Catherine Bruton

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Sunday 7th of August 2011

Discussion points for book groups

This post is written in honour of my own lovely book-group who told me I had to have a section on my website with discussion points for book groups. And since I wrote We Can be Heroes with my book group as well as my pupils in mind, it seems to me that this is the least I can do for my lovely literary ladies!
But this is a very weird thing to do! I mean, I studied English at Uni, I teach English, I am really quite fab at the whole literary analysis thing. And as for coming up with killer homework questions – I ace at that (just ask my students!) But analysing your own novel – not so easy.
I’ve suddenly come over all Roland Barthes Death of the Author about it, because who is to say that my interpretation of the novel is any more valid than that of any one who reads it? And who is to say that the novel actually does what I set out for it to do (I believe in a textual unconscious, me!) But I suppose that’s exactly why it’d be interesting to hear what you think about any of the questions.
I still think it’s a bit of a weird thing to do – I don’t reckon Shakespeare wrote book group discussion questions, right? But I’m not exactly claiming to be Shakespeare, so here goes….. your homework is due in on Tuesday or I’ll pop you in detention!

1. We Can be Heroes was inspired by an article I wrote for ‘The Times’ about children who lost a parent in the September 11th terrorist attacks. http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/families/article4706754.ece

But some authors believe that 9/11 is not a suitable topic for fiction and sometimes I feel uneasy about my choice to fictionalise real life events. Do you think that novelists have any right to write about real life contemporary events in this way? And is it OK that the novel has a comic element to it when it is touching on such sensitive material?

2. ‘But this is not a story about 9/11’ says Ben. Do you agree? And if it’s not a novel about 9/11, what is it about?

3. I borrowed the idea of the lists from Sally Nicholl’s novel Ways to Live Forever, a book which I love. What do you think the lists contribute to the novel? Or perhaps you don’t like them at all. And how did you feel about the fact the novel ends on a list?

4. The novel is intended for readers from eleven to 111. I wrote it for my book group but also with my students in mind, but do you think that the issues it covers are suitable for younger readers? And do you think there’s any such thing as a crossover novel or just adult novels and kids novels. And, if so, which is this?

5. Ben’s doodling was a very late edition to the novel and yet I can’t imagine Ben without it. What do you think Ben’s drawing adds to the novel? What do you think of the manga comic at the back of the book and would you have liked to have illustrations throughout.

6. Some of the characters in the novel are hard to like. What did you think of the characters of Jed, Zara, Granddad and Uncle Ian?

7. Was there a point in the novel when you did think that perhaps the bomb threat was genuine? Why or why not?

8. In some ways, We Can be Heroes is an novel about mums more than about dads. Do you agree? And what did you think of the mothers in the novel: Ben’s mum, Aunt Karen, Granny, Priti’s mum?

9. ‘We Can be Heroes does not always offer answers because it is not the place of fiction to preach or to convert.’ This is something I say in an article, but I also quote Carnegie winner Alan Gibbons who has written on similar controversial topics. He says an author should, ‘only enter a dark room if you think you can light the way out.’

So do you think the novel is preachy or didactic? Should novels seek to preach or convert? And do you think We Can be Heroes does seek to convey any particular messages about the topics it covers?

10. ‘I also felt a sense of the need for optimism. Not for providing simplistic solutions or unrealistic happy-ever- afters, but for leaving room for hope…..And whilst the ending of We Can Be Heroes is a lot more uneasy than you might expect from a self-confessed optimist, it is not without hope.’
Do you agree that the ending is uneasy? Hopeful? And do you agree that novels covering controversial topics ought to offer hope?

11. The novel covers a lot of issues – racism, eating disorders, grief, parental Alienation syndrome, zenophobia, kidnapping etc. Do you think it tries to cover too much material?

12. The novel was originally called The 9/11 Boy and the German version has retained this title. Why do you think the title was changed and which one do you prefer. Why?

13. Oh, and this in the German cover. Which do you like best?

14. Somebody recently told me I needed to write a sequel about Priti and her family. Do you agree? Or do you think the novel should end just as it is?

That’s all folks. Can’t think of any more questions, but if you can, PLEASE contact me so I can add some more.

7 Responses to Discussion topic for book groups

  1. Hazel Holmes says:

    Thanks so much for these! I was just in the midst of writing some questions for the ABC book club when I thought I’d check out your site. Yours are much better!

    P.S love the sketches on the home page.

  2. catherineB says:

    So glad they are helpful, Hazel! Do tell the ABCers they are very welcome to drop me a line to ask me questions/let me know their thoughts too! Hope you got the piece I wrote for the newsletter. Was it OK?

  3. Hazel Holmes says:

    Great, will do! I haven’t had the piece through yet. I’ll let you know when I get it, I’m sure it will be perfect.

  4. catherineB says:

    Ooh! I wrote while on holiday – couple of weeks – ago and thought I’d sent to Vicki!!! So sorry – do you want me to send to you direct? Do I have an email address? Or I’ll resend to Vicki asap. Sorry for inconvenience.

  5. catherineB says:

    I have resent to Jenny at Egmont who I hope will forward to you today. I hope it is OK. Happy to rewrite/edit/amend if not. Thanks ever so much for all your support!
    Cx

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