26/01/2017 Meet the Author

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James Naughtie and Rebecca Jones talk to the writers behind the latest new books.

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Chris Cleave knows how to spin a story. His novels have been huge


bestsellers, gripping thrillers they were also psychological studies. His


new novel, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, takes us back to the early


years of the Second World War, London during the Blitz, when no one


quite knew who was going to win in the end. It is a story of one likely


Love, a picture of society pulled apart by the threat of destruction,


and on account of the human cost of war and human resilience. Welcome.


Chris, many people have written novels set in the Second World War.


It is a very familiar scene. What made you want to do it one more


time? I'm always writing about the time 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 differences to face down and


existential threat. And the last time that we did that really was the


Second World War. And so I thought of I could go back into that period


and research and with fresh eyes, trying to understand how it felt at


the time at the outbreak of war, when people were not 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 of


other to fight, that difficult time at the beginning of the war is a


period that I think Israeli unexamined. Those of us who were


born after the war like you and me ten to forget how uncertain that


time was. Of course people felt strongly about the threat and felt


strongly about people who had been called up or have decided to go and


fight, but there was uncertainty in the air. Uncertainty, and a lot of


fear. We now look at the war movies and the war novels and they tend to


show these very stoical figures, brave... They always went! Yes, they


take these insane risks and it always pays off for them. But in


real life they were frightened, they were young. You tell the stories of


four people. It is through them you see the war, through an individual


you get a picture of London. Yes, I wanted to immerse the reader in


their experience of becoming part of that fighting machine. It is the


becoming that I found more interesting than the being. They


weren't brave to begin with. I think a muscle is the best model for


courage. It is something that develops to use. At the beginning


they were nervous and frightened and have very different agendas. Your


title, Everyone Brave is Forgiven, is a beautifully ambiguous and a


sort of annotating title, it makes you wonder, what is this book about?


But you reveal how bravery comes in all shapes and sizes. It means


different things to different people. To stand up in peacetime


against a policy of 1's own government might be construed as a


brave action, whereas in wartime that is Tardis, that is treachery,


betrayal. That transitional period is interesting, not just people's


ability to be brave changes, but the notion of what bravery is changes,


and changes for different individuals at different speeds. I


like that. One of the ways you get into that is across social


boundaries in a deliberate way. One woman we meet at the beginning comes


from a segment of society, not finishing school, and you meet


people at different walks of life. You have an acute sense of where


those boundaries where and how everyone knew where the line was


drawn. I like the fact that the boundaries have not changed either.


They are recognisable to us? Absolutely. Don't you think? You


could be leaving in 1939 and know exactly where the fault lines were


in society between the haves and the have-nots, where the racial divides


were in society. They are still with us. That society is very


recognisable. And as a writer, something I have often done is to


look, where are those fault lines in our society? 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 have not healed. And yet it is


not a book that is driven, it seems to me, by anger or bitterness or


envy for one side of society to the other. It is generous in that sense.


You're quite inside yourself, I think. Almost sentimental. I like


people. I would not write about people unless I really like them. I


like survivors, people who have reinvented themselves, who have been


hurt. I think everyone has been hurt by the time they are grown up. I


like the fact that people don't just stay on the mat. They get up and


they do help each other, and they help each other across those


fragmentation lines of society. I write about people because I do


think there is an enormous amount to hope for still. In telling the story


of these people you are talking about enormous resilience. That


seems to be the characteristic that you find most inspiring about what


happened during the war. Yes, I think it was amazing the way people


dug in. Because we now know, we can watch a war movie I think back about


the Second World War, and we can think, yes, they only have to tough


it out until 1945, 1946 for some. They did not know that. They did not


know what they were embarking on, how long their suffering would


continue. And I like that about them. I liked the sense of humour


that started to develop. Really, it is a funny book. I wanted to show


the sense of humour that my grandparents had. I remember talking


to my grandfather about his first Irish jump, he was very scared. And


he said, "In the back of the plane the Sergeant Major would jeer us up,


and he said, never mind, lads, if you parachute and open, you can just


stick them back to the shop!" They joked their way through the war


because they were terrified. That's what I liked about their generation,


and that's what I still like about British people. The more frightened


we are, the funnier we get. And that for me is a very civilised response


to fear. I don't want it to the plot because it would spoil it for


people. It is a story that needs to keep its secrets to the end. But in


a way you are talking in the book about he motions that are released


because of the threat, the darkness, the uncertainty. Somehow emotions


are heightened. People behave differently in war. I like the fact


that people's choices had to be made in a split second, and they were


made often from the gut. I think that is what life does to you. It


tests you when you are least expecting it, and the answers you


come up with, that you reveal about your character, are not always


pleasant or expected, but are the inevitable result of all the little


habits you have built up during your life. What would you most like


people to take away from the story? Mostly I want them to be immersed in


their experience of what we call the golden generation and to come away


from it with a fresh appreciation of what they did and what we could


still do. Chris Cleave, thank you very