These past five years or so have been excellent for me. Over the years I have collected up as much fiction as I could set during and around the First World War. It’s a period of history that has long fascinated me and I have been interested to see how novelists deal with it. As we have marked the War’s centenary publishers have fallen over themselves issuing and re-issuing books that tie in. Some are good, some not. But I have added many titles to my collection.
One of the things I have particularly enjoyed is reading books that give a Scottish perspective and I was fortunate enough to receive one such last week from Floris Books. A Secret Diary of the First World War is inspired by an actual account of a teenager who fought on the Western Front. Gill Arbuthnott has used his story to make the Great War more accessible to younger readers. James Marchbank really existed and, as a fourteen year old Territorial, was legitimately called up at the beginning of the War and sent to France (although regulations changed soon after meaning that men had to be 18 to serve abroad). He kept a diary and Gill has used it as the basis for her book which also includes blocks of explanation to help modern readers. The book is illustrated by Darren Gate in a very engaging style.
I’m very glad to have this book and I’ll certainly add it to my collection. The only problem I have with it is knowing where to shelve it. It seems to me that it’s more fact than fiction but it reads as a story. I guess it’s not a huge problem. I could just buy another copy! But wherever libraries and bookshops decide to shelve it, I hope that they draw it to the attention of young people as this is a book that deserves to be read.