Robin Scott-Elliot on Hide and Seek and historical fiction for teens and tweens
This month our Macaw subscribers are heading to wartime France with a thrilling adventure story that had us on the edge of our seats. Hide and Seek tells the dramatic story of Amélie, one of the bravest, smartest and most inspiring young heroines we’ve read about this year. Here author Robin Scott-Elliot tells us more about what inspired Amélie’s story and which historical books for teens and tweens he recommends you read next.
What inspired you to write Hide and Seek?
This is a story I’ve wanted to write for a long time but was almost scared to in case I messed it up! It goes back to reading The Diary of Anne Frank when I was a teenager growing up in Belgium and Holland. I went to the house in Amsterdam where Anne Frank hid and have never forgotten it. Like Amelie’s Paris, Belgium and Holland were occupied during the war and I used to wonder what it would have been like to grow up in that time – as our older neighbours would have. That’s part of my fascination with history… imagine being in that time. How would you react? Would you be brave enough to be an Amélie in Hide and Seek? Very few of us would.
Are any of the characters or their experiences inspired by real people or events?
Absolutely! I did lots and lots of reading to get my story ready and came across all sorts of amazing and incredibly brave people. Take Simone Segouin – if you google her, you’ll find a photograph of her taking part in the liberation of Paris from the Nazis. The picture captivated me. Simone was a teenage resistance fighter. As was Stephen Grady – the son of a French mother and British father, he was just 14 when he started resisting in the north of France. On the other side of Europe, Hannah Szenes was a young poet turned spy in Hungary who was captured and executed. And there were spies for the Britain’s top-secret SOE, like Noor Inayat Khan, Andrée Borrel and Sonia Olschanezky, young women who volunteered for one of the most dangerous jobs in the war and never came home again.
These young people – and remember this was a war in which people as young as 14, sometimes even younger were involved – helped me create the character of Amélie. I hope she represents a little of them – and I hope that readers might be inspired by Amélie’s story to go and find out about the real Amélies because it’s important we always remember what they did.
What research did you do while you were writing the book and did you discover anything that surprised you?
Lots of reading of history books and memoirs of agents and spies and resistance fighters. Sometimes it’s the small details you want to find to make your story as real as possible – such as what would they have had to eat? What would they wear? In Paris by the end of the war there wasn’t much food and just about no meat at all – so the mayor had to issue a statement warning people not to eat boiled cat!
One of my favourite bits of research was learning how spies were trained. As in Hide and Seek, they really did check nobody talked in their sleep because that might give them away. They’d also use former – or perhaps ‘resting’ – cat burglars and safe crackers as instructors.
A spy can’t make a single mistake – one poor agent looked the wrong way when crossing the road (remember in France they drive on the other side to the UK) and that gave him away.
In what ways do you think young people today will be able to relate to Amélie’s story?
We’re lucky that most of us will never have to go through the terrible challenges faced by Amélie, and the real Amélies. But everyone needs to find a degree of courage at certain moments in their lives. You can do it!
The reason Amélie has to hide is because she is Jewish. She’s one of a persecuted minority and there were too many who didn’t help her when she needed it. It takes courage to help an Amélie. There are plenty of Amélies around today who need help and standing up for. You can do it!
Can you tell us anything about what the future holds for Amélie?
That’s a great question! I have to be careful not to give the ending away… but she says in the book she wants to go back to school. Lots of people after the war just wanted to get back to ‘normal life’ – Simone Segouin, the teenage resistance fighter, became a nurse. What would Amélie have become? I think it’s for each reader to imagine what would have happened to their Amélie.
But it’s got me thinking… what if she went back to London and became an agent again, a spy in the Cold War, what if she became a female James Bond before James Bond even existed…
Why did you choose to write books for this age group?
You can blame my daughters for that! I used to tell them stories on long journeys, myths and legends about Scotland and add my own extra chapters. I thought writing for young people would be too difficult but Iona and Torrin made me promise to write a story for them. So, I did! And that’s where The Tzar’s Curious Runaways, my first book, came from.
Do you have a favourite place to write?
We have a sunroom on the side of our house. I’ve a desk there in one corner – the rest of the room belongs to my youngest’s rabbit. When it’s cold – I live in Scotland so that’s quite often – I turn the heater on and we both sit in front of it.
What other historical books for young people would you recommend our subscribers read next?
You’re so spoilt for choice today. Emma Carroll’s always excellent, as is Katherine Rundell – The Wolf Wilder is one of my favourite books. AM Howell’s Garden of Lost Secrets and The Titanic Detective Agency by Lindsay Littleson are great if you like an historical mystery. For the older reader Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle is brilliant. If you want to find out more about spies in the Second World War, Sufiya Ahmed’s Noor Inayat Khan is worth checking out. And, finally, a book I adored when I was young and still do today – Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s set in Scotland and follows the adventures of Davie Balfour. There’s a scene in Hide and Seek where Amelie is in spy training in Scotland – I was thinking of Davie Balfour when I wrote it.
Copies of our Hide and Seek pack, including a copy of the book and loads of fun activities to go with it, are now available for individual purchase. Grab a copy while stocks last!
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