Live Bookclub webchat with Kevin Powers, author of the award-winning novel The Yellow Birds, Tuesday 30 July, 9-10pm

(77 Posts)

'Beautiful' is a peculiar word to describe a war novel, but our July Book of the Month is overwhelmingly beautiful. THE YELLOW BIRDS follows a young soldier's experience fighting in Iraq, his friendship with his comrades, his moments of combat, and his disorientation when discharged back to civilian life. The book moves back and forth in time, between the battalion's arrival in the desert and John's haunted post-war existence, unable to deal with the pride and admiration of his family and friends or the terrible sensation 'like there was acid seeping down into your soul and then your soul is gone...' It is an intense reading experience - and one of harrowing truthfulness. Every moment, every image, is a precise and startlingly original vision of war and its effects. The writing is exquisitely poetic in places and brutally raw in others - the book has already won the Guardian First Book Award and the Pen Hemingway Award. THE YELLOW BIRDS is a modern classic that should be on must-read lists for years to come.

The book has been highly acclaimed across the globe, by journalists and a plethora of famous authors: you can find all the rave reviews on Kevin's official website.

Hodder have 50 copies to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours please fill in your details on the book of the month page. We'll post on here when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or Kindle version here.

We are thrilled that Kevin will be answering questions about THE YELLOW BIRDS, his prizes and his writing career on Tuesday 30 July, 9-10pm. So please feel free to discuss the book here throughout the month, and then come and chat to Kevin on Tue 30 July. Look forward to seeing you all there...

mignonette Wed 31-Jul-13 16:37:40

I think I'd like to marry Kevin. We'd be very compatible. grin
Same taste in current reading and all.

Thanks for one of the best webchats I can remember.

gazzalw Wed 31-Jul-13 12:47:13

right on the basis of the recommendations from fellow Mumsnetters I'm going to suggest this for next Book Group.

What a fantastic guy- very inspiring.

sj2b Wed 31-Jul-13 06:28:06

I got hold of a copy but forgot all about yesterday !
It's those school holidays again. My mind wonders :-(

Just to let you all know there won't be a bookclub during August, but we're back in September with Maria Semple's WHERE'D YOU GO BERNADETTE?. See you all then...

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 22:12:51

Thanks so much for the great questions everyone. I've really enjoyed chatting with you. Until next time!

Kevin

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 22:10:29

vidd

It's a beautifully written book and is so different from any I have read in a long while. Even after I have finished the book, the poetry still lingers. The futility of war is well detailed. I loved it - which might not be the way one describes a war novel.

I'm looking forward to your next book. Do you already have anything in mind?

Thanks for the kind words. I've got my first collection of poetry out in April, and I'm hard at work on another novel that will be about a young woman living just after the end of the american civil war.

vidd Tue 30-Jul-13 22:05:34

It's a beautifully written book and is so different from any I have read in a long while. Even after I have finished the book, the poetry still lingers. The futility of war is well detailed. I loved it - which might not be the way one describes a war novel.

I'm looking forward to your next book. Do you already have anything in mind?

Oh good, The Son is packed in my suitcase to take on holiday next week - hoping we might do it for bookclub next year.

Do take a look at Hilary Mantel's brilliant Q&A when she came on here, too.

We've come to the end of our hour, and it has been such a pleasure and a fascinating discussion.

Thanks to everyone for their questions, and for coming along.

Most of all, Kevin, thank you very much indeed for giving us your time and energy and insight into your writing process. Can't wait to read your poetry collection and best of luck with the Civil War book. You'll have a troop of Mumsnetters queuing up to read it when it's published here in the UK.

Good luck, and many thanks and congratulations once again.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 22:02:33

Gargamella

Just spotted the time so wanted to say thanks again before you leave us. I'll look out for the poetry collection. Very best wishes.

I've really enjoyed this format. Thanks to everyone for participating.

Gargamella Tue 30-Jul-13 22:00:23

Just spotted the time so wanted to say thanks again before you leave us. I'll look out for the poetry collection. Very best wishes.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:58:27

TillyBookClub

I thought your book was as direct and honest as Owen's poetry.

Which novelists writing at the moment do you admire? And can I also ask what you are reading right now?

I'll read anything by Cormac McCarthy or Marilynne Robinson. I loved Hilary Mantel's Cromwell books. Philipp Meyer is another young writer I admire. His book The Son is a tremendous achievement. I've been reading a few different things recently. Some books on coal and the American south before, during and after the civil war. Rereading some Jose Saramago and a book by the brilliant poet Eavan Boland called Object Lessons.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:49:57

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans

Congratulations on your awards. Did you ever envision Yellow Birds being so very successful?

No, I didn't. I was proud of it, and I hoped it would find an audience, but I never could have expected the response it has gotten. I didn't know a thing about the publishing world, so I honestly didn't know what to expect.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:48:00

FairyArmadillo

I'm coming back to read this chat another day as I have only started the book this evening. Just read the first chapter. I am so glad I decided to read your book. When I first saw the subject matter I initially thought it sounded a bit depressing and I was in the mood for something more upbeat. However I downloaded a sample on my Kindle and loved the way you write. You write so beautifully. This book was just too well written to not read! Great book. I'm looking forward to reading your question and answer once I've finished it.

Thanks. I've been very pleased that people are giving it a chance who might normally be put off by the subject. I recognize that reading any book is an investment of time and energy, and I appreciate anyone who gives mine a chance.

I'll keep a look out for your poetry in April then, I have a copy of Wilfred Owen's poems that I had at school (a long time ago) and Sassoon. Somehow I had a different feeling towards WW1 and 2 as I had family involved in both, reading your book made me realised that we shouldn't be detached from a situation just because we have no personal link to it. Made me re-evaluate my thoughts, so thank you

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 30-Jul-13 21:46:48

Thank you for answering (and for doing the webchat). I'm really looking forward to reading more of your writing.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:45:35

TillyBookClub

'I hope I've done away with my naivety and retained a healthy amount of idealism' - I think you are a hero for retaining even a smidgen of idealism, after all that brutality. How on earth did you manage it? What are the positive things you brought back from war (if there are any at all)?

I don't know. I guess I believe that even though we can't control the world, we can control how we see it. One of the things that the war made a permanent part of my worldview is that life is precious and fragile and deserves to be valued.

I thought your book was as direct and honest as Owen's poetry.

Which novelists writing at the moment do you admire? And can I also ask what you are reading right now?

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:42:08

Gargamella

Thanks for answering my questions, Kevin - and clearing up that initial confusion! Tilly mentioned Wilfred Owen. I last read his poems about 30 years ago, but your book has inspired me to go back to them. I've not read anything else by you yet (I will) so apologies for my ignorance but have you already had any war themed poetry published?

ThanK you. You won't be disappointed by Owen. Heartbreaking work. There isn't much else out there of mine to read, so don't worry. I have some poems online at various magazine websites and my first poetry collection will be out in April.

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans Tue 30-Jul-13 21:41:09

Congratulations on your awards. Did you ever envision Yellow Birds being so very successful?

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:39:32

TillyBookClub

My other quick question: did you feel the presence of war poets such as Wilfred Owen or Sassoon at your shoulder when you wrote this? Did you consult any other war literature as research, or conduct interviews, or was the book pretty much all based on your own experience?

(sorry, that's rather a lot of questions actually)

I used a combination of experience and imagination. The story is about memory, and the difficulty of relying on memory to understand ourselves. John's process of trying to account for himself is similar to my own, in a general way. His is much more difficult than mine ever was, but my experience gave me a place to start from. The wwi poets were a presence for me, absolutely. I felt like they had a way of looking at the war experience that had been abandoned, not because it wasn't valuable, but because it wasn't fashionable.

FairyArmadillo Tue 30-Jul-13 21:38:31

I'm coming back to read this chat another day as I have only started the book this evening. Just read the first chapter. I am so glad I decided to read your book. When I first saw the subject matter I initially thought it sounded a bit depressing and I was in the mood for something more upbeat. However I downloaded a sample on my Kindle and loved the way you write. You write so beautifully. This book was just too well written to not read! Great book. I'm looking forward to reading your question and answer once I've finished it.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:35:45

GeraldineMumsnet

Can I ask you to expand on your previous answer and talk about your portrayal of mother-son relationships in your novel, please (this being Mumsnet)?

I was very moved by the inability of John and Murph's mothers to protect their children, or fully comprehend what they'd gone through (although perhaps that was a blessing of sorts) - it speaks to every parent's deepest fears, at home or abroad.

So my question, which is personal, so please feel free to ignore if you don't want to answer, is: are you basing the depiction of mother/son relationships on your own in some way? Why do mothers figure and fathers don't really? Or is the Sergeant a sort of father figure?

It's impossible for me to completely block out my experience when writing. I didn't base those relationships on my relationship with my own mother, but what she went through certainly contributed to my perspective on these two women. I felt a responsibility to show the challenges they face. In some ways they've both lost a son, or feel they have.

With the fathers, I felt like there was some disconnect between the soldiers of my generation and the men of the vietnam era. I wanted to describe that disconnect and it manifested itself as absence.

Gargamella Tue 30-Jul-13 21:29:01

Thanks for answering my questions, Kevin - and clearing up that initial confusion! Tilly mentioned Wilfred Owen. I last read his poems about 30 years ago, but your book has inspired me to go back to them. I've not read anything else by you yet (I will) so apologies for my ignorance but have you already had any war themed poetry published?

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:28:29

over40andmumtoone

Same question as TillyBookClub and how do those close to you feel about the war after your return?

My mother was opposed to the war from the beginning. Most people don't know anyone who has been to iraq or afghanistan, so for the people close to me they had an opportunity to hear what it was like first hand. I think most of the people I talked to came to the conclusion that it was a tragic mistake.

'I hope I've done away with my naivety and retained a healthy amount of idealism' - I think you are a hero for retaining even a smidgen of idealism, after all that brutality. How on earth did you manage it? What are the positive things you brought back from war (if there are any at all)?

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