Teen Book of the Month: Firebird
Book: Firebird by Elizabeth Wein | Age category: 10+
Firebird is Elizabeth Wein’s latest novella with Barrington Stoke. It is a thrilling adventure set in Russia during the Second World War and follow the Nastia, a flight instructor and later pilot in the Soviet Union Air Force. Nastia is an inspiring protagonist, strong and determined but also relatable and aware of her own limits.
The story is gripping, and offers a refreshingly different experience of a teenager during World War II. Firebird also offers us a glimpse into the often forgotten role women played in female Soviet pilots. Any history buff or fan of Elizabeth Wein is sure to enjoy this action-packed tale!
Hear more from Elizabeth in our Q&A below, and enter our competition to win one of five copies of Firebird!
Q&A with Elizabeth Wein
What inspired your decision to write a story set in Russia during WW2?
For the past three years, I’ve been researching and writing a non-fiction book called A Thousand Sisters (Balzer & Bray, 2019, USA only) about the women’s regiments who flew combat missions for the Soviet Union in World War II. I’ve been thoroughly immersed in their stories, and when Barrington Stoke asked me to come up with an idea for a new novel, my head was already popping with ideas – I knew this was my chance to write some fiction about these truly amazing women.
What did you enjoy most about the research for this book? Was it easy to find the information you needed?
Definitely, the most exciting part of the research was my trip to Russia in November 2016. Although back then I didn’t even know I was going to write Firebird, I was eventually able to include a lot from the trip that didn’t go into my other book. I walked around St. Petersburg in snow that was two feet deep, visited the museum that my fictional heroine’s father worked in, got a close look at vintage Soviet aircraft in Moscow, and saw the World War II pilot Marina Raskova’s grave in the Kremlin Wall.
Travelling in Russia and meeting people there gave me some lovely details that I wouldn’t have thought to use if I hadn’t been there – such as rubbing a statue’s toes for good luck and pretending that you’re not in a hurry before a long journey.
Writing Firebird was easy because I’d already done masses of research for my other book. I had all the information that I needed before I started!
The protagonist Nastia is strong and intelligent, but also incredibly loyal, especially to other characters like the Chief. What was the inspiration for Nastia? And do you have any top tips for writing convincing characters?
The airwomen of the Soviet Union’s 586th, 587th, and 588th Regiments in World War II helped to inspire Nastia. Many of these women gave interviews and wrote memoirs after the war, and I used several of their stories to flesh out my own. Determination and loyalty are qualities that all these women shared, and I felt that Nastia’s character ought to reflect these qualities (I have mentioned a few of these women by name in the author’s note to Firebird).
My top tip for writing a convincing character is DETAIL. Give your character some outside interests, like Nastia’s rowing club membership. Build up some backstory for your character, so that you know that person well, even if all the background isn’t mentioned in the final story: figure out family ties, schooling, friends, pets, favourite foods, dress sense. A unique individual will emerge!
I always think that one or two visual clues help, too. Nastia is small – her feet swivel inside her military issue men’s boots, which gives you a picture of her as a young girl, while showing her determination to train as a soldier. Physical details also help the reader to tell less central characters apart. The leader of Nastia’s rowing team is always described as “Big” Stefan; the recruitment officer is red-faced and sweating; the Chief is missing two of her lower teeth.
Even very small details can make your characters come to life – and they can also make a story feel real and vibrant!
Barrington Stoke is an accesible publisher that creates books that help emergent, reluctant and dyslexic readers unlock the love of reading.
We have 5 copies of Firebird to be won - just answer the question below. The competition closes on Friday 28 September at 5pm. All entrants must reside in the UK.