Monthly Archives: June 2016

Author Review – Katherine Rundell



I recently finished The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell, one of my favourite children’s authors. Like Rooftoppers and The Girl Savage, this book is highly original and poetic, with a very driven heroine. Feo helps her mum re-wild the no-longer-wanted wolves tamed as status symbols by the elite of Tsarist Russia. The story takes a treacherous turn when a wolf kills a farm animal. Wicked General Rakov tells Feo and her mum that all the wolves need to be killed – something they are determined not to let happen.

Relationships between girls and their mothers are key to the set up in all three novels. In Rooftoppers, Sophie is hunting through Paris in the belief that her mother, declared dead after their ship sank when Sophie was a baby, is still alive. In The Wolf Wilder, Feo is similarly on a quest to St Petersburg to free her mother, imprisoned by the loathsome Rakov. The Girl Savage is different in that Will is not seeking her mother, but rather rebounding from the cruel actions of a controlling stepmother, who has sent her away from her carefree life in Zimbabwe to boarding school in a wet and miserable England, where she is bullied by other girls.

All three books laud the spaces outside of civilisation as bastions of freedom and joy, the snowy forests of Russia, the wide open spaces of Zimbabwe, and even the rooftops of Paris. Society, represented by the aristocrats of St Petersburg who treat wild animals as playthings or the oppressive routines of English boarding schools, is seen as crushing to the spirit and innocence of childhood. In The Girl Savage I’m not sure I really buy the message of compromise of the kindly grandmother of Will’s new friend Daniel. It seems a step too far in contrast to the majestic description of Will’s early life in Zimbabwe. It feels rather that British society has failed to make happiness an option for children.

What makes all three novels stand out is not only the characters and fabulous settings, but the awe and beauty in the language. ‘Once upon a time, a hundred years ago, there was a dark and stormy girl.’ Like Lyra Belacqua in His Dark Materials, Rundell runs the rooftops of Oxford colleges in her spare time. No wonder she’s a favourite of Philip Pullman.

Buy these books:

The Dreamer Falls – little excerpt

A little excerpt from The Dreamer Falls, due out within the next month or so (photo from Murchison Falls, Uganda):

“She must have dozed off for a while because when she opened her eyes again she found herself staring at something she recognised, lying on a bare patch of yellowy-brown sand, beneath the hanging fronds of a palm. It was something she knew very well, long and squat, a creature she knew from stories, right from childhood, and one that she had seen before in… zoos!

‘A crocodile! It’s a crocodile!’ she screamed. The boat lurched suddenly as she scrambled to sit upright.

‘Sit still!’ shouted Zuri. ‘We’re all dead if we go in the water!'”


Last Time

Yesterday was the 72nd anniversary of D-Day. My grandfathers, Fred Griffin and Egon Korn, fought on opposing sides. Egon, a young German of sixteen, was captured shortly after D-Day at the Battle of Caen. He was aiming a bazooka at a tank when the tank commander saw him and fired his machine gun at him. My grandfather’s stick grenade was hit and it exploded, injuring him terribly and killing his friend. He was saved by the Red Cross, sent to Canada, then Scotland, and finally to Eastbourne where, working as a POW, he met my grandmother.

My grandmother died two years ago and I did her eulogy. She left me a note asking me to draw attention to the fact she had met mothers on both sides of the conflict struggling to come to terms with the loss of their children. That’s what made her a campaigner for peace. And, whilst many things might get lost in the detail, it’s worth remembering why Winston Churchill and the other Founding Fathers set up the EU in the first place.

This poem, about a group of veterans revisiting the Normandy beaches, was first published in Poetry Ireland, issue 56.

Last Time

he was here things were a lot more hairy –
invisible fingers were plucking cones of water from the sea
and everywhere the sand was bursting
like puffballs, struck by a flurry of sticks.

Machine guns smacked endlessly at the air
as if its sins were irredeemable,
and the air expressed its pain
with the cries of men, like children.

Lashed by hot grit he’d run like a boy
down the green suede of the Sussex downs, leaping
bodies like the cracked boles of hawthorns,
still fresh with a whorl of flowers

Now, here again after fifty years,
he can hardly believe this was the place –
the wind’s so soft and warm,
the sand and sea don’t glisten –

everything seems as banal as home.
He turns to remark to an old friend
but finds that he’s fallen several yards back
only to be swiftly enclosed

by a circle of kneeling veterans.