In the November 2020 issue of Writers’ Forum, I interviewed the award winning author of the The Umbrella Mouse duology, Anna Fargher. She explained to me why she weaves true events into her children’s stories.
Anna was inspired when she read a series of statistics revealing how little young people and adults remembered about both world wars. Most alarmingly, she revealed some British adults didn’t know who Hitler was. She was also horrified by another poll showing that one in 20 Britons didn’t believe the Holocaust happened.
“If we forget these hideous moments in history and do not heed the lessons of the past, they could occur again.”Anna Fargher
For Anna, real life stories have always been addictive (she was obsessed with Born Free and My Family and Other Animals as a child) and strongly believes there are a plethora of events and people from wartime that deserved to be remembered. She realised it was historical fiction, more than history textbooks that had most impacted her understanding of war, particularly Goodnight Mr Tom, Carrie’s War and War Horse and wanted to include some in a new story in the hope it might pique children’s interest and encourage them to learn more – then they could take that knowledge with them into adulthood.
The second book of the Umbrella Mouse duology, Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue, revolves around the Liberation of Paris that occurred in August 1944 , and the French Resistance group Noah’s Ark in their battle to stop the Nazis.
She weaved true events into Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue in a number of ways. Due to the numerous battles that were key in the lead up to the Liberation of Paris, she used dialogue to covey the sense of anxiety and urgency that was felt at the time. She ten visually used key moments from the uprising as part of the rising action.
She told me that the leader of Noah’s Arc, Marie-Madeleine Fourcade’s experiences had a huge impact on the story, thematically. The Gestapo hunted her and her two young children, who she put into hiding to keep safe, and that peril is what drives her in Umbrella Mouse to the Rescue. Betrayal was a constant threat to Noah’s Ark and many of their members were captured and killed due to traitors operating amongst them, and you’ll see it occur in both Umbrella Mouse books.
By giving them characters they care about, Kurt Vonnegut said:
“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them – in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”Kurt Vonnegut
Anna said, it’s important to give your hero flaws and a universal motivation – something we all want – so their struggles and their drive to succeed are relatable. In The Umbrella Mouse books, Pip is orphaned and alone. She’s grief-stricken and reckless at times. All she wants is to find her last surviving family and get to a place where she will be safe. If we were in her position, we would pursue the same things. Pip never witnesses anything too graphic, but she is placed in wartime environments, such as battles and a prisoner camp that could be too disturbing if she or her friends were human.
“By introducing these difficult emotional subjects, children have the opportunity to learn about tragic times in history, and then they can discuss their feelings with adults, such as parents, teachers or librarians.”Anna Fargher
Anna’s tip on writing for children is to read as many children’s books you can in the genre you want to write about so you can grasp the conventions and any animal nuances, and you’ll also learn what makes a great narrative arc. But she reminds authors to be discerning. In the words of P.D. James:
“Bad writing is contagious.”P.D. James
“Writing for children is a joy; some days are harder than others but that’s true in every endeavour. Above all, don’t give up. Discipline and dedication gets books written.”Anna Fargher