Book of the Month: White Feather
White Feather is the first ever joint writing project by renowned mother and son authors Catherine and David MacPhail. Catherine is known for writing gritty teen fiction that explores contemporary issues, including Run Zan Run, Grass and Another Me. David writes funny books for under 12’s, including Thorfinn the Nicest Viking series, Yeti on the Loose and Top Secret Grandad and Me.
Based in the aftermath of the First World War, White Feather explores life after the war, through the eyes of Tony. Although the war is over, Tony and his Mother have no reason to celebrate. His brother Charlie could have survived but was executed as a coward, convicted of deserting his post. To make matters worse, their friends and neighbours shun them as a result, spitting at them in the street or ignoring them. While his Mother cannot believe Charlie has died, Tony is convinced his brother was wrongly accused. When Tony receives a coded letter from his brother written just before his death, he sets off on a quest to clear his brother’s name. Following the clues in Charlie’s letter, Tony hunts down the Lieutenant in Charlie's regiment and uncovers a horrifying truth…
White Feather combines thriller and historical fiction for readers with a range of abilities and interests. The subject matter will appeal to teen struggling or reluctant readers and is dyslexia-friendly. Edited for a reading age of 8, younger readers interested in the history of the war will also find this a thought-provoking and absorbing read.
Hear from David in our Q&A below, and enter our competition to win one of five copies of White Feather.
- Why did you decide to write this particular story together?
Mum and I have been writing separately for years, but we always talked about writing something together some day. We finally decided to do it one morning in early 2016, sitting around Mum’s breakfast table. But what to write about? We started talking about anniversaries that were coming up, and the first one that leapt out at us was the anniversary of the end of World War One in November 2018.
We thought that it would be fascinating to set a story at the very end of the war, after the guns had fallen silent. What would it have been like for people, having come through all that pain and suffering? The soldiers, their families, everybody would have been affected. Every family, rich and poor. The men who returned from the war might have been damaged, but what of those who didn’t? We were particularly interested in the men who’d been shot for cowardice. The British army shot hundreds of its own men during the Great War. Many of those had actually volunteered. Some had excellent service records and had fought bravely. A few were just boys. On the face of it, they didn’t seem like cowards to us. What happened in the fog of war that turned these ‘heroes’ into cowards? Is Charlie a coward, having been convicted by a military tribunal of deserting his post and shot at dawn? And what about Lt Fortune, is he a ‘coward’, or is he just as much a victim as anyone else?
- What research did you do for the book? Were the characters based on real people?
While it’s a work of fiction, yes a lot of research went into White Feather. Of particular interest was a book called Shot at Dawn by Julian Putkowski and Julian Sykes. From a storytelling point of view I personally find old photographs are good for sparking my imagination, photos of faces in the trenches, and faces back home in the midst of crowds. Charlie is partially based on Herbert Burden, a 16-year-old boy who lied about his age to join up, and was shot at dawn after he deserted at Ypres. The real Tony and Charlie were my two great uncles, my grandmother’s brothers, who joined up to fight in World War Two. One came home, the other didn’t, except in our case it was Tony who was killed. I once went to visit the real Tony’s grave in northern Italy. He fought through the whole of World War Two, through North Africa and Italy, only to die when his truck overturned after the fighting ended.
- What tips would you give to aspiring writers looking to write books suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic young readers?
What I love more than anything is watching a struggling, reluctant reader get hooked on a story. How then to hook them – that’s the key. Keep it relatable. Make your story about something that means something to the reader. For example, family. At its heart, White Feather is about a boy trying to rescue what’s left of his family from the effects of war.
We have 5 copies of White Feather to be won - just answer the question below. The competition closes on Friday 30 November 5pm. All entrants must reside in the UK.