June sees the publication of Brian’s latest novel, The Weight of a Thousand Feathers, which has another unforgettable male protagonist and once again has love at its heart. Just how far would you go for someone you love? In Bobby’s case that someone is his Mum and she is in incurable pain. Raw, angry and powerfully affecting, yet ultimately life-affirming, it also features the most beautiful sibling relationship; this is Conaghan at his best. Yet he admits the first draft was almost completely different, with Before and After sections and a dual narrative. Once again he says the process of collaborative discussion helped him make it the best book that it could be, describing how a good editor can curb his tendency (often with his humour) to go off the rails. He jokes about writing a book that is simply funny one day, but with two YA novels in the pipeline for 2019 and 2020, that won’t be any time soon. He still has much to say about young people, friendship, family and the realities of life. Also, although, like the true adolescent male he brings to life so well, he does not often say this aloud, he has a lot to say about love. Emotional literacy for young men is crucial in the climate of #MeToo, and we need Brian to carry on helping these young readers understand themselves.

The Boy Who Made It Rain, Sparkling Books, 978-1907230196, £9.99

turmoil of 2014, including the Scottish Independence Referendum, he deliberately left the setting ambiguous. He did not want to tell young people what to think about a particular issue, but to get them thinking about the world they inhabit. It was also ‘futile’ to try to do that without authentic themes and characters and of course some of his trademark humour because ‘when I read I like to laugh’. So the book hangs on the friendship and banter of Charlie Law and Pavel Duda, thrown together by the bombs, on their journey of self- discovery and survival.

It is the need to capture these authentic voices that dictates his method of working. He writes very quickly: ‘an explosion of words’ like ‘throwing paint at a canvas’ that produces a very unstructured first draft, but one where his characters have come to life. The next stage for him is the most exciting, but difficult. He describes ‘always fighting with myself’ and likens it to the creative collaborations in music and theatre and film. The to and fro of discussions with agent and editor challenging him to do better is essential to him. He is most certainly not ‘precious’ about his writing: ‘I have a really thick skin’! He is enormously self-critical and believes his craft improves with each novel. He tries not to re-read his novels, once published, because all he can see is the flaws. He would love to be able to write them again and perhaps some of that itch can be scratched by re-working in another medium. The film rights to When Mr Dog Bites have been sold to Film4 and he will, soon we hope, get to write the screenplay.

This collaborative approach (and his love of poetry) is certainly reflected in We Come Apart, the verse novel he co-authored with Sarah Crossan. Currently shortlisted for the 2018 UKLA Book Awards this novel grew out of their meeting at a Bloomsbury dinner celebrating their both being on the shortlist for the 2015 Carnegie medal. They hit it off immediately and being both driven writers, who were thematically similarly inclined to write about life and what matters to young people, this deeply poignant story about two troubled teenagers meeting on community service, told in the two voices of Nicu and Jess, came together remarkably quickly. More frustratingly for readers is the news that they have loads of ideas and would love to work together again, indeed they have almost a quarter of a new novel written, but their own stories are keeping them apart.

When Mr Dog Bites, Bloomsbury, 978-1408843017, £7.99 The Bombs That Brought Us Together, Bloomsbury, 978- 1408855768, £7.99 We Come Apart (with Sarah Crossan), Bloomsbury, 978- 1408878880, £7.99 The Weight of a Thousand Feathers, Bloomsbury, 978- 1408871539, £12.99

Formerly Learning Resources Manager at Coventry Schools Library Service, Joy Court is a consultant on reading and libraries, Chair of the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Medals, and reviews editor of the School Librarian.

Books for Keeps No.230 May 2018 7

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