A stirring action-adventure story about two very different boys whose lives unexpectedly cross, forcing them to create an uneasy friendship.
When they stumble upon a badger baiting plot by some dangerous criminals, their tenuous relationship is tested to breaking point. Can they overcome their differences and fears to help each other and save the badgers?
A heart-breaking yet uplifting story about becoming the person you can be, not the person you are expected to be.
This summer R Coverdale’s new book The Boy Who Couldn’t will be released. This is her second book and is suitable for 9-15 year olds. I caught up with her over email to find out more about this story of adventure, growing up and badgers.
Your book, The Boy Who Couldn’t, is almost ready for publication. You have described the book as a heartbreaking but uplifting action-adventure story of two very different boys whose lives unexpectedly cross. Where did the inspiration for the book come from?
The inspiration for the book came from a fight my son was sadly involved in. A boy who was known to be a bit of a bully attacked my son. Luckily my son, despite being small, is surprisingly strong for his age and also a black belt in karate. My son only hit the boy three times, but winded him so badly that the boy couldn’t breathe and when he did get a breath he burst into tears and ran away. I was outraged that the boy had attacked my son and, I’m ashamed to say, I was glad he got hurt.
A couple of days later, I was told the boy’s background. His dad was in and out of prison and physically abusive to his mother. The day my son was attacked was the day the boy’s dad had moved back home from prison. I wondered what he had witnessed and suffered that day to cause him to run to the park and hit the first person he saw. I felt terribly guilty that I had just looked at the surface. Working in a school I know just how tough some children’s lives can be. I hope that writing this story will help us all to remember to look past the symptoms and find the cause.
Running in parallel with this is the growing danger our wildlife is put in. One animal in particular is the badger. Badgers are under attack by a government that would rather cull than fund vaccinations, and frighteningly, badger-baiting (a cruel sport where dogs are pitted against badgers to their death), is on the rise. People often lack sympathy for badgers because they think they are dangerous, aggressive animals. They are wrong – badgers are peaceful pacifists, but they will defend their territory and their clan when threatened. I saw a startling similarity between the way badgers are viewed and the ways “naughty” boys are viewed. Both need understanding and both need help.
Can you tell me a little bit more about the story?
What? In less than 32,000 words? I’ll try!
James is eleven years old and from a nice family. His mum works and his dad stays at home. Greg is thirteen years old and from a dysfunctional family which deteriorates throughout the story. As a result of his upbringing, Greg has uncontrollable anger which often lands him in trouble. To avoid spending time at home, Greg often camps out in the woods near James’ house. However one night he sees a badger emerge from its sett and thinks its going to attack him. He screams and runs towards James’ house where James and his best friend Alex are watching the badger clan from their tree den. James’ dad comes out and helps Greg who has hurt his ankle. Realising who Greg is and having some sympathy for the boy’s circumstances, he invites Greg to spy on the badgers with his son. James and Alex don’t really want him there, but enjoy showing off all their knowledge to him and eventually get used to him. Greg would never choose them as friends, but he enjoys visiting because the family are warm and friendly and so different from his own.
One night the three boys witness badger baiters at the sett which leads to a series of events where each of them has to be incredibly brave; Greg more than anyone who has to make the ultimate sacrifice to save his new friends.
The book is based in the North East where you’re from. Was it important for you to use a specific location that you knew well?
I love where I’m from, I’m very proud to be from the North East. Although I set the book in the North East, the actual place they live, Inglehow, is fictional, but the way they speak and the colloquialisms they use is very much what I hear on a daily basis. It just seemed natural to base it here.
The Boy Who Couldn’t deals with issues around animal cruelty. Your other book Who Hides Here?: Footprints In The Garden is also about animals. Are animals important to you? Do you think we should teach children more about animals and animal welfare issues?
Yes, animals are hugely important to me. I think the way a person treats something weaker or smaller than them tells us a lot about their personality. Our wildlife is under attack from pollution, population expansion, ignorance and wanton violence. It is imperative we teach our children to be kind and caring from an early age so they can grow up to be kind and caring adults and teach their children to be the same. It’s not too late for us to fix this planet if we all just care enough and do our little bit. Sorry to sound like a tree-hugging aging hippy but … well I suppose I am!
This book is aimed at the middle grade market (9-15 year olds) while your other book was aimed at younger children. How does the age of your audience affect your writing style?
It is a completely different writing style. The toddler book is written with rhyme and rhythm with lots of repetition which is what toddlers love. The Boy Who Couldn’t is written from the viewpoint of the characters, so the voice is older and contains some colloquialisms. I’ve had great fun with this, sliding into the different characters and I definitely want to write more for this age group.
The novel concentrates on the friendship between two boys. Does the story feature any strong female characters?
No it doesn’t. Although James’ mum is the breadwinner and his dad stays at home, she doesn’t have a large part in the story. I surprised myself when I wrote it as I very naturally started writing from a male viewpoint. I grew up in a tiny village and all my playmates were boys except for my best friend, who was even more of a tomboy than me. I don’t think I could ever write from a stereotypical girl viewpoint, but I definitely want to write a book where the protagonist is a tomboy like I was!
You regularly visit schools and give educational talks around literacy. How important do you think books are in education?
Books do so many things at once. Just reading a book increases a child’s reading skills which they need for all subjects whether they’re reading the teacher’s PowerPoint, studying a text book, or whatever. Reading books also stimulates the imagination, because unlike a film, the child has to picture the scene from the description. This also gives their brain more of a workout making them more intelligent. One of the most important things about reading however, is that it increases empathy. We can experience anything in a book and it increases our understanding of how and why others act the way they do and how to help them. People often say we shouldn’t judge someone until we’ve walked a mile in their shoes. Books offer us the opportunity to do just that.
Your work is illustrated. Do you work closely with an illustrator or just send them your manuscript and see what they come up with?
I’ve worked with several illustrators, and we’re always constantly in touch. The usual way is that I’ll send the manuscript, they’ll sketch their ideas, I’ll approve or make some suggestions, and then they’ll create the illustration. It’s a very enjoyable partnership and I’m always in awe of their incredible skill.
After the novel is out, what lies in the future for you? Do you have any more works in progress?
I’ve just started a YA story about a librarian who is an ex-assassin and it’s great fun! I’m a librarian, but I’m not an ex-assassin. Though if I was, I couldn’t tell you , so maybe I am…
What piece of advice would you give someone wanting to write a novel?
The best place to start if you want to write for children is definitely reading. Read as many books as you can in your favourite genre and age group, then make a quick outline plan and start writing. You’ll never look back, it is wonderfully therapeutic!
Please let me know if you and your children read the book and what you think of it.
For my latest news and events, please sign up to my newsletter.