Interview: Author Tom Palmer - Action and Adventure in the World Wars
Updated: May 6
Author Tom Palmer has written a mind-boggling fifty-four children's books. Which is impressive. Tom must clearly get out of bed very early in the morning, whereas I barely manage to eat breakfast. Also, I don't always remember to wash. Anyway, enough unnecessary honesty about my haphazard morning routine, let's get back to our star interviewee for November.
Tom has written a series of fantastic historical fiction books for children set in and around the two World Wars. Frankly, his book 'After the War' is one of the best things I've ever read, period.
So, I was understandably delighted to have the opportunity to chat with Tom and find out more about his books - enjoy reading all the words below!
You've written several wonderful books for children set in and around World War 1 and World War 2. With so many historical sources available, how do you go about deciding which stories to tell?
Thank you for saying so. I think I try to choose stories that haven’t been told so much for children, like Arctic Star set on the WW2 Arctic Convoys. Or Over the Line about the Footballers’ Battalion. But also stories that link to things I love. Armistice Runner is about a fell runner who becomes a trench runner and that is something my daughter and I enjoy doing.
What is it about stories set during these historical periods that modern readers find so compelling?
To be honest I am not sure. I think one of the things is that it is so hard for us to get our heads round what it must have been like for those serving in the world wars and those left at home suffering what civilians had to endure. How would you feel if your brother was killed at the Battle of the Somme? What would it be like losing everyone in your family and extended family, then coming to the UK as a refugee where you will spend the rest of your life? These experiences are mercifully unimaginable to most of us. But through fiction we can try to empathise.
How much of the stories that you tell are based upon real historical events?
Increasingly more. I like to base every character and scene on the testimony of those who took part in the events I am writing about. I have learned that you don’t have to make anything up to tell stories about the wars. It’s all there. I’ve also found that if you manipulate the truth it can lead to misunderstanding and – in the case of my Holocaust story, After the War, I had to make it 100% authentic to avoid fuelling Holocaust denial.
How do you go about researching your books?
Reading books. Watching films. Visiting museums. Talking to experts and even those who were there. Visiting the places where the events took place. But most of all – and especially in lockdown – the Imperial War Museum website had thousands of images, films and interviews with veterans that give me all I need. It is wonderful. That is why I dedicated Arctic Star to Imperial War Museums.
What is the most fascinating piece of historical trivia you have learnt during your research?
I think stories to do with animals in war that I came across while writing D-Day Dog are astonishing. And good for trying to explain war to children, too. The Dicken medal website with is stories of courageous dogs, cats, horses and birds. Amazing. The stories about how dogs were trained to endure explosions and yet still do what was needed.
The care and compassion you took when dealing with the aftermath of the Holocaust in 'After the War' was very moving. How did you go about balancing the stories need to be authentic with the requirement of being age appropriate for your readers?
I had a lot of help. I took advice. From experienced Holocaust educators. From my editor. And – most importantly – from working with a group of children in Cumbria who read the manuscript and asked me to tell them as much of the facts as I could. They were so keen to understand. They said that I should avoid trying to be overly manipulative of their emotions, while trying to tell them the truth. That helped a lot.
You provide teachers and students with a vast wealth of resources to accompany your books, could you tell us a little more about the services you provide?
Yes, I create free resources for each book that will tie into schools’ study of history. Videos. Activities. Challenges. Comprehensions. Original stories. Also I offer free poster packs and more. You can find them at Resources | Tom Palmer. I work with teachers to make sure they are appropriate. I also work with organisations like UCL who have created resources that link to After the War (Lesson materials to support ‘After the War’, a novel by Tom Palmer – Centre for Holocaust Education) and others.
For someone who has never read a Tom Palmer book before (madness I know!) which book should they start with and why?
I think I’d ask what they are into most of all. First World War and football, Over the Line. A story with a girl as the main character, Armistice Runner. If they like animals then D-Day Dog. If they’re interested in the RAF, the Wings series.
What are you working on next that you'd like to share with our readers?
I am not supposed to talk about it yet. But it features a teenage girl helping the resistance in occupied Holland. That’s all I can say. Thank you for asking me all these questions. Much appreciated.
A big thank you to Tom for taking the time out to answer our questions. To find out more about Tom's books please head over to www.tompalmer.co.uk.