We’re very lucky today to have the wonderful Holly Webb visit The Reading Realm to chat to Sarah Farrell about her brand-new book The Runaways, a unique and thrilling tale, set during the Second World War, of resilience, bravery and love!
I absolutely loved The Runaways! It’s very different from your previous books, so what inspired the change from animal stories to historical fiction?
I’m so glad you liked it! There’s no short answer to this one. It all started with my sequel to Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden in 2015. I wrote Return to the Secret Garden because I loved the original so much, but I loved writing a book set in the past too! I found the research so fascinating. So I carried on…
“It’s London in the late 1930s, and the Second World War is imminent. When a young Londoner called Molly hears that the children in her neighbourhood are being evacuated, she feels relieved. The war scares her, and living in the city means living in the heart of danger. However, Molly’s relief is short lived because her mum refuses to let her go, telling her that she has to stay and help with the war effort.
And that’s not all – times are tough, and there’s not enough food or supplies for people, let alone pets. This means that Molly’s beloved dog Bertie is now
considered “surplus to requirement”. So Molly decides to escape. Stowing away on a train, Molly makes it to the country, but once there the reality of her situation dawns on her: she doesn’t know where she is or who to trust. It’s not until Molly comes
across two other runaways that she starts to feel safe again. Maybe, just maybe, with each other’s help, they have a chance of overcoming the trials put in front of them.”
I liked that you included the famous excerpt from Neville Chamberlain’s speech in the book. How would you see The Runaways being used in a school alongside a World War 2 topic?
I really hope it could be. One of the things I wanted to explore in The Runaways was a version of a war story that didn’t present the same image of Britain in wartime that we often see – a plucky island nation fighting back heroically. I think wartime can be mythologised, and that’s dangerous. It’s important to understand that this was happening to real people and they weren’t perfect.
It was really interesting to read a book set in World War 2 that didn’t follow the typical story of children being safely evacuated to the country. Where did the idea come from?
The idea for the book came originally from a fascinating book called The Great Cat and Dog Massacre by Hilda Kean. I was fascinated and horrified by it. When I did more research about the early part of the war, there were so many interesting things about being in London at the outbreak of war, I wanted to keep Molly there for a bit!
Molly’s main motivation for running away is her love for her pets and wanting to keep them safe. What inspired your love of animals?
I grew up with a cat, two dogs, a mouse, twelve gerbils, uncountable stick insects… I was very lucky. I’ve always loved animals, they gave me so much companionship and love as a child, and now too.
The themes of loss and grief runs through the book in several different ways and they are dealt with sensitively. Was it hard to write about death in a way that was suitable for young readers?
Very hard, and I worried about doing it – but it was right for the plot.
The Runaways explores what it means to call a place home throughout the book. Was it a deliberate decision to have Molly be unaware of exactly where she was throughout the whole book?
A deliberate decision makes it sound very carefully planned… But for me Molly represented the huge uncertainty that must have gripped everyone at the time. So many people displaced (all over the world) and taken away from family.
I really like that Molly is such a strong female main character. Which three words would you pick to describe her?
Scared. Determined. Loving.
The books that you write cover a wide range of subjects and genres. What types of books do you enjoy reading?
Everything! Although I’m actually bad at reading non-fiction – I need a story!
I was not expecting the ending! Without giving anything away, did you know from the beginning that you were going to end the story in that way?
Yes, I did have it planned out. I always plan quite carefully (though I love it when the plan changes entirely halfway through because the story takes over). I wasn’t entirely sure what was going to happen about Tom until I’d written the first couple of chapters though.
After Evie’s War and now The Runaways, what’s next for you? Will you continue with historical fiction?
I hope so – I love writing historical fiction, and I always end up with loads of odd bits of history that don’t quite fit in the current book!