26/01/2017 Meet the Author


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26/01/2017

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

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bestsellers, gripping thrillers they were also psychological studies. His

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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time? I'm always writing about the time we are living in now. I became

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really interested in the idea of unity and the idea of the country

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coming together and putting aside differences to face down and

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

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

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

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the time at the outbreak of war, when people were not sure whether it

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was the right course of action to take, when the country was still at

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the beginning disunited about whether we should appease Hitler of

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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becoming that I found more interesting than the being. They

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

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

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

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

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

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

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different things to different people. To stand up in peacetime

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

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

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

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

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and changes for different individuals at different speeds. I

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

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

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

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

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those boundaries where and how everyone knew where the line was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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look, where are those fault lines in our society? How can I voice people

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on both sides of those and try to show the enormity of the fractures

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in our society. They don't heal. They have not healed. And yet it is

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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of these people you are talking about enormous resilience. That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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still do. Chris Cleave, thank you very

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