All the stories died that morning … until we found the one we’d always known.
When nine-year-old Rose is diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, Natalie must use her imagination to keep her daughter alive. They begin dreaming about and seeing a man in a brown suit who feels hauntingly familiar, a man who has something for them. Through the magic of storytelling, Natalie and Rose are transported to the Atlantic Ocean in 1943, to a lifeboat, where an ancestor survived for fifty days before being rescued.
Poignant, beautifully written and tenderly told, How To Be Brave weaves together the contemporary story of a mother battling to save her child’s life with an extraordinary true account of bravery and a fight for survival in the Second World War. A simply unforgettable debut that celebrates the power of words, the redemptive energy of a mother’s love … and what it really means to be brave.
When you sign up for a blog tour before you read a book, it can be a bit of a lottery. I’m sure most reviewers have dug out their thesaurus to find different ways of saying “it was OK” when there’s very little positive to be said. But this blog tour… this blog tour is an absolute thrill and pleasure to be part of. There was never a risk really, was there – not when the book is published by Orenda Books. How To Be Brave by Louise Beech was published in paperback on 17th September – the Kindle edition has been available since 30th July. It held me totally spellbound from first page to last, and will stay with me for a very long time.
The structure of the story is quite special – two very different journeys, challenging in very different ways. The modern thread features mother Natalie – her husband facing challenges of his own as a front-line soldier – wrestling her way through her relationship with daughter Rose who is facing a life-threatening illness. Rose fights her mother every step of the way until they uncover the diary of her great-grandfather Colin – who also appears as a reassuring presence – written as he tries to survive life at sea after the sinking of his ship in the Atlantic. There are some wonderful moments of synchronicity and overlap between the two stories, and we share Natalie and Rose’s enchantment and horror as Colin’s story unfolds.
The writing is simply beautiful – quite effortless prose, full of emotion, totally engrossing whichever strand of the story you may be immersed in. The relationships are perfectly drawn – whether it’s Natalie’s relationship with her daughter, her husband at a distance or her next door neighbour, or Colin’s with his colleagues on the lifeboat, desperately trying to survive. It’s a wonderful story about what bravery really is, the power of words and stories, full of immense sadness, but full of hope and suffused with love.
I was absolutely enthralled by this book from beginning to end, with scenes that will stay in my memory for a very long time – whether it’s Rose injecting her bruised flesh, Natalie and her mallet, the lead shark following Colin’s lifeboat, or the simple reading of the daily prayer. Quite wonderful.
My thanks to Karen Sullivan of Orenda Books and Liz Barnsley of Liz Loves Books for inviting me to join this blog tour – do check out some of the other blogs taking part – and for my advance reading copy.
Louise Beech remembers sitting in her father’s cross-legged lap while he tried to show her his guitar’s chords. He’s a musician. Her small fingers stumbled and gave up. She was three. His music sheets fascinated her – such strange language that translated into music. Her mother teaches languages, French and English, so her fluency with words fired Louise’s interest. She knew from being small that she wanted to write, to create, to make magic.
She loves all forms of writing. Her short stories have won the Glass Woman Prize, the Eric Hoffer Award for Prose, and the Aesthetica Creative Works competition, as well as shortlisting twice for the Bridport Prize and being published in a variety of UK magazines. Her first play, Afloat, was performed at Hull Truck Theatre in 2012. She also wrote a ten-year newspaper column for the Hull Daily Mail about being a parent, garnering love/hate criticism.
She is inspired by life, history, survival and love, and always has a story in her head. Her debut novel, How to be Brave, came from truth – when Louise’s daughter got Type 1 Diabetes she helped her cope by sharing her grandad’s real life sea survival story.
When she was fifteen Louise bet her mother ten pounds she’d be published by the time she was thirty. She missed this self-set deadline by two months. Her mother is still waiting for the money.