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Interview - Tom Palmer Talks His New Book, The Angel Of Grasmere

We love a new book; the smell of the freshly printed paper, the way the smooth yet chunky cover feels between your fingertips, the excitement of diving headfirst into a thrilling story (don't literally dive head first, that's just headbutting a book and no one is gonna be impressed).


We especially love a new book by Tom Palmer, the best-selling and critically acclaimed children's author who is undoubtedly one of the best in the biz.


Tom has a new book out soon, 'The Angel of Grasmere' (or if you are lucky enough to be reading this on or after the 9th of May, 2024, then it's available to buy RIGHT NOW). We've been lucky enough to read an advance copy, and we can honestly say it's one of his best yet - and after the brilliance of 'Resist'. that's definitely saying something!


We were delighted then, to have the opportunity to interview Tom again. We spoke about 'Angel of Grasmere', his inspiration for the story, how the children of Grasmere School assisted with his historical research... and loads more besides!


Right, let's crack on, HELLO TOM!


The cover of Angel of Grasmere by Tom Palmer
The cover of Angel of Grasmere by Tom Palmer

Hey Tom, thanks for chatting with us again! Could you tell us a little more about your upcoming release, Angel of Grasmere?

Thanks for the opportunity to tell you about the book. I appreciate it.

Angel of Grasmere is about a girl called Tarn whose brother is killed at Dunkirk. She is devastated and spends her time among the fells of the Lake District with her friends, always close to the small upland lake where her brother used to take her. Sometimes she catches sight of someone up on the fells. It could be a man hiding from being conscripted to fight in the war. It could be a German spy arranging an invasion of Britain via the mountains. It is neither.

 

Where did the idea for the story come from?

While writing After the War and Armistice Runner – both set in the Lake District – I had fragments of unused research I really wanted to use. The men who hid in the hills to avoid conscription. The German ‘hikers’ who were doing recces to find places where they could land paratroopers and even flying boats in the uplands of the Lake District. And an obsession I have with Dorothy Wordsworth’s diaries. I decided to blend them to develop the new book. Also, any excuse to head to Cumbria and I’ll take it.

 

How did you go about developing the story and its setting in the Lake District?

I spent a lot of time in Cumbrian libraries and archives. I read books. Interviewed people who lived up there during the war. I walked a lot in the fells and spent one-night wild camping alone on the tops. One of the best nights of my life. But the best help came from Grasmere Primary School, whose children helped me plan, research, write and edit the book. We even went hiking to help me describe the fells from children’s points of view and expertise.


What was life like for children in Grasmere at this time?

From my research, it was different. An influx of new people. Soldiers and schools moving into the hotels to train and be educated. Lots of RAF training flights in the skies, Hurricanes sometimes crashing into felllsides. Signposts were removed in case an invasion did happen. No church bells, as Churchill decreed they should only be rung if invasion came. A pill box on the Keswick Road. A shooting range up in the fells. It must have been exciting. Until members of their community began to appear in the newspaper, missing in action, killed in action.

 

Tom Palmer and the students of Grasmere School
Tom working with the children of Grasmere School. Image courtesy Grasmere School & Nursery on Facebook

How did the news from Dunkirk and the war affect them?

The Borders Regiment – the area’s main regiment – was involved at Dunkirk. There would have been a lot of fear for loved ones. There is a memorial to two Grasmere men in the church, as both were killed in later battles. But I think the whole country could see that – although spun as a glorious moment, which, in some ways it was – Dunkirk was a defeat and would probably lead to an invasion and occupation.

 

Was there a genuine fear of invasion? How did the inhabitants of small English villages and towns approach dealing with this threat?

Yes. Although we think about the invasion coming via the south east, there were plans and preparations made to invade via the mountains. Farmers were ordered to place old farm machinery and other obstructions in the larger fields, so gliders couldn’t land. Everyone was very aware that, in 1936, a zeppelin travelling from Germany to New York came down very low over the lakes and Barrow, so the Germans could study the Barrow docks in preparation for bombing them, which they did.

 

What one (or more!) thing do you hope young readers will learn or understand about life in Grasmere in the 1940s from reading Angel of Grasmere? 

Like with every book I write about war, that war is unspeakably terrible and terrifying and we must try to find peace for our country and for other countries.



Thanks Tom for taking the time to chat with us!


You can pre-order yourself a copy of Angel of Grasmere over at bookshop.org by clicking here.



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