Guest Editor - Anthony McGowan
Anthony McGowan is a diverse writer, from the Willard Price adventure stories to his more wacky sci-fi romps but it's as a writer of powerful fiction for young adults that he really excels. He isn't afraid to confront the tougher topics, such as gang culture in The Knife that Killed Me, teenage cancer in Henry Tumour or bullying in Brock. His books are also beautifully written and empathetic, reaching out to an audience that may not otherwise be drawn to reading. He has a talent for writing books for struggling and dyslexic readers - our Reader Review Panel love his new book Pike, Callum said it was the 'Best Book Ever, Can’t wait to read more from Anthony McGowan.'
You can find some of our favourite Anthony McGowan books below and also a selection of his favourite short novels and why he chose them.
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A Kestrel for A Knave, Barry Hines. At 200 pages, this is rather long for a short novel, but I just couldn’t leave it out, as almost no other work of fiction has had such an impact on me. It’s the story of a day in the life of a working class kid, Billy Casper, whose only respite from a loveless home and a brutal school comes from caring for a Kestrel he has reared and trained. It’s a depressing book, full of violence and a grinding poverty, but it also has moments of quiet beauty. Dense with drama and incident, above all, it’s a book that just feels so utterly true.
Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck – I can almost hear the groans now, from millions of teenagers forced to read this for their GCSE! However, despite being ‘institutionalised’ Of Mice and Men remains an incredibly powerful and heartrending story. It centres on the friendship of George (small but clever) and Lenny (strong, but simple-minded), and their struggles in the rural California of the Great Depression. It’s end is tragic, but what persists is the memory of the love between the friends. It’s something I shamelessly ripped off for my brothers, Nicky and Kenny, in Pike and Brock.
The Stone Book Quartet, Alan Garner. Garner has a good claim to be our finest living children’s writer (although he baulks at such restrictive definitions). His work has always interwoven fantasy and a grittily-rendered reality, but here realism comes to the fore. Four very short linked stories take us through four generations of one family in a Cheshire village. You could say that the stories are ‘about’ the nature of craftsmanship, the importance of geography in our psychic development, how wisdom is passed down through the generations, about how seemingly simple people lead lives of depth and resonance. Yet somehow it’s not really what its about that gives The Stone Book Quartet its power: it’s what it is: a self-contained, perfect work of art, as heavy in the hand as a granite rock.
Blindside, Aiden Chambers. Chambers is a writer of great depth and complexity, and his books are among the most challenging ever written for young adults. It’s a joy therefore to see him in simpler mode, allowing his gift for straightforward storytelling and brilliant dialogue to shine through. Blindside is the story of Nate, a promising athlete, terribly injured in a bike accident. Nate has to find a way to come to terms both with the physical pain, and the psychological harm done by the accident. It’s a book filled with rage, but also healing. Blindside shows another one of the advantages of a short book: it serves as an easily accessible portal in to the work of an author who can be a little forbidding …
The Postman Always Rings Twice James M Cain. This is a hard-boiled crime novel – adult in its themes and it characters – but one so fiercely compressed in its narrative drive, so searing in its pace, so true in its emotions, that anyone beginning it will race feverishly to the fatal conclusion. Cain’s writing is a masterclass on concision and power. The edition I read had only 90 pages, but it it’s like the matter at the heart of a black hole, so dense, it’s said, that if you brought a teaspoon of it back to earth, it would sink straight to the centre of the planet.