Everyone in the UK is invited to take part in LIGHTS OUT by turning off their lights from 10pm to 11pm tonight, 4th August, leaving on a single light or candle for a shared moment of reflection. The inspiration for LIGHTS OUT comes from a famous remark made on the eve of the outbreak of war by the then Foreign Secretary, Sir Edward Grey: “The lamps are going out all over Europe; we shall not see them lit again in our life-time”. Britain declared war on Germany at 11pm on 4 August 1914 ushering in one of the darkest periods in our history. When the lights go out, and the candles are lit, I’ll be picking up my copy of Stay Where You Are And Then Leave by John Boyle.
I’ve read some brilliant, moving books set during World War One which have evoked the horror of the battlefields, trenches and hospitals, as well as the bravery and camaraderie of the men who fought and the numerous women and men who supported them. Among these books are, of course, the poetry of Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon, the Regeneration trilogy by Pat Barker, Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks and Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo.
The blurb for Stay Where You Are And Then Leave says, This is a story about a boy. It’s a story about his father. It’s about gunshots and white feathers and letters from far away. It’s about love and war. Survival. Secrets. Lies. And the truth.
Alfie Summerfield turns five on the day war breaks out. Everyone tells him that it will be over by Christmas but four years later, when Alfie is nine, it’s still going on and his life has changed completely. His best friend has been taken away, his mother has become a Queen’s nurse and is barely at home anymore, and his father, who signed up on the first day, is missing in mysterious circumstances. Everyone seems to know where Alfie’s father is – everyone, that is, except Alfie himself.
I’m looking forward to reading Stay Where You Are And Then Leave because, having read The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, I have every confidence that John Boyne’s writing will be gripping, engaging, poignant and also intelligent without in anyway glorifying the events of World War One. The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas really was an extraordinary achievement, portraying the horror of the Nazi treatment of the Jewish people during World War Two, without ever discussing events overtly, and thus packing an even greater emotional punch. If Stay Where You Are can match it, it will be a truly incredible, thought-provoking read.
On a night, a hundred years on from the beginning of what was supposed to be the war to end all wars, when in fact conflicts are still continuing, let’s use #LightsOut to think about the mistakes and the sacrifices that have been made, the stories to be told and shared, and the changes we can make in the future.