Reading Group Roundup: Lark

The volunteers at PRG’s Brixton group report on a visit from author Anthony McGowan to discuss his award-winning novel Lark.

Anthony McGowan

The book centres on two teenage brothers growing up with their father and a little Jack Russell terrier. Things are tense at home and the boys decide to go for a walk on the moors. In the words of the blurb: ‘What should have been a laugh, a lark, turns deadly when the weather changes and they are caught in a blizzard. Nothing will ever be quite the same again…’

When we arrived on the wing with Anthony, we were pleased to find the No.1 Governor there to welcome us. She couldn’t stay but was there long enough to see all 12 members of the group gather excitedly in our meeting room with the book in their hands and eager to get going.

Anthony McGowan was terrific. The group was rapt as he told us about the quartet of books, The Truth of Things, the last being Lark (winner of the 2020 Carnegie Medal), his experiences of being a writer and how he found success through Young Adult (YA) fiction.

Everyone had enjoyed reading the book and had lots to say about it. The novel deals with serious themes – family break-up, a father’s drinking and one brother’s neurodiversity. But the relationship between the boys is powerful and the book is full of humour. Indeed one member said he had read it three times and laughed all the way through – quite an achievement as there are some very sad moments! Another asked if Anthony wrote about teenagers with an adult’s perspective. No, he said, his teenage years were very vivid, particularly his time at a tough school, and it was easy for him to get into the head of a teenager. ‘Is it pure fiction?’ No, more an amalgamation of his own experience and loosely based on people he had known. But he confessed that Lark and the rest of the quartet were largely written out of guilt about his terrible bullying of his own brother.

Perhaps the best tribute came from a less experienced member:

‘I read the first chapter, then when I got to the bit about the bus driver looking like a Christmas pudding with legs, I knew I had to read on.’

For him, the plea that one brother makes over and again in the novel – ‘Tell me a story’ – was brilliantly answered by the book itself and our reader was hooked.

The discussion moved on to more general talk about writing, which was especially interesting for two of our members who are hoping to get published.

Anthony’s latest book, Dogs of the Deadlands is set in the aftermath of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster. It’s a heart-wrenching tale of the bond between humans and animals played out against the powerful forces of re-wilding. Anthony generously brought copies for everyone and was happy to sign them.

Very many thanks to Anthony for a great visit.

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