Before becoming a writer, Elizabeth Wein studied at Yale University and completed a PhD in Folklore at the University of Philadelphia. Her first book was published in 1993 and she has since written several novels for young adults including the award-winning and bestselling Code Name Verity. The much-anticipated prequel The Pearl Thief was published in 2017. Much of Elizabeth’s writing is inspired by her love of flying and she is a member of the International Organisation of Women Pilots. She lives in Perth, Scotland.
Why did you want to write Firebird?
I first got the idea for it in a flash of inspiration when I was watching the 20th Century Fox cartoon movie of Anastasia with my daughter Sara. I didn’t do anything with the idea for a while, because I had other things I was working on. But it wasn’t easy to forget about, because I was researching a non-fiction project about the amazing women of the Soviet Union who flew combat missions in World War II and I wished I could write some fiction about them. I knew my idea was a good one.
When Barrington Stoke asked me if I could write a novel for them, I jumped at the chance to put that original flash of inspiration into words.
Is there something you want readers to take away from Firebird?
Only the usual – Take responsibility for your own actions!
Of course, I hope it will make them aware of a little historical slice of real heroism that is too often forgotten. But I don’t have a moral message. I hope readers find it a thrilling story, and maybe it’ll inspire them to find out more about twentieth century Russia.
Was your approach to writing this story different from your other books?
Absolutely not – the only difference was that it was shorter. It’s actually official novella-length. But since I write short stories, too, I really didn’t feel I had to make any adjustment. I organized Firebird the way I’d organize a short story. It was a pleasure to write because I’d already done the research for it, and I could just let my imagination fly free.
The hard part was the editing process – that is more of a technical than a creative process, tweaking the story to perfection. It was a difficult book to edit because the setting and background are so unfamiliar. You can’t assume your average teen reader is going to know a lot about Stalin’s Great Terror in the 1930s Soviet Union! I didn’t, before I began the research!
I’m giving you a free platform to talk about anything – GO:
Well, to keep it relevant, I’d like to encourage young people in Britain, both boys and girls, to have a go at flying.
Find a flight school nearby. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) maintains a list of UK flying clubs here: https://www.aopa.co.uk/training-safety/flying-schools-clubs.html
Most flying clubs provide pleasure flights and trial lessons at lower rates than actual instruction, so if you’d like to give it a go, consider asking for a trial flight as a birthday present! You can find a taster flight for about £60 to £150, depending on the length of the flight and the type of plane available. A qualified pilot will go with you, but as there are dual controls in training aircraft, you’ll get a chance to fly the plane yourself on your very first flight.
You can learn to fly as part of the Scouts: https://members.scouts.org.uk/supportresources/22/flying-powered-aircraft?moduleID=24&cat=26,407,351
(The Hereford Scouts, for example, have organized flying activities for £45 a person in 2017 – details here – http://www.flyingscouts.co.uk/scouts—explorers.html )
Young people can also learn to fly as part of the Air Cadets: https://www.raf.mod.uk/aircadets/
Gliding is cheaper than powered flight and is a great way to get into the air. The British Gliding Association has an excellent website with a section devoted to encouraging young people to take up this sport: https://www.gliding.co.uk/juniorgliding
Finally – if you’re trying to find a way to learn to fly but are struggling to afford the lessons, here’s a list of flying scholarships in the UK: http://flyinglessons.co.uk/free-flying-lessons-scholarships/
I hope that some of your readers will be encouraged to spread their wings!
Tea or coffee?
A friend of mine pointed out that coffee is a running theme through all my books – from Arthurian times through World War II. My characters are all coffee drinkers… it is a tragic flaw.
Finally, what is the question you wish people would ask and never do?
“What’s the connection between your writing and the legend of the Holy Grail?”
Um… I thought a lot about that question. Is there a connection in everything I write? Probably not quite, but you could definitely find “wasteland” parallels in the destruction of Nastia’s Motherland. No doubt, unconsciously, there is something going on there in the symbolism of the “Girl with a Broken Pitcher” fountain that turns up as Nastia sets out on her journey as a warrior. Amazing – the same symbolism appears in Alan Garner’s Elidor, a conscious Wasteland parallel, and I didn’t even see it till this moment. I’m making this up. But it’s always there.
And on that teasing and mysterious note – Thank you so much for this interview! I know you’ve been a great reader of my books over the years and I really appreciate your continued support!
Luna: Aww, shucks…. *blush* thank you.
Nastia is no traitor. She is a daring pilot, the daughter of revolutionaries, and now, as the Second World War descends on Russia, she must fight to save the glorious Motherland. But all is not as it seems, and when the battles begin, secrets are revealed and everything that she once knew is challenged…
A thrilling adventure brimming with historical detail and powerful female characters. Particularly suitable for struggling, reluctant or dyslexic readers aged 13+.
Published by Barrington Stoke Ltd