‘I gave it everything, full-lunged, feeling the pain pouring into my legs, because I was desperate to tell Captain Whitaker the news.’
This weekend sees the centenary celebrations of Armistice Day. To commemorate this anniversary, BooksfromScotland are taking a look at children’s fiction that explores the First World War. Barrington Stoke have recently published Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer, a thought-provoking tale that sees Lily reconnect with her gran, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, through the diaries of her great-great-grandfather. Tom Palmer tells us how he came to write his book.
By Tom Palmer
Published by Barrington Stoke
It’s hard to get children’s sports fiction published that is not about male football. So I was thrilled when Barrington Stoke accepted my first rugby book, Scrum. And thrilled, too, that it did well for me. As a result of having it published, I started getting invited into schools that love rugby. Barrington Stoke asked me for more. I wrote the Rugby Academy series.
So what next? Cricket? Swimming? Cycling? Athletics?
I’ve always enjoyed writing most about what I am obsessed with. Hence the football and rugby books. But the reason I don’t end up watching live football and rugby like I used to is to do with another sport altogether.
I like fell running. So does my daughter.
Up and down hills in settings like Yorkshire and Cumbria, fell running evolved from the tradition in village fetes to have a race up and down the nearest hill and to bet on who would win. As a result fell running is steeped in the history of places like Grasmere and Burnsall and throws up some great characters.
I’d been reading about fell running in three recent books – the most famous being Feet in the Clouds by Richard Askwith – and became fascinated with one such character, Ernest Dalzell. A game keeper, Dalzell would cycle from Kendal across the north of England to compete fell races. There was prize money. He usually won it. He came first in most of the classic fell races year after year and often ran at such pace that some locals thought he was cheating. But he wasn’t. His glory years led up to the year 1914.
Then history intervened. He went to war.
I became obsessed with Dalzell. I made a notebook with a picture of him on the cover. I wanted to find a way of writing a story about him. But I didn’t know how. It wasn’t until my daughter took up the sport three years ago that I found a way.
Armistice Runner is about a fell runner called Lily. She is 14 and about to take part in the biggest race of her life. Talking to her grandmother who is struggling with dementia, Lily finds out that her great-great-grandad was a champion fell runner called Ernest Darby. And that he served as a trench runner – running messages from officer to officer during the lead up to the armistice. Ernest Dalzell wasn’t a trench runner, but I imagine he would have been a good one if he had done it. He was killed in 1917.
In Armistice Runner the fictional Ernest Darby survives the war, but never runs the fells again, even though he returned without physical injury. No one in the family knows why. Until Lily finds his running logbooks. What she learns helps her both in her own race and helps her to cope with her grandmother’s failing memory.
Bless them, Barrington Stoke picked it up and agreed to publish it in time for this autumn’s centenary of the 1918 centenary.
Armistice Runner by Tom Palmer is published by Barrington Stoke, priced £6.99