Today we are delighted to welcome Ruth to Literature for Lads to officially launch 'The Messenger Bird' Blog tour! Ruth has kindly answered some of the questions we had after reading the book so read on to find out about Bletchley Park and one of it's most famous employees, Alan Turing, why Ruth loves writing historical fiction and whether or not she can keep a secret...
Make sure you also check out the fantastic competition that Ruth is running across each of the Blogs on the Blog tour. Details at the end of the interview.
We also have 5 copies of the book to give away (thank you to Scholastic for supplying the books!) so click here to enter our competition.
How would you describe your new novel, The Messenger Bird?
Thanks so much for inviting me on your Literature for Lads website, Duncan.
I’d say The Messenger Bird is an adventure mystery thriller, with bits based on true events from the Second World War! Our hero, Nathan, has to crack the secret clues to follow a mysterious trail laid during the War to try and stop his dad being convicted of something pretty majorly serious.
Both 'The Messenger Bird' and your first novel 'The Memory Cage' draw heavily on aspects of the Second World War. What is it about this period of history which interests you so much?
Bletchley Park is the scene for some of the most exciting scenes in The Messenger Bird. What was Bletchley Park used for during the Second World War and how important was it to the War effort?
Bletchley Park is near Milton Keynes, and during the Second World War it was the top-secret headquarters where enemy codes were broken, including Enigma code. Enigma machines (like a kind of typewriter, but with two keyboards) were used by the Nazis to send messages to each other in, yes - Enigma code! With millions and millions of different possible settings, the Nazis thought their scrambled communications were totally uncrackable. But they didn’t reckon on Bletchley Park, who were breaking the vast majority of the messages they’d intercepted.
The decoded messages gave vital information to the Allies. For example, the position of enemy submarines. Military commanders then used the info to make critical decisions about tactics – like the movement of soldiers, war ships or planes. Bletchley Park even decoded messages from Hitler himself!
The work done at Bletchley Park probably knocked two whole years off the war. That’s thousands and thousands of lives saved. It’s known that Hitler was developing an atom bomb, and if the War hadn’t ended when it did… well, that doesn’t bear thinking about.
One of the employees at Bletchley Park was a gentleman named Alan Turing who was responsible for devising a number of techniques for breaking German codes. Do you feel he is one of the UK’s unsung heroes?
Yes, I think Alan Turing’s achievements were unsung for a long time. He did amazing work at Bletchley Park. He was a genius mathematician and, when still in his twenties, already a chief code breaker. Building on work done by Polish academics, he was the driving force for the invention of a machine called a ‘Bombe’ that, alongside other methods, was able to quickly and automatically try out many different possible Enigma machine settings to find the correct one. Once that was done, all the messages for that day could be decoded. Alan Turing was also a key player in the invention of the computer.
But the rest of the Alan Turing story is a very sad one. In those days it was illegal to be gay, and you had the choice that you could either take experimental hormones, or go to prison. In 1954, at just 41 years old, after being prosecuted and persecuted, Alan Turing committed suicide.
Decades later, in 2009, after a massive petition to Downing Street, the Government finally publicly apologised for Alan Turing’s awful treatment, and to properly recognise him as one of our true wartime heroes.
Did you visit Bletchley Park as part of your research for the book?
Oh yes - it’s an amazing place! I went with a friend and his two teenage kids, and we were turned away the first time because of thick snow making everything slippery and dangerous (I used that idea in the book though, so it wasn’t a wasted trip!). There was something really awesome about being in the very same rooms where the Enigma codes were cracked and being able to soak up the atmosphere of the place.
In The Messenger Bird the main character Nathan is required to ‘crack a code’. Did you enjoy code breaking, treasure hunts, etc. as a youngster?
I loved codes and puzzles and treasure hunts, and so did my two brothers - I think that bit of Nathan is definitely based on the three of us! I’ve always loved stories where the main character has to solve puzzles to reach their goal, and where you can try and work out the clues before the characters themselves manage to!
I actually couldn’t resist putting a bit of a puzzle into this Blog Tour itself. Each of my ten posts has a secret letter to collect, and if you unscramble them to discover the secret message, you’ve a chance to win a personally signed Messenger Bird (book, that is - not the feathery kind, obviously). (more details at the end of the interview - Ed.)
Each of the employees at Bletchley Park was required to sign the Official Secrets Act. If required, can you keep a secret?!
I hope so! But then there are secrets and there are SECRETS! I think you kind of know which are the things you definitely shouldn’t talk about, right? It depends what the secret is and who you’re talking to. One thing that really amazed me when I was researching Bletchley Park was that during the War who you told didn’t depend on anything – you just didn’t tell, not anyone, not even your best mates!
There was an incredible level of secrecy that existed, even between families and best friends. It was hard for me to get my head round because nowadays we expect to know everything about everything straightaway, at the click of a mouse! I was lucky enough to be able to chat to someone who worked at Bletchley Park when they were 18, and I realised that you really wouldn’t tell anyone what you were working on. Everyone knew that lives really did depend on the work at BP staying totally secret. They would have had dads or brothers or uncles who were out fighting and knew what was at stake. It was no game.
And the secrecy paid off, because the Nazis didn’t have the faintest clue the place existed, and they still went on thinking their Enigma Code was uncrackable! The secrecy continued too, even after the War was over. One of the first things Winston Churchill did was to give the order for all the machines at Bletchley Park, all trace of the work there, to be totally and utterly destroyed.
Facebook or Twitter?
Reading or Writing books?
Depends on my mood!
Print book or e-book?
Print book (but a Kindle is on my birthday present list!)
Australia or New Zealand?
I lived in both places and still have friends there, so it’s far too dangerous to comment!
And for those of you collecting letters for Ruth’s mystery message competition…(full details on Ruth's website)
MYSTERY LETTER NUMBER 1 = E
Many thanks to Ruth for taking the time to answer our extensive list of questions. It's really great to have some background on this great book. Make sure you visit the Overflowing Library for the 2nd leg of The Messenger Bird Blog tour.