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...

gingercat12 Wed 19-Jun-13 13:59:08

I read Yellow Birds in January, and I just could not put it down. It was probably the most beautiful and most poignant book I am likely to read this year, and it is a tough competition, as luckily most of my reads were superb this year. Thanks a lot!

sb6699 Wed 19-Jun-13 16:34:52

I actually put this on my amazon wish list a couple of weeks ago. Will definately be reading it. Based on the reviews it seems to be one of those that has to be on the 'books I've read' list.

kaydeed Thu 20-Jun-13 15:49:49

This book has been highly recommended by a couple of others mums. Sounds like a thought provoking read.

stewartlaura67 Tue 25-Jun-13 12:41:03

This book was recommended to be by one of my DD’s mom. It’s wonderful.

I'm so glad everyone has given it thumbs up - I am so impressed by this book, and keep sending copies to all my family and friends. Absolutely one of my top books of the year.

Very much hope you all manage to get your hands on a copy, please do try to beg, borrow or steal one if you don't get a freebie. It is really not to be missed.

Speaking of free copies, I think the names have now been picked out of the hat and the winners should be receiving theirs soon - I'll post on the thread when the publisher has confirmed they've been sent out.

Copies being sent out now, should be with the lucky winners middle of next week.

I promise you'll race through it, so should be enough time to finish before Kevin comes to join us.

MumnGran Tue 09-Jul-13 12:48:56

Absolutely thrilled to receive my copy today from the publishers. Thank you. Such a surprise, and can't wait to start reading ....hot summer day, no children/grandchildren ...I feel an afternoon under the sunshade and happy reading, coming on!!

girlie26 Tue 09-Jul-13 13:06:21

Thank you for my copy. Need to wait now until wkend to start reading it. Hope its as good as everyone is saying

Eirwen Tue 09-Jul-13 13:30:56

The postman has just arrived with my copy. This was a lovely surprise as I hadn't received an e-mail! grin Really looking forward to reading it but not sure when I can begin as there is a lot going on here at the moment. Thank you to Mumsnet and Hodder & Stoughton.

Just received my copy - thank you smile Just need to finish my current book and I'll get cracking - looks fab smile

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 09-Jul-13 16:42:22

Excellent, we're glad copies are arriving. There's plenty of time to read - Kevin's joining us on Tues 30 July at 9pm. Please put it in your diary. There's lots to discuss.

girlie26 Mon 15-Jul-13 21:37:22

Beautifully written, you're drawn into the friendship and want to see how it evolves. Had to concentrate at times due to the scenes alternating.

Question-Did you consider writing the story chronologically? And if so, why didnt you?

Reading this well written, observed book-experience of reading about war differs to that of what you read in newspapers etc

Time for any advance questions, please - I'll be sending them to Kevin this weekend, so please pop them up here as soon as you can. Don't worry if you haven't finished it, you can still come on and ask Kevin about his writing and his inspiration behind the book.

Looking forward to next Tuesday evening immensely...

pinkfiss Wed 24-Jul-13 13:45:06

This book is fantastic could not put it down, truly moving and beautifully written, thankyou for the copy. Will be recommending it to my friends&family.

Isis1981uk Wed 24-Jul-13 14:03:58

I was really excited to get this book and I found the imagery to be brilliant - I really got a sense of place and could almost feel the heat reflecting off the white buildings.

However, I can't pinpoint the reason but the story just did not hook me and I stopped reading it about 3/4 of the way through. I rarely give up on books but I just wasn't feeling it with this. I think that it was just too slow-moving for a Summer read and I'll blame the heat rather than the writing as I found it hard to focus. Maybe one to leave until Winter! I can certainly see it doing well as a recommended book for teenage boys due to the war backdrop & masculine voice.

Uzma01 Wed 24-Jul-13 14:05:06

I tend not to read too many books based on war, as I'm never really sure how it will be portrayed. But that said this is a beautifully written book, about a not so beautiful subject matter. Powers tells a moving story about the uncertainty of war, and the ramifications suffered by those involved. Would recommend, so I'll pass my copy around a couple of friends.

ResNulis Wed 24-Jul-13 14:17:26

I am unable to join the webchat this evening, but very much wanted to post - both to thank you for my copy of the Yellow Birds, and to say how impressed I was by this book.
The subject would not normally have tempted me, but I had read such excellent reviews that I was encouraged, and was fully rewarded.
It is a rare thing, these days, to find a book so evocative of both atmosphere and human spirit in such well crafted and eloquent prose. I recently re-read The Grapes of Wrath, and found much in the Yellow Birds which reminded me of this classic.
An emotive, stunning read.

I would be most interested to know if the author found writing to be cathartic in dealing with the remaining issues of his own return to homelife.

HazelDormouse Thu 25-Jul-13 14:01:28

Whilst I appreciate the skill that the author shows in creating such a beautifully, well written novel, I can not say that I enjoyed it. I found the subject matter, and indeed the characters, too disturbing. However, this is perhaps what will make it into a 'classic' in years to come. For some reason, I found it more depressing than the novels that I read many years ago relating to the First World War.

Definitely worth reading.

SunshinePanda Sat 27-Jul-13 20:52:27

This book makes me so pleased to be part of MN book club as I would probably not have chosen this book myself but found it both moving and insightful. Certainly the language used added to the depth of the story as did the complexity of the relationships between the main characters. When you were writing, how pivotal to the development of the story was the promise made to Murphy's mother?

Thanks to everyone for advance questions which are now winging their way to Kevin in the US.

Feel free to keep posting comments or questions here and looking forward to discussing it all with you on Tuesday night. So much to talk about with this book.

See you Tues, 9pm...

nuggie Mon 29-Jul-13 06:55:55

I am really enjoying the book and am also really enjoying the insight into post war life. It is realy questions and making me think and look differently at what is around me and watching the news with Afghanistan still going on which I am liking to Iraq.
I am really surprised at how beautifully the book is written the words remind me of Japanese Haiku at times - for such a turbulent subject it has a calm dream like presents as though I am watching it with the sound turned off.
It is unlike anything that I would have picked up myself which is the whole reason for joining book clubs and am pleased to be enlightened into another world albeit briefly.

nuggie Mon 29-Jul-13 06:57:11

ps - Thank you for the book!

KevinPowers Mon 29-Jul-13 11:21:37

Test post. I'm looking forward to the chat tomorrow.

Thanks,
Kevin

mignonette Mon 29-Jul-13 11:51:01

Kevin- Thank you so much for your book.

"I've always had a certain level of comfort with the dark part of the human experience"- Kevin Powers-Guardian June 2013

Have your experiences at war modified this at all?

What response have you had from fellow veterans?

KevinPowers Mon 29-Jul-13 12:03:22

Testing

KevinPowers Mon 29-Jul-13 12:05:15

nuggie

ps - Thank you for the book!

testing

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans Mon 29-Jul-13 13:25:44

I'm about halfway through (hoping to finish before the webchat), and was gripped from the start.

As other people have said the book's beautifully written, almost poetic, and there are places where the beauty of the language makes the events being described seem even uglier in contrast: the very first paragraphs, for instance, with the image of the war as a living beast. Or Sterling rubbing tabasco in his eyes is mentioned so casually that I was onto the next line before the doubletake came.

Was the contrast between the language & the events intentional?

yUMMYmUMMYb Mon 29-Jul-13 20:35:05

I am disappointed that i have not yet read this book. Anyone who has read it has told me it is a "must read". Fortunately it arrived in the post from Amazon this morning :-)

My questions for Kevin are:
- what made you go from thinking about writing a book to actually doing it?
- which review that you have read about your book is your favourite?
- any other books in the pipeline?

Thanks in advance, looking forward to reading your book

Gargamella Mon 29-Jul-13 22:24:29

Thanks for a tremendous read. This one will definitely stay with me for quite a while.

Sorry they're late, but here are my questions.
(1) There are very few characters in the novel. That absolutely worked for me, but was that always your plan, or did you have a broader cast at some stage which you then whittled down?
(2) If Bartle was real and your friend, at what point in his story would you most want to talk to him to help give him strength or comfort? Is he somebody you think you could reach at that point?
(3) Are you willing to share with us what you're working on next?

gazzalw Tue 30-Jul-13 09:20:51

Hi Kevin

I didn't get a copy but fuelled and inspired by the comments on here, it will definitely be on my book wishlist for the summer hols...

Looking forward to the webchat tonight...

My question is this (and hoping it's not too much of a political hot-potato to answer): in the UK there's been some shocking documentaries recently about the levels of PTSD amongst (former) soldiers and how it impacts adversely on them trying to pursue their lives in 'civvy street'. What is the situation currently like in the USA? As an ex-soldier who sounds as if he suffered from a form of PTSD, what do you think should be done to help soldiers adapt to their post-military lives and to prevent their war experiences from having a negative, and in some well documented cases, fatal, impact on the rest of their lives.

Many thanks

Gazzalw

Evening everyone

I've been looking forward to this chat for six months, ever since I stayed up all night reading THE YELLOW BIRDS and only just resisted waking up my husband at 2.15am to tell him about the excellence of this novel.

There is a lot to discuss, so without further ado...

Kevin, welcome to Mumsnet Bookclub and thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on your numerous prizes and on your beautiful, deeply affecting novel. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:02:23

TillyBookClub

Evening everyone

I've been looking forward to this chat for six months, ever since I stayed up all night reading THE YELLOW BIRDS and only just resisted waking up my husband at 2.15am to tell him about the excellence of this novel.

There is a lot to discuss, so without further ado...

Kevin, welcome to Mumsnet Bookclub and thank you very much indeed for taking the time to be here. And many congratulations on your numerous prizes and on your beautiful, deeply affecting novel. We'll kick off with the advance questions from further up the thread. And then we'll aim to get through as many new ones as possible over the next hour (although getting through all the posts above may take a good chunk of that...)

I'd also like to add our two standard MN Bookclub questions (which we like to ask all authors):

Which childhood book most inspired you?

What would be the first piece of advice you would give anyone attempting to write fiction?

Over to you...

Thanks for having me. I've had a chance to look at some of the questions and they've been great.

As to those two questions:

I’ve loved reading for as long as I can remember. When I was young I’d read as many fantasy and westerns as I could get my hands on. But it wasn’t until I read the poetry of Dylan Thomas when I was 12 or so that I felt like I needed to write.

For advice I'd say don’t worry too much about trying to figure everything out before you start. Allow the writing to be the place where you make your discoveries and your mistakes. I try to be fearless in my writing and ruthless in my rewriting. It’s a standard I rarely live up to, but the effort does pay off.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:03:17

girlie26

Beautifully written, you're drawn into the friendship and want to see how it evolves. Had to concentrate at times due to the scenes alternating.

Question-Did you consider writing the story chronologically? And if so, why didnt you?

Reading this well written, observed book-experience of reading about war differs to that of what you read in newspapers etc

The story was initially written chronologically. But once I had a clear sense of what was going to happen to the characters, I felt like there was an opportunity to let the structure of the book contribute to a reader’s ability to understand what they were going through. So, for instance, the structure of the book is fragmented in the same way that John’s memories of his experiences are fragmented. I didn’t feel like that would have been possible if I’d left the story in order.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:04:24

ResNulis

I am unable to join the webchat this evening, but very much wanted to post - both to thank you for my copy of the Yellow Birds, and to say how impressed I was by this book.
The subject would not normally have tempted me, but I had read such excellent reviews that I was encouraged, and was fully rewarded.
It is a rare thing, these days, to find a book so evocative of both atmosphere and human spirit in such well crafted and eloquent prose. I recently re-read The Grapes of Wrath, and found much in the Yellow Birds which reminded me of this classic.
An emotive, stunning read.

I would be most interested to know if the author found writing to be cathartic in dealing with the remaining issues of his own return to homelife.

I did. I’ve never found turning away from or trying to ignore the issues in my life to be an effective way of dealing with them. And I’d include questions and concerns about the society I live in along with whatever is going on in my personal life. I’ve always found it necessary to try to understand where and how I fit into the world. For me, writing is a singularly useful way of getting closer to something like understanding.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:05:18

SunshinePanda

This book makes me so pleased to be part of MN book club as I would probably not have chosen this book myself but found it both moving and insightful. Certainly the language used added to the depth of the story as did the complexity of the relationships between the main characters. When you were writing, how pivotal to the development of the story was the promise made to Murphy's mother?

It was essential. I knew from the beginning that I wanted to write about someone who had good intentions but would be faced with the terrible consequences of acting on them. John’s guilt, which I see as the root of his problem (not that it isn’t justified), largely stems from the failure to keep this promise. This is really the heart of the book for me, because that promise comes to represent so much more than just the few irresponsible words he spoke to Mrs. Murphy.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:06:24

mignonette

Kevin- Thank you so much for your book.

"I've always had a certain level of comfort with the dark part of the human experience"- Kevin Powers-Guardian June 2013

Have your experiences at war modified this at all?

What response have you had from fellow veterans?

I’ll answer your second question first. I think that more than anything else veterans are pleased that people are trying to understand their experience and that their stories are being told.

I didn’t mean to give the impression that I’m attracted to that part of the human experience, only that I have always felt like there is so much to learn by thinking about it. And I seem to have a relatively high tolerance level when it comes to exploring that part of life. The war certainly focused the kinds of questions I’d have to ask myself: What can we endure as human beings and how? What does this do to us if it doesn’t destroy us? Why, when we’ve achieved so much in terms of alleviating pain and suffering, do we still spend so much of our time causing it?

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:07:02

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans

I'm about halfway through (hoping to finish before the webchat), and was gripped from the start.

As other people have said the book's beautifully written, almost poetic, and there are places where the beauty of the language makes the events being described seem even uglier in contrast: the very first paragraphs, for instance, with the image of the war as a living beast. Or Sterling rubbing tabasco in his eyes is mentioned so casually that I was onto the next line before the doubletake came.

Was the contrast between the language & the events intentional?

It was, at least in part. On the one hand, I naturally respond to this kind of language as a reader and a writer. On the other, I wanted the experience of reading the book to be strange and unsettling. One of the ways I hoped to achieve this was by letting the language create an atmosphere that I thought was parallel to the atmosphere that John finds himself in.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:08:04

Gargamella

Thanks for a tremendous read. This one will definitely stay with me for quite a while.

Sorry they're late, but here are my questions.
(1) There are very few characters in the novel. That absolutely worked for me, but was that always your plan, or did you have a broader cast at some stage which you then whittled down?
(2) If Bartle was real and your friend, at what point in his story would you most want to talk to him to help give him strength or comfort? Is he somebody you think you could reach at that point?
(3) Are you willing to share with us what you're working on next?

-what made you go from thinking about writing a book to actually doing it?


It almost didn’t occur to me that I was doing it until I was already well under way. I’ve always been a writer. And I’ve always used writing as the place to understand the world I live in. At some point, admittedly early in the process, I just accepted that I was writing a novel and I was going to see it through to the end.

-which review that you have read about your book is your favourite?


I don’t really read reviews. My personal feeling is that I’m not the intended audience for them, readers are. It keeps me from getting too high or too low on my own work. But I will say that I was relieved when the first review came out in the Guardian and it was positive. The fact that it was reviewed by John Burnside, a writer I truly admire, was also satisfying.

-any other books in the pipeline?

I’m working on another novel now. It’s about a young woman caught up in some difficult circumstances just after the end of the American civil war. And I have a book of poetry that will be out in April.

I have to say a big thank you to the book club too, as I wouldn't have chosen to read a modern war book. But your book really made me think about the lasting effect that war still has on those that serve and the how atrocity becomes the norm. Very thought provoking

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:10:11

Gargamella

Thanks for a tremendous read. This one will definitely stay with me for quite a while.

Sorry they're late, but here are my questions.
(1) There are very few characters in the novel. That absolutely worked for me, but was that always your plan, or did you have a broader cast at some stage which you then whittled down?
(2) If Bartle was real and your friend, at what point in his story would you most want to talk to him to help give him strength or comfort? Is he somebody you think you could reach at that point?
(3) Are you willing to share with us what you're working on next?

Oh, I think I might have mixed up answers with this and the last one. Sorry, first time doing a chat like this!

(1) There are very few characters in the novel. That absolutely worked for me, but was that always your plan, or did you have a broader cast at some stage which you then whittled down?


I always meant it to be a narrowly focused story, but yes, I did remove some characters and storylines that I felt detracted from the overall experience. I wanted readers to be in John’s mind with him for as much of the story as possible. I also understood that his mind isn’t the most pleasant place to be, so I tried to tell his story as efficiently and effectively as I could.

(2) If Bartle was real and your friend, at what point in his story would you most want to talk to him to help give him strength or comfort? Is he somebody you think you could reach at that point?


I don’t believe anyone is beyond reaching, ever. It would be difficult to pinpoint the optimal time to do it, but somewhere along the line I’d simply say, “You are not alone. If you think you are, you’re wrong.” I don’t know if it would work the first time, but I believe it to be true, and I believe the truth does set us free.

(3) Are you willing to share with us what you're working on next?

I have a book of poems out in April and I’m working on a novel about a young woman set in Virginia just after the end of the American Civil War.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:11:48

gazzalw

Hi Kevin

I didn't get a copy but fuelled and inspired by the comments on here, it will definitely be on my book wishlist for the summer hols...

Looking forward to the webchat tonight...

My question is this (and hoping it's not too much of a political hot-potato to answer): in the UK there's been some shocking documentaries recently about the levels of PTSD amongst (former) soldiers and how it impacts adversely on them trying to pursue their lives in 'civvy street'. What is the situation currently like in the USA? As an ex-soldier who sounds as if he suffered from a form of PTSD, what do you think should be done to help soldiers adapt to their post-military lives and to prevent their war experiences from having a negative, and in some well documented cases, fatal, impact on the rest of their lives.

Many thanks

Gazzalw

We’re experiencing the same terrible difficulties in the US. In my opinion, we should understand as citizens of our respective countries that this is what happens and will continue to happen to a huge number of people who go to war. We can call it soldier’s heart, shell shock, combat fatigue or ptsd. It isn’t a side effect of going to war; it’s the primary result. And it will continue as long as we think we can use violence on a massive scale to solve political differences. I personally don’t think a nation should go to war unless it completely understands that it may sacrifice the futures of all of the people who will fight on that nation’s behalf. If it’s not as an absolute last resort, I don’t think war can ever be justified.

I'd like to know whether your experience has changed your essential view on war as a solution to political problems - did you believe in the 'rightness' of the Iraq war when you signed up? Or was it more a duty?

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans Tue 30-Jul-13 21:12:53

Hi Kevin. Thanks for answering my question. I'm intrigued by what you said about your next novel- does writing it feel easier or harder so far than writing Yellow Birds, and why?

yUMMYmUMMYb Tue 30-Jul-13 21:14:00

Thanks for answering, so refreshing to hear that reviews aren't what you focus on. Started your book last night and i'm hooked already. Look forward to reading more of your work :-)

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:17:28

over40andmumtoone

I have to say a big thank you to the book club too, as I wouldn't have chosen to read a modern war book. But your book really made me think about the lasting effect that war still has on those that serve and the how atrocity becomes the norm. Very thought provoking

I'm very happy you decided to read it. A group like this one is particularly important because people often forget that the consequences of war extend beyond the people directly involved in it. Their friends and families suffer an extraordinary hardship, mothers most of all. I try to remind people that the mothers of these men and women are all fighting private wars of their own.

Oops, crossed posts and you've answered my question in the last one to gazzalw... but would still like to know how you felt at the beginning of your stint in the Army.

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

GeraldineMumsnet (MNHQ) Tue 30-Jul-13 21:19:26

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?

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)

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:22:09

TillyBookClub

I'd like to know whether your experience has changed your essential view on war as a solution to political problems - did you believe in the 'rightness' of the Iraq war when you signed up? Or was it more a duty?

It has. My response to gazzalw touches on it, but I signed up out of a sense of duty to my country and my fellow citizens, and an idealist's perspective on words like freedom, justice, etc. Most of all though, I naively believed that people in positions of power would only send an army to war if it were absolutely necessary.

I hope I've done away with my naivety and retained a healthy amount of idealism.

KevinPowers Tue 30-Jul-13 21:25:05

EmpressOfTheSevenOceans

Hi Kevin. Thanks for answering my question. I'm intrigued by what you said about your next novel- does writing it feel easier or harder so far than writing Yellow Birds, and why?

Writing always feels hard, but the process is easier because I recognize what part of it I'm in. So I don't beat myself up when I'm not as productive as I'd like. With The Yellow Birds every step was a step into the unknown.

'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)?

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.

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 21:35:45

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.

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 21:39:32

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.

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 21:42:08

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.

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 21:45:35

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.

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.

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

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.

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 21:58:27

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.

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 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.

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.

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?

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.

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

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...

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 :-(

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.

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.

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