Heart warming story set in Kosovo and Canada
Novel set in the Atlantic (Uplifting and Compelling)
14th November 2015
How to be Brave by Louise Beech, novel set in the Atlantic.
Rose, aged 9, collapses and Diabetes 1 is diagnosed. Rose’s great-grandfather is adrift on the Atlantic ocean. This is an uplifting book about how what is important in life and survival through exceptionally hard times.
This brilliant book commences with the diagnosis of Rose, and her mother’s struggle to cope with the medical regime alone. She needs help, as does Rose, and they find it in the amazing story of Rose’s great grandfather (Colin) stranded in a lifeboat, in the South Atlantic back in 1943. All 3 main characters are struggling to survive, and their stories have many parallels. These 3 characters, and the others (though there are not many in the story), are wonderfully portrayed drawing the reader into their lives, thoughts and hopes, and the realisation that it is ok to ask for help.
The boat that Colin Armitage jumped from was the SS Lulworth Hill, and there is plenty on the internet about his part of this story, but do read the book before you look it up so as not to ruin the story. Much of the book is true (the author’s daughter was diagnosed with Diabetes, and Colin is the author’s grandfather), and some of it is fiction. “In the end all you can do is believe the parts that sound right to you” as Rose says in the book.
The descriptions of coming to terms with a Diabetes 1 are very moving, and the narration about the tests and injections stirring. Meanwhile the struggle for survival in the lifeboat is shocking, compelling and emotional. Yet through these two terrible struggles the author portrays positivity and warmth.
For the tourist this is a book that will take away any stresses of travel; it is so engrossing you will find any journey whizzes by as you avidly turn the pages. A fantastic holiday read, and equally good for snuggling down in the safety of your sofa whilst you escape to the turbulent Atlantic seas.
I loved this book! The mix of fact, fiction and memoir were perfect, and the stories of lives intertwined were gripping from the first page to the last. There were few characters, so easy to follow, and those characters were very skilfully portrayed. Despite the subject matter it was an uplifting book overall, though the hardship both on the lifeboat, and in getting accustomed to diabetes are clearly portrayed. Hope shines through.
With no sex or violence, though there are moments of anger, this book is suitable for all the family.
Emma for the TripFiction Team
We chat to Louise about the the book and writing:
TF: A really unusual and stirring storyline, governed by very strong emotions and responses to the given situations that require different kinds of resilience and bravery. How did you decide to meld the different stories?
LB: I have real life to thank for the merging of these two incredible survival stories. When my ten-year-old daughter Katy began refusing her life-saving insulin injections I told her the true story of Grandad Colin to help her be brave. We took to my bed, where it becomes the lifeboat on the Atlantic Sea, and our long-gone ancestor quite literally came to life for us. As I wrote I found more intricate and deep ways to meld the two storylines. Events and coincidences naturally occurred. As Colin lost weight, Rose gained it. Each began to dream of/see the other, until Rose was as much on the lifeboat as Colin was in the book nook. Whether a reader sees these visits as spiritual or actual, I don’t mind. But for me, Rose visited that boat, somehow crossing a bridge to the past, one built on memory, DNA and magic.
TF: In the story, Colin appears in dreams. What dialogue might you have with him if you could?
LB: I really did dream about Colin while writing How to be Brave. In one vivid dream he actually gave me the final words that he says in the book. It was incredible. His own voice. Wow, if I could actually talk to him, in the flesh? I’d be so emotional since he died before I was born. I’d ask what really kept him going during those dark times on the lifeboat. Most of all I’d give him a big hug for his bravery.
TF: It sounds as though there might have been quite some learning from researching and writing the book. What has been your personal legacy?
LB: I’m left with such a huge respect for those who choose a life on the sea, leaving behind safety and loved ones, especially in a war situation. The ocean is so vast and unpredictable. I have a great affection for the friendships often formed on these journeys. They can be life saving. They really can.
TF: What are your working on at the moment?
LB: I’m currently working on a book called The Mountain in my Shoe, which will be out in September 2016. I’m very excited. The story centres around a little boy in the care system who has disappeared, the volunteer who has befriended him for five years, and a missing book that could contain all the answers. As are often themes in my stories, it is about bravery, love, what family really is, and how we overcome difficulties by knowing who we truly are.
TF: Where do you ‘go’ to find inspiration for writing?
LB: I often go into the past to find inspiration for my writing. Into memories. Things I have buried, half-forgotten. I explore the dark. But physically? I like to walk, especially by the water. I find that when I exercise it somehow frees my mind, as though the act of using my physical energy lets my mental energy fly loose!
TF: What books are on your current TBR list and what has been a particularly impressive read for you this year 2015?
LB: This year I have loved Long Time No See by Hannah Lowe, The Beach Hut by Cassandra Parkin, The Other Side of the Mountain by Fiona Cane, and Tampa by Alissa Nutting. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all of the Orenda Books – such a diverse and rich range. I’m looking forward to my TBR pile, which includes Shtum by Jem Lester and The Poet’s Wife by Rebecca Stonewall.