Chris Cleave Meet the Author

Chris Cleave

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


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


Author. Chris Cleave knows


how to spin a story. His novels Incendiary and Gold


were huge bestsellers, gripping thrillers that


were also psychological studies. His new novel, Everyone Brave


Is Forgiven, takes us back to the early years


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


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


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


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


and human resilience. Chris, many people have written


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


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


that we are living in now. I became really interested


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


together and putting aside its differences to face down


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


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


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


trying to understand how it had felt at the time,


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


whether it was the right course of action to take,


when the country was still, at the beginning, disunited


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


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


is really unexamined. Those of us who were born


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


that time was. Most people felt strongly


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


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


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


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


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


people were frightened You tell the story through


the interlocking stories of I suppose four people really,


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


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


the reader in their experience of becoming part of that fighting


machine. It's the becoming that I found more


interesting than the being. I think that a muscle


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


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


Everyone Brave Is Forgiven is a beautifully ambiguous and sort


of penetrating title in the sense it makes you wonder,


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


in all shapes and sizes. It means different things


to different people. To stand up in peace time


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


as a brave action but in wartime that is cowardice,


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


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


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


changes and it changes with each individual at different


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


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


beginning of the book comes from a particular


segment of society. Finishing school but didn't finish


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


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


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


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


exactly where the fault lines in society were between the haves


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


by anger or bitterness or envy from one side


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


other and they do help each other across those fragmentation


lines in society. I write about people because I do


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


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


you find most inspiring I think it was amazing


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


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


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


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


they were embarking on. They didn't know how


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


about British people. The more frightened we are,


the funnier we get. That for me is a very


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


in any detail because it will spoil it for people,


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


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


in the book about emotions that are released, really,


because of the threat, because of the darkness,


because of the uncertainty. And like the fact that


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


and they were made, I think that's what


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


expecting it and the answers that you come up with,


that you reveal about your character are not always pleasant,


are not always expected, but are the inevitable result


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


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


immersed in that experience of what we call the golden


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


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


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




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