were terrified and that's what I liked about that

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generation, and that's what I liked and still like actually

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about British people. The more frightened we are,

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the funnier we get. That for me is a very

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civilised response to fear. I don't want to talk about the plot

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in any detail because it will spoil it for people,

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because it is a story which I think needs to keep its secrets

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until the end, but we are talking in a way, you are talking

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in the book about emotions that are released, really,

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because of the threat, because of the darkness,

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because of the uncertainty. And like the fact that

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people's choices had to made in a split second,

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and they were made, I think that's what

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life does to you. It tests you when you are least

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expecting it and the answers that you come up with,

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that you reveal about your character are not always pleasant,

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are not always expected, but are the inevitable result

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of all the little habits you have What would you most like people

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to take away from this story? Most of all I would like them to be

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immersed in that experience of what we call the golden

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generation, and to come away with a fresh appreciation of what

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they did and what we could still do. Good evening. It has been bitterly

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cold for many parts of the country today, and especially under the

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cloud.

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Chris Cleave talks to James Naughtie about his novel Everyone Brave is Forgiven. It's a story of unlikely, enduring love, a society pulled apart by the threat of destruction and an account of the human cost of war.