The Boy Who Flew
27th Mar 19

The Boy Who Flew

THE BOY WHO FLEW is a fast-paced adventure story set in the 18th century, about a boy who accidentally discovers a way to fly. There are others, however, who will stop at nothing to get the plans for his flying machine themselves...

We asked author FLEUR HITCHCOCK to tell us more about her latest novel and why she decided to step back in time for this story...

Q: Why did you decide to set this book in the past, and why the 18th century?

A: I actually wrote the first drafts of this book ten years ago, long before any of my contemporary thrillers.

I was drawn to the 18th century because of the building I worked in which was built in the 1730s and which I knew had been lived in by a family of tailors and a clock maker at the end of that period. Sometimes, if I closed my eyes I could imagine they were still there.

Q: How much research did you need to do into the period and where did you go to do so?

A: I live outside Bath, which is almost an eighteenth century museum, and at the time I wrote the book had access to the university archives, which included old newspapers and reports full of rich descriptions, and hilarious incidents. I re-read Tristram Shandy and Tom Jones, both of which are packed with useful information.

There's a terrific book by Dan Cruikshank, called Life in the Georgian city, which had all the horrors of sewerage and poo collection in detail. And I stood on the roof of my old building and looked across to the Herschel House museum, which is just along the road from where Athan lives.

Lastly, I visited the costume museum and took masses of photos of silks and ribbons and embroidery which really helped.

Q: If you could go anywhere in the past, where and when would you go?

A: I'd like to be a fly on the wall around Elizabeth 1st. She was obviously an extraordinary woman - and I'd like to see just how she survived all the politics of the time. She must have been incredibly tough. Not sure I'd want to stay though.

Also, I'd dip into the fire of London, just to see what was happening for a moment - meet Samuel Pepys. But I really prefer living in the modern era - Sewerage and dental medicine have improved so much in the last century!

Q: What are the advantages of writing a novel set in the past?

A: The lack of technology is a great relief. And actually the general lack of knowledge. Superstition was rife and it made inventing characters like Grandma so much more fun. Also, in the 18th century there was no law to speak of. If a person wanted to prosecute another for a crime, they had to bring a case in the courts. That's why there was no justice for the poor. It means no policemen, and no rules. A gift to a novelist.

Q: What gave you the idea to focus on flying?

A: The Boy Who Flew is set only a little before the Montgolfier brothers got off the ground in 1783 - but they used a hot air balloon, and Athan achieves powered flight. It was another hundred years before the Wright Brothers managed that. But I sort of feel that it was possible. It's all very "What if"?

Q: There are some wonderful characters in the story, like Athan's grandma. Do you have a favourite supporting character?

A: The supporting cast were huge fun to write, but I think Grandma was the most enjoyable - mainly because she's so nasty, and so ignorant. I indulged myself with her horrible stories - she was an extreme version of a childhood dinner lady who used to tell us that if we crossed our eyes the wind would change and we'd be stuck forever. And a little bit my own rather terrifying Grandmother, who was, after all, a Victorian.

Q: There is a disabled child in the story, Beatty, who is treated badly. Why did you want to cover this in The Boy Who Flew?

A: At first it wasn't intentional. My dad was disabled and it seemed natural to put in a disabled character. But I was very aware that life was cheap in the 18th Century, and I had read a lot about the Foundling hospital in London. It was very common to abandon babies at that time - and children with lower chances of survival, were more likely to be abandoned.

There was also a belief that disability came from some kind of moral weakness - or worse, it came from a curse. It was something to be ashamed of, and cast out.

This is what Athan's awful Grandma believes - but the to the rest of Athan's family, Beatty is intensely important, she's actually the most precious thing. Putting the two together within the same family, the ignorant hater and the deeply loved, gave the family it's particular dynamic.

Q: There are some dark moments in the story - how far can you go with the bad stuff in children's books?

A: I have discovered that you can't have a body in a freezer - and that you can't kill an animal (actually I do in the Boy Who Flew) - but shockingly, you can kill a child! I don't think children actually mind, unless things are too terrifying - and I do try and avoid that, it's the adults around them who worry more.

Q: What other children's books have you read recently that you would recommend to our members?

A: I recently read "The Closest Thing to Flying" by Gill Lewis. Brilliantly smooth writing that deals with a tricky subject in a really accessible way.

Walls by Emma Fischel is about a boy whose parents are divorcing and they put a physical wall through the house. It's funny and adventurous, but it's also warm and thought provoking.

Lenny's Book of Everything is an American book by an Australian author - Karen Foxlee, which is about a girl who has a younger brother with a disease. He can't stop growing. The whole story is told from her point of view and we discover her confusion, her frustration, her anger. It's a little like Wonder, but personally I enjoyed it a great deal more.

Q: What is your favourite way to spend a day when you're not working?

A: Walking. Or gardening. Or both!

Q: Can you describe what would be your ideal 'writer's shed'?

A: I would like a space with no internet - smelling of cedar that looked out on trees, or perhaps a harbour - so that I could see people coming and going. Perfectly warm, with a constant supply of hot drinks.

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