Introducing himself, he says he loves surprises. He is happy to say his characters often catch him by surprise. He tries never to find himself trudging down a narrow path with them.
His first question to himself in this unchaired session, points out that his career has gotten seemingly more serious as he has gone along. His early novels are very comedic, and the themes are light. His later books have a comedic surface, but over the last 10 years ago have a more serious tinge. He wanted to explore, through stories, and for many reasons, children in wartime.
His series of four books, which will soon be five, probably as many as seven, grew around the concept of friendship being the way in which children can really express their own freedom. Sometimes, it is the only way. Friendship, Gleitzman thinks, allows children to learn who they are, and how they want to express this. He chose war as the delivery mechanism as he wanted to express the place of story in history. Because we can’t be there, there is no way of capturing the 100% objective truth. He made the point that history is happening now.
In the book releasing in August – Now – Gleitzman took the opportunity to investigate the power of Felix’s own history. The biggest problem, as a child after a war, was to understand that though the war is over, this doesn’t mean that everything is now okay. Across Europe, it was a civilisation in ruins, with a lot of people in severe emotional pain. Meanwhile, our hero Felix hopes that his early childhood would be re-discovered, and has to find a way in this book, to reconnect with his optimism.
Gleitzman noted that it is sometimes when people are surrounded by the worst people are capable of, that they do the best they are capable of. When Michael Morpurgo asked Gleitzman to write the play for War Horse, Gleitzman ‘s interest was piqued by the question: what happened to the horses soldiers took over there and experienced the war with, that couldn’t be brought home, and couldn’t be sold?
After Gleitzman initially struggled to identify with the character of a volunteering soldier, he realised that for people in that period of history, their circumstances were very different. A lot of people didn’t have any other opportunity to see the rest of the world – only the privileged and wealthy got out to explore. It just wasn’t the done thing. Gleitzman said that a whole generation took the opportunity as one to travel, and as a bonus, kick the “Bad Guys” butts, and this was a potent mix. Following this, if you had your horse with you at war, and you survived, but the army wouldn’t send it home, how would you feel? What would you try to do? That was where ‘Loyal Creatures’ (the resulting play and book) came from, for Gleitzman. His a few y
The first audience question was about the effect of technology on this generation of children, to which Gleitzman pointed out that every generation has challenges that cause anxiety: some kids have war, other kids have technological abilities that bring opportunities, and simultaneously narrow down their ideas. But he hasn’t seen any change in what people really want over all of this. All of our hopes, our fears, our capacity for love, are timeless. Stories have the responsibility to always have these things present and to make the reading, the viewing and the sharing of them a model.
Gleitzman says stories are as popular with young people as they always have been. Young people are still moved by them, thrilled by them and excited by them. There are always some that don’t have as much room as you would hope for stories. Stories are everywhere, they are not just a piece of literature. They are the stuff of how we connect, and the guts of how we think. It is important that young people understand that stories are not always told for the best of all possible reasons: Nazis understood the power of story all too well.
Gleitzman is a natural raconteur, and he had the audience eating from the palm of his hands. It was a wonderful session to have attended.
Reviewed by Sarah Forster