Roehampton Readers: After the Fire by Will Hill

Front Cover: After the Fire by Will Hill

Review: After the Fire by Will Hill

By Lesley Smith

After the Fire is a young adult novel which addresses the experience of belonging to an extreme religious cult.

It is loosely based on a real event – the siege of the cult known as the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas in 1993. Their leader claimed he was the Messiah figure prophesied in the Bible but government forces felt the cult was a threat as it was known that they were stockpiling firearms, hence the siege which lasted 51 days. Eventually, FBI agents stormed the cult’s compound and after the ensuing battle, 76 people (including 25 children) were found to have died. The government’s handling of the Waco siege (which played out in the national and international media) was heavily criticized.

Will Hill uses this catastrophe as a springboard to explore how and why people might become involved in such a community, and what the psychological effects might be.  He calls his fictional cult the Lord’s Legion and focuses on the experience of one particular individual, Moonbeam, a survivor of the destruction of the Legion’s base. She is described as “strong, vulnerable, complicated, sarcastic and brilliant” and the indoctrination to which she has been subjected is powerfully conveyed:

“Before my mom was Banished, I believed in him, and in the Legion, with all my heart, and part of me misses – will always miss – the certainty that came with that, the power and pride that came with being part of something that was right and True.” (p218)

Hill says his work is “not intended as an attack on anyone’s religious beliefs.” It is “a story about power and corruption, and how charismatic figures can twist faith to serve their own ends.” The leader of the cult in the novel, Father John, certainly wields a lot of power, though his methods of control are often cruel rather than charismatic and it can be hard to see why his followers love him. There is some ambiguity in the presentation of his character – for instance, does he really believe in his own creed?

The structure of the story is highly effective and scaffolds a thrilling and emotive drama. The protagonist is being cared for in a rehabilitation centre and she is interviewed daily by a psychiatrist, Dr Hernandez, who wants to help her and Agent Carlyle from the FBI who has been tasked with finding out what really happened inside the compound. The past, consequently, is filled in for the reader through flashbacks prompted by their questions. At first Moonbeam cannot trust them but her gradual opening up serves to show her beginning to come to terms with what has happened and suspense is created because the reader knows all along that there are terrible things she has not yet revealed. It takes time for her to be able to talk about the events and her feelings, and there are some things that she cannot even bear to think about. Guilt, loyalty and the remains of indoctrination limit her revelations. We can see the barriers in her mind. Some readers may find this a little heavy-handed at times – perhaps there are too many hints at dark secrets:

“But then I think about my mom and Nate and the boxes and the locked door in the basement of the Big House. I think about my Sisters running towards the Governments with rifles in their hands and the five gunshots and what I found and what I did.” (8 things here!)

However, the atmosphere of life in the compound is skilfully portrayed and the whole novel provides a truly immersive and thought-provoking experience. Hill portrays ordinary people and how they might behave in extraordinary circumstances. On p424, Agent Carlyle says of the members of the Legion: “I don’t think they were stupid or vicious or weak. I think they were misled, and I think what happened to them could happen to anybody, given the right set of circumstances.”A key theme is how we can know what is real and who to trust, but ultimately After the Fire is a powerful and superbly well-written story of survival.

|Extended Deadline|CFP|4th NCRCL Conference

 In Crusoe’s Footsteps: Robinson Crusoe and the Robinsonade – A Tercentenary Appraisal

NCRCL Conference

Friday, 6th September 2019

Digby Stuart College, University of Roehampton 

Bookings for the conference are now open here:

https://estore.roehampton.ac.uk/conferences-and-events/conferences/robinson-crusoe/in-crusoes-footsteps-robinson-crusoe-and-the-robinsonade-a-tercentenary-appraisal

Writing in 1834, the Scottish novelist Sir Walter Scott observed the following of Daniel Defoe’s most influential novel, Robinson Crusoe: ‘There is hardly an elf so devoid of imagination as not to have supposed for himself a solitary island in which he could act Robinson Crusoe, were it but the corners of the nursery’ (Biographical Memoirs, 279). While Scott’s comment evidently speaks to the pervasiveness of The Life and Strange Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, published in 1719, it also more explicitly aligns the Robinson Crusoe story with childhood.

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|CFP|Tilburg University, the Netherlands

Call for papers: Beyond Boundaries. Authorship and Readership in Life Writing.

A two-day conference held at Tilburg University, the Netherlands, 24 and 25 October 2019.

In ‘The Limits of Life Writing’ David McCooey (2017) argues that in life-writing studies, the concept of limits or boundaries plays a central role. Since the rise of auto/biography studies in the 1970s and 1980s critical attention has been paid to generic limits and the limits concerning the auto/biographical subject. With respect to the former, discussions have evolved in particular around the boundaries between literary and factual writing, and between verbal, graphic, audio-visual and digital forms of life writing. In regard to the latter, academics since the 1990s have given attention to the expansion of auto/biographical subjects previously marginalized, which has deepened, among other things, the cross-cultural understanding of experience and identity. This expansion of auto/biographical subjects, but also the rise of social media as a medium for life writing have contested the limits of selfhood.

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|NEW MONOGRAPH| ‘Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics’ by Alison Waller

Alison_Waller

Alison Waller is a Senior Lecturer at the NCRCL, University of Roehampton. She specialises in the practice of remembering and rereading childhood fiction, asking how adults negotiate relationships with books from their past.

 

Alison Waller’s excellent new monograph, Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics, is now available!

Click this link to go to Bloomsbury’s purchase page.

9781474298285

Front cover of Rereading Childhood Books: A Poetics.

 

You can also hear about Alison’s ideas and her academic journey while writing Rereading Childhood Books on Episode Two of the Critical Attitudes podcast, hosted by Dr Nathan Waddell.

 

 

Roehampton Readers: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

Review: Wed Wabbit by Lissa Evans

By Julie Mills

Wed Wabbit is a fantasy story told with humour, exploring serious themes including grief, anger, dealing with emotions, change, fears, leadership. Positive play and imagination, co-operation and friendship are positive themes. “Know yourself” might be the motto for this is a moral tale.

wed wabit

Image via David Fickling Books

It is a super compulsive read, good for readers of the younger age group (9/10 or younger if read aloud, upwards). An adventure story with a great narrative, it uses mystery, puzzles and the journey quest as plot movers and includes a map of the land of the Wimblies. This is the land into which Fidge and her cousin Graham are hurled, following the near fatal accident to Fidge’s sister Minnie, whose favourite toy Wed Wabbit has recently taken over the idyllic, but stiflingly structured, land where the different coloured Wimblies live. This is a realisation and subversion of Minnie’s favourite story book The Wimbly Woos and a leap into the imaginative world of the pre-schooler.

Fidge soon realises that there is something rotten in the state of Wimbly Woo: “the prettiness seemed painted on. Nasty things were happening here” (p57). She is driven by the need to return Wed Wabbit the toy to her dangerously ill sister, but in the process leads a motley team of life sized toys to liberate the land of Wimblies not only from the tyranny of Wed Wabbit but from previous weak leadership and stereotyped expectations of its citizens.

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Countdown to NCRCL/IBBY UK 2018 – 4 Days to Go!

25th Annual NCRCL MA/IBBY UK Conference

Crafts and Hobbies in Children’s Books’

Saturday 10th November 2018, 9:30 a.m. – 5:15 p.m.

Tickets are available here.

There’s only four days left until the 25th Annual Conference.

Bookings close today! Bookings close today! Bookings close today!

Make sure you don’t miss out on exciting content from well-known illustrators and craft practitioners, academics, and key figures in the children’s literature world!


“The NCRCL/IBBY conference always has a very friendly atmosphere, where everyone is encouraged to engage in interesting discussions.” Anne Malewski, PhD Student.


For the last post pre-conference, here’s a reminder of the day’s programme. We will also receive a live demo of paper-cutting by Su Blackwell, and information on the Prison Reading Groups scheme from its director – Sarah Turvey!

9.30 Welcome Tea and Coffee

9.45 – 10.45 Plenary
Dr Jane Carroll (Ussher Assistant Professor in Children’s Literature, Trinity College Dublin) | A Stitch in Time: The Craft of Wasting Time in Children’s Books

10.45 – 11.15 Refreshments

11.15 – 12.30 Parallel sessions

A: Creative Practice and Theory and Crafts
Ann Malaspina| Knitting for Peace and Understanding
Anita Radini | Narrating Ancient Crafts to Children: Perspectives from an Archaelogist
Siddharth Pandey | The Hand, the Head, and the Hearing of Things: A Brief Look into Fantasy’s ‘Aesthetic of Making’

B: Historical Making   
Siwan Rosser | Crafting New Talent in Victorian Children’s Periodicals
Angela Sparks | Crafting Traditions in Native American Children’s Books
Ellie Reed | “A Friendly Penguin in Double Knitting” – Knitting for Children in Woman’s Weekly, 1958

C: Hobbies
Mark Carter | Drawing Drawings in Picturebooks
Lesley Smith | Jennings and the Dangers in Stamp Collecting
Pat Pinsent | Patchwork in Lucy Boston’s The Chimneys of Green Knowe (1958): Structure and Metonymy

12.30 – 1.30 Lunch

1.30 – 2.45 Parallel sessions

D: Archival and Museum Research
Claudia Pazzini | Art and Collection in Children’s Modern Picture Books. A Review on the Art of Collecting According to the Children’s Point of View
Marciej Wroblewski | All the Books of a Little World: Education Through Creative Imitation
Liz West | In and Out of Doors: A Compendium of Sage Advice

E: Historical Toys
Susan Bailes | Fashioning Dolls: Different Treatments and Attitudes Revealed in Children’s Texts
Karen Williams | “Valued Treasures”: Toy Theatres as Craft and Hobby in the Early Nineteenth Century
Melanie Keene | How I Made a Noah’s Ark: Juvenile Periodicals and Homemade Toys in Victorian Britain

F: Practical Crafting
Lisa Boggis-Boyce | Designed by Men, Made by Women: An Exploration of the Gender Dynamic in the Genesis and Production on Pop-Up Books and it’s Effect on the Canon
(delegates will be encouraged to try out paper cutting)

2.45- 3.15 Refreshment Break

3.15-3.35 IBBY briefing and NCRCL news

3.35-4.20 Plenary
Kim Reynolds (Professor of Children’s Literature, Newcastle University) | Political Projects: Hobbies and Youth Activism in Mid-Twentieth Century Britain

Nick Tucker (University of Sussex, retired) | Messing About in Boats; Mostly Maritime Hobbies Suggested by the Boys Own Paper 1930-1939

4.20-5.15 Plenary
Jemma Westing (Book Designer) | Make-ing it count: The Value of Making in Play and Publishing’


Dear readers,

I’d like to thank you for taking the time to read this short blog series. For those of you who can’t make it, I look forward to following up with a summary of the conference in the days which follow. Also, keep an eye on the @NCRCL Twitter account. I will be tweeting live updates on the day!

Best wishes,
Emily