Michael Grant: what if women had fought in the Second World War?

Published on: 10 November 2016 Author: Guest blogger

The author of the bestselling GONE series talks to us about his new YA series Front Lines, which imagines an alternate history where girls could enlist in the Second World War.

Michael Grant's second title in the series, Silver Stars, comes out in February 2017.

Michael Grant and his book Front Lines

What inspired you to write Front Lines?

My father-in-law told me I should read The Liberation Trilogy by Rick Atkinson. I didn't really want to read another World War Two book, but I gave it a shot. About halfway through the first book I thought, 'What a great, compact yet gigantic, amount of story.'

I wanted to write about it, but I needed a new way in. So I created a 1940s US Supreme Court decision that subjects women to the draft and allows females to enlist.

I didn't want [the book] to feel as sepia-toned and old-fashioned as a bunch of photographs out of grandma's attic, so I brought it up to date.

What's the most interesting thing you've learnt about World War Two that you hadn't known before writing this book?

One of the strangest things I've learned is that there were a huge number of deserters in World War Two. We have this image that it was this great patriotic undertaking, that everybody was completely behind it. But there were tens of thousands of deserters.

For example, the black market in Paris was run largely by American deserters. Of course, there were British deserters too. Everybody deserted - a lot of them short term, some of them deserted for profit.

Part of the reason that the advance from France into Germany was slow was because gas and petrol were being siphoned off at a tremendous rate by the black market, run by American deserters and criminals.

If you could actually rewrite a key moment in history, changing it forever, what would it be and how would you change it?

Somebody should have shown up in Sarajevo in 1914 and said, 'That guy, he's got a gun. Stop him from shooting the Archduke Franz Ferdinand.' Because an unholy amount of death came out of that.

Then BANG! World War One starts, which leads inevitably to World War Two. World War Two leads into the Cold War, which leads into the Vietnam and Korean wars. This can all still be felt throughout the world today.

As an author, you're not known to shy away from difficult subjects. Is there anything you wouldn't write about?

No, never. At least, nothing that's occurred to me. I'm sure I'll come up with something at some point. But I write with interest - I write what I find fun.

One of the questions I always ask myself before I start a book is, 'Is this going to be fun?' If it's not going to be fun, then I don't want to do it.

What type of books did you enjoy reading as a teenager?

I read right across the spectrum, which is why I think it's so important not to tell people what they shouldn't read. I'm a writer and I started out as a guy who read everything from what people would have dismissed as rubbish up through the classics. If they had said to me, 'Stop reading comic books' and 'Stop reading Hardy Boys' and 'Only read this', that would have been terrible.

Lord of the Rings

What book would you give your teenage self?

The Lord of the Rings, which is such a cliché answer. But that turned my head around in how I saw the world. It wasn't really about the monsters for me, it was J R R Tolkien's love of nature and his descriptive power.

Prior to that, I don't think I ever looked at a tree and thought anything other than 't-r-e-e'. He broke it down and gave it character depth. I actually read that entire series to my wife while we were driving across country. I read it out loud to her because we couldn't afford audio books back in those days. So I sat there in the passenger seat as she was driving and I read it all the way through.

If teens like your books, what would you recommend they read next?

Certainly my wife's [Katherine Applegate] book - The One and Only Ivan - because we have a joint bank account.

And Andrew Smith's Grasshopper Jungle. I read that and I was blown away. I told him, 'You've shocked and offended absolutely everybody; this is a great book!'

I'm also a big fan of The Death and Life of Zebulon Finch by Daniel Kraus, which is amazing.

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