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The Messenger Bird Blog Tour

Ruth Eastham was born near Preston, Lancashire but has lived and worked in New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Italy, teaching creative writing to children and adults of all ages. Her debut novel, 'The Memory Cage' was nominated for the Carnegie Medal in 2012. Her second book 'The Messenger Bird' (Literature for Lads review here) is a tale of modern day treachery set in Bletchley Park.

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?

At secondary school, when I was 14, I can remember having the option of taking either history or geography as a subject - you couldn’t do both! I went for geography, and I actually really liked it but I always regretted having to drop history. I love looking back on past events and using them in stories. The past shaped the way we are today. And everything we do now becomes history. How important is that?!

Loads of books have been written, and films made, about World War Two. The conflict was so widespread and devastating and affected so many millions of lives, I think it will always be a rich source of storytelling.

My books focus on one War year in particular – 1940. This was the year of the Dunkirk evacuation from The Memory Cage, and the year of the Coventry Blitz that underpins The Messenger Bird plot. It was also the year that the Turing ‘Bombe’ at Bletchley Park started cracking enemy Enigma codes (see below!). In 1940 the Second World War was at its height. There was still so much at stake, and the outcome was anybody’s guess.

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’m friends with MG Harris, author of the fabulous Joshua Files series, and I’m doing a blog on her website a bit later in this tour. She’s set me a code to crack that Anthony Horowitz sent her. But I’m really worried I won’t be able to solve it and I’ll show myself up big time!

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.

What are you currently reading?

I’m just finishing ‘When I was Joe’ by Kerin David, and I’m also part-way through ‘iBoy’ by Kevin Brooks, ‘Being Billy’ by Phil Earle, and a re-read of ‘Revolver’ by Marcus Sedgewick. I like having several books on the go at once!

Other than your own books, do you have any recommendations of books that would appeal to teenage boys?

See above!  There are loads of cool books out there. I loved the Patrick Ness trilogy starting with ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go’, and the brilliant ‘Amulet of Samarkand’ magical fantasy by Jonathan Stroud… Philip Reeve’s ‘Mortal Engines’ is one of my favourite futuristic dystopia reads…

Quick Questions?

Facebook or Twitter?
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.

The Messenger Bird Giveaway

The publishers of 'The Messenger Bird', Scholastic have kindly given us 5 copies of the book to giveaway. Details of how you can win a copy of the book are below.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Messenger Bird - Ruth Eastham

The Messenger Bird, Ruth Eastham; Scholastic; May 2012

Book Summary (taken from Amazon UK:) Nathan's father has been arrested. He works for the Ministry of Defence and is accused of leaking top secret information. But as he is dragged into a police car, he gives Nathan a message. It leads to a riddle, but it's not from Dad. It's from an ex-Bletchley Park employee, Lily Kenley, and was written in 1940. Nathan begins to follow the clues left behind by Lily. But how can this war-time story link to his father's fate? Hope for Dad's appeal is fading fast. He must solve the puzzle. Time is running out.

In addition to our review of The Messenger Bird we have an interview with the author Ruth Eastham on the blog on Friday. We  also have 5 copies of the book to give away (thank you to Scholastic for supplying the books!)click here to enter our competition.

Literature for Lads Review:
The Second World War has provided the backdrop to an enormous number of novels so I was a little apprehensive that this book might suffer from a lack of originality and new ideas. Thankfully Ruth Eastham has ensured this is not the case. Taking the story of one of World War Two's biggest secrets, Bletchley Park and the code breakers who worked there, she has written a compelling mystery story for teenagers, whilst at the same time enlightening all who read the book on what actually happened in those mysterious huts at Bletchley Park.

By the end of the first chapter Eastham has sown the seeds for this mysterious story to begin. As the Father of 11 year old Nathan is arrested and pushed into a waiting car with tinted windows, Nathan ponders the message his Dad has just given him.  Quickly realising that his Dad has tried to pass information to him in code, Nathan begins to unravel the 1st stage of a mysterious trail.  What follows sees Nathan and his fellow school friends, Josh and Sasha, in a race against time to solve the trail and gain freedom for his Dad.

The book cleverly combines the present day with that of 1940's Britain as Nathan's trail leads him to first to an attic full of Second World War memorabilia before this in itself leads to Bletchley Park. Eastham keeps each of the chapters moving along at a good pace, giving us just enough information to try and solve the puzzles that Nathan and his friends face themselves. 

At times the book is hugely atmospheric and you can almost feel the coldness of the snow as our intrepid explorers make their way under cover of darkness to Bletchley Park one evening. As the three school friends get closer to saving Nathan's Dad they at the same time begin to unravel an unexplained mystery regarding one of the former Bletchley Park employees. This adds some depth to the book and allows Eastham to delve more deeply into both the history of the Second World War, and in particular the German bombing of Coventry.

It's clear that the author has researched the material for the book meticulously and the background given to such things as the Enigma Code breaking machines are an interesting deviation from the quest to solve the mystery trail. Youngsters (and others!) will be fascinated with what they lean about Bletchley Park and what went on there during the war.

The Messenger Bird is a thoroughly enjoyable read, full of mystery, intrigue, puzzles and riddles. As the story progress you will find yourself willing the three school friends to solve the next clue and take one step closer to not only saving Nathan's Dad but also unravelling the mysterious story from seventy years earlier. Well done to Ruth Eastham for taking a piece of History which has given us so many stories already and creating a new, original and exciting one.

Marks out of 10: 7

For more information on Ruth Eastham do visit her brilliant website here

Watch this video to find out a little more about the Enigma Code which features in The Messenger Bird


Please let us know what you thought about the book if you have read it by adding a comment to the blog post. And if you haven't read the book let us know if this review has convinced you!

And the Land Lay Still - James Robertson

And the Land Lay Still; James Robertson; Penguin; June 2011

Book Summary (taken from Amazon UK:)And the Land Lay Still is nothing less than the story of a nation. James Robertson's breathtaking novel is a portrait of modern Scotland as seen through the eyes of natives and immigrants, journalists and politicians, drop-outs and spooks, all trying to make their way through a country in the throes of great and rapid change. It is a moving, sweeping story of family, friendship, struggle and hope - epic in every sense.

Please note this book is intended for a 16+ reader.

Literature for Lads Review:
Standing at 670 pages it would be easy to be scared of reading this book.  To read something this large requires a certain devotion, not to mention a large amount of time.  But for those who undertake to read this novel from James Robertson they will be richly rewarded. Every page is to be treasured as Robertson magnificently weaves together 60 years of Scottish political, social and cultural history.

The main thrust of the story centres around Michael Pendreich a photographer who is forever living in the shadow of his father, also a photographer.  With his father dead Michael prepares an exhibition of his Father's work allowing him to reflect on both the relationship between him and his Father, and also the scale of his Father's work. The photographs that form the exhibition provide a link to the rich tapestry of characters that inhabit this book.

Characters from all walks and classes of Scottish life feature in the novel with Robertson cleverly intertwining their stories as the book progresses. As we revel in the detail that Robertson gives us on each individual, the iconic moments of Scotland's post war history are played out before us.  Sometimes we are given a birds eye few of these moments whilst at other times, they merely play out in the background of family life.

The list of characters in the book is sizeable. The enigmatic Jean Armour provides a link between Michael and his Father that the two of them were never able to establish.  Don Lennie is the industrious working class Scot and World War Two survivor. David Eddlestane is a young Tory politician with an unusual sexual fetish, whilst linking each of the parts of the book is the mysterious wanderer handing out small white pebbles to those he meets. There are many others, each woven by Robertson into the book and Scotland's history expertly.

The plot at times can be a little difficult to follow as it sidesteps, moves backwards and jumps around rather than sticking to a steady course through Scotland's post-war history. This doesn't distract the reader too much though and despite the aforementioned length, the pages fly by such is the quality of the writing.

This is an important book which in time will be marked as one of the most important in Scottish Literature.  Not only does it record the post war history of Scotland but it discusses the very nature of Scottishness. The political arguments for and against independence are played out across it's pages but not in the style of a party political broadcast but in a much more subtle fashion. This book is an exploration of Scottish identity and what it means to be Scottish.

Robertson has created an engrossing, hugely ambitious, but delightfully satisfying novel which is a pleasure to read from beginning to end. As Scotland moves towards a vote to decide on Independence it should be required reading for anyone who wants to know what it means to be Scottish.

Marks out of 10: 8

Here is a trailer for the book which features James Robertson reading from the book alongside some wonderful pictures from Scotland.


For more information on James Robertson visit http://literature.britishcouncil.org/james-robertson

World War Two and Walliams

The Messenger Bird Blog Tour

We have some exciting news to announce on Literature for Lads today...in fact we have two pieces of exciting news to announce!

Firstly we are absolutely delighted to tell you that we will be part of a book blog tour for the first time!  Not only will we be part of the tour but we will in fact be launching the tour.(we are very, very excited!) 

The book blog tour is for the new novel by Ruth Eastham, 'The Messenger Bird'.  Ruth will be on our blog on Friday 11th May and will be answering our questions on her novel.  In addition we will have a giveaway to win one of five copies of 'The Messenger Bird'.  And on top of all this Ruth will also be announcing details of her very own competition which will run across all the blogs on the tour!
 

David Walliams Online Author Event

Our second exciting announcement is from our good friends at the Scottish Book Trust who have released details of their next online author event.  Having already brought Charlie Higson, Liz Lochead and Jacqueline Wilson into your classroom on Thursday 10th May the Scottish Book Trust will be streaming David Walliams live to audiences across the UK.

The Multi-talented funny man will be talking about his hilarious new book 'Gangsta Granny' which is guaranteed to cause an epidemic of smiles to breakout across the UK. The event will be streamed live to audiences across the UK at 11am on Thursday, 10th May. It will then become available to watch again for free by Thursday, 17th May for everyone worldwide!

If you would like to join the tens of thousands of pupils across the UK who will be watching the event live you can watch the event by going directly to the BBC website at 11am on Thursday, 10th May Click here

(If you are a teacher or librarian you can register your entire class by following this link 

Don't worry if you can’t make the live broadcast the entire event can be downloaded or streamed for free from Thursday, 17th May here

This promises to be a fantastic event so make sure you put the date in your diary!