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  • B for Buster
  • Written by Iain Lawrence
  • Format: eBook | ISBN: 9780307433152
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B for Buster

Written by Iain LawrenceAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Iain Lawrence

eBook

List Price: $5.99

eBook

On Sale: December 18, 2007
Pages: 336 | ISBN: 978-0-307-43315-2
Published by : Laurel Leaf RH Childrens Books
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Nicknamed after his hometown of Kakabeka, Canada, Kak dreams of flying with the Allied bombers in World War II. So at 16, underage and desperate to escape his abusive parents, he enlists in the Canadian Air Force. Soon he is trained as a wireless operator and sent to a squadron in England, where he’s unabashedly gung ho about flying his first op. He thinks the night ops over Germany will be like the heroic missions of his favorite comic-book heroes. Good will vanquish evil. But his first time out, in a plane called B for Buster, reveals the ops for what they really are—a harrowing ordeal.

The bombing raids bring searchlights . . . artillery from below . . . and night fighters above hunting to take the bombers down. One hit, Kak knows, and B for Buster, along with him and his six crewmates, could be destroyed.

Kak is terrified.

He can’t confide his feelings to his crew, since he’s already worried that they’ll find out his age. Besides, none of them seem afraid. Only in Bert, the slovenly caretaker of the homing pigeons that go on every op, does Kak find an unlikely friend. Bert seems to understand what the other men don’t talk about—the shame, the sense of duty, and the paralyzing fear. As Kak seeks out Bert’s company, he somehow finds the strength to face his own uncertain future.


From the Hardcover edition.

Excerpt

I left a town where fewer than a thousand people lived. I traveled half the world, in the middle of a war, to get away from there. By the spring of 1943, when I finally arrived at a lonely airfield among the hills of Yorkshire, it seemed I had gone as far from Kakabeka as the moon was from the earth. But the first thing I saw when I walked through the door of the sergeants' mess was a guy I knew from home.

He was standing beside the piano, and I saw him only from the back, but I knew right away it was Donny Lee. No one else had hair as red as that, or ears as wide as those. No one but Donny looked so much like a clown from the back.

I thought of running away, but there was nowhere to go. I wanted to hide, but I couldn't. Lofty and Ratty and Buzz had come in behind me, filling the door of the Nissen hut. I just stood with my duffel bag in my hand as Donny turned toward me.

Just then, for a moment, I thought that it wasn't him after all, that it was someone older by many years. His face was a man's, with wrinkles and lines and dark blotches below his eyes. He couldn't be the boy I had seen just two years before, grinning as he climbed on an eastbound train. But his head started back in surprise and his mouth opened wide, and it was Donny, all right. He shouted across the crowd of airmen, "Hey! It's the kid from Kakabeka."

"Donny!" I said. I dropped my bag and pushed away from Lofty and the others. The tin hut was full of smoke and noise, of laughter and a dreadful singing. I pushed my way through groups of fliers, desperate to reach the piano, to get to Donny before he blurted out my secret.

He kept shouting in a voice that was too loud, as though he had gone deaf as well as old. "It is!" he cried. "It's the Kid. It's the Kakabeka Kid!"

He had never called me that at home, and I wished he would stop it now. He was too much older and wilder than me, and we'd never really been friends. But now he threw his arms around my shoulders and hugged me like a brother. He turned me round and introduced me to his crew.

In all of England only Donny knew the truth about me, and I was sure he'd tell the others. But all he said was that we'd gone to the same crummy school in the same little town. He said that he had been my hero, which wasn't exactly true. Then he steered me behind the bar and backed me into the corner made by the storage room.

"Hey, Donny," I said. "How many ops have you got?"

He didn't even answer. He pinned my shoulders to the wall and asked me, "What are you doing here?"

"What do you think?" I said.

"You stupid kid." He thrust his face near mine, and his voice was angry. "You're only sixteen."

If he had said it any louder, everyone would have learned the truth right there on my first day. But all the sergeants were busy with their bottles and their glasses, not even looking at me anymore. Lofty and little Ratty, still in the doorway, were gawking round the hut like tourists at a zoo, while Buzz just looked as half-witted as ever.

Donny lowered his voice, but didn't back away. His breath smelled of beer; his eyes seemed strange. "Go home," he said. "Tell them you lied and you want to go home."

"You're nuts," I told him.

"Do it." He pushed me again, so hard that the wall rattled. "Now. Before it's too late."

He grabbed my sleeve and twisted it round my arm. He stared at the blue patch where a fist held a sheaf of lightning bolts, then down at the cloud-shaped badge of a warrant officer. "Man, oh man," he said. "You must have told some beautiful lies."

He was right; I'd told some good ones. I'd invented years of school and made myself an orphan. The only real things in my life anymore were the patch and the badge, and I was proud as a peacock to have them. I yanked the cloth from his fingers.

"Does your old man know you're here?" asked Donny.

"I doubt he knows I've gone," I said. "It's only been eight months." I tried to make a joke of it. "But just wait till he sobers up, eh?"

Donny stared at me so intently that I looked away, down at his tunic and tie. I saw a pair of wings on his chest, and my single one didn't seem so grand anymore. I envied Donny; I had wanted so much to be a pilot.

"I should tell them," he said. "I should go to the CO right now and—"

"No! Donny, don't." I raised my voice too high, and it broke into an embarrassing squeak. Faces turned toward us; conversations stopped. Over by the door, Lofty frowned at Buzz, then started walking toward me. I put my hand on Donny's arm and begged him, "Please don't tell. Nobody knows the truth."

He looked suddenly sad, and I saw how really deep his wrinkles were. He had aged like a dog, seven years for each of the two since I'd seen him. Just then—half angry, half sad—he looked a lot like my old man.

"What's wrong with you?" I asked.

"You'll get the chop," he said.

"I won't."

"You will. It's always the sprogs who buy the farm."

"Well, not me. Not us." I tipped my head toward the door. "Lofty's the best there is. And anyway—"

"All right, Kid." He straightened up; he took his hands away. "Come and see me when you change your mind."

"You won't tell?" I asked.

"No. You're on your own."

"Then swear," I told him. "Swear to God."

He shook his head. "You'll fly an op or two, then beg me to get you out."

"Just do it," I said. "Swear."

And he did. I made him cross his heart and spit on his hand. Then he waved me off, with the same flick of his fingers that would have chased the deerflies back at home. "You'd better totter along and see Uncle Joe.

"Who's that?" I asked.

"The CO. He likes to meet all the sprogs."

Air force words were like music to me, but that one I hated. It made me blush, even though it was true; I was a sprog, a greenhorn.

Donny turned his back and disappeared into the swirl of blue just as Lofty came out of it. He was the tallest bloke I'd ever known, and I really felt like a kid as I looked way up at his face. Because of his height, and because he was almost twenty, I had always thought of him as an adult. But now, compared to Donny and the sergeants in the mess, he looked a bit silly, like an actor in a school play, only trying to look older.

"That chap," he said. "I say, was he binding you, old boy?" Lofty was Canadian too. He had been in England no longer than me, in the air force just a month or two more. But he talked like an old hand, trotting out the airmen's slang whenever he could, and he sometimes mumbled through his nose, trying to sound more British than the Brits. "What was that he called you? Kaka what?"

"Beka," I said with a sigh. "Kakabeka, okay?"

He had never heard of the place. I had told him and everyone else that my hometown was Port Arthur. He laughed and said, "I'll just call you Kid."


From the Hardcover edition.
Iain Lawrence

About Iain Lawrence

Iain Lawrence - B for Buster

Photo © Donald Lawrence

“Writing for young readers is almost like dipping into a fountain of youth; for hours a day, I am a child again.”—Iain Lawrence

Iain Lawrence is a journalist, travel writer, and avid sailor, and the author of many acclaimed novels, including Ghost Boy, Lord of the Nutcracker Men, and the High Seas Trilogy: The Wreckers, The Smugglers, and
The Buccaneers.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

When I was 12 or 13, I wrote picture books for my younger brother . . .

I started writing short stories after I graduated from high school and kept it up—though sporadically—during my ten-year career as a newspaper reporter. But journalism has a way of sponging creativity, so I went to work at a fish farm instead, in the hope that I would have more time to do my own writing. Two years later, when the farm went bankrupt and I found myself on employment insurance, I started writing seriously. I thought I could produce a publishable book during my one year of E.I. It was a naive idea; five years passed before I sold my first book.

My favorite stories from my childhood are the ones that were read to me . . .

The first story that I remember reading for myself is Robinson Crusoe. I would take it down to the river that flowed behind our house and lie in a little grassy nest. But I never finished it; I didn’t have the patience to read books as thick as that. I remember reading Owls in the Family and Born Free, skipping every second page and then every third in my hurry to reach the end.

My favorite stories from my childhood are the ones that were read to me, a chapter or two at bedtime. Strongest in my memory are beautiful stories like Stuart Little and The Wind in the Willows, and others that gave me nightmares like Treasure Island and Moonfleet.

Stories for young people are tremendously fun to write . . .

I love the shorter length, the quicker pacing, and the necessity of trying to see everything through the eyes of a child. Writing for young readers is almost like dipping into a fountain of youth; for hours a day, I am a child again.

I don’t think any story begins with just one idea . . .

. . . but from a connection of unrelated thoughts. I think all my stories begin with this idea of reliving old favorites, and of trying to capture the emotions that went along with them—fear or wonder or magic. When I look for new ideas, or decide what to tackle next, I think of what sort of story I would like to hear.

I write every day, starting in the morning and going on until mid-afternoon . . .

In winter and in rain, I go back to it in the evenings. But I find summer days too tempting to keep me inside. I always write on a computer and always play classical music, often the same CD over and over and over. In an annoying ritual, I have to win a game of computer solitaire before I can actually begin writing.

I begin every story with an outline, working forward and backward to fill in the plot. The outlines include notes on characters and settings, and they tend to be very chaotic, written almost as a dialogue with myself. They are full of questions and answers, of diverging alternative plots. I revise as I go along, replacing sentences and paragraphs with better ones, but keeping all the words on the computer screen. The passages that I’ve changed—and little notes that I’ve made to myself—keep piling up below the point that I’m working on. When I reach the end, I’ve got many, many pages of disjointed phrases, sentences, and paragraphs. It’s like a junk pile that I like to pick through now and then, just to see if there’s anything useful among the things I’ve thrown away.

I hope most of all to create characters that readers will remember . . .

I think it’s an amazing process that allows a reader to actually see what a writer imagines, to actually feel what a writer feels. I love getting letters from readers who say they felt as though they were inside the story. When I was the same age as them, I read about Captain Bligh’s amazing voyage in an open boat. I remember being so enthralled by one scene, where the sailors were trying to capture a seabird that had landed on the gunwale, that I almost shouted at my sister, who came into the room just then, “Shut up! You’ll scare the bird away.” That’s the feeling I’d like to create for my readers: that the story is utterly true at the time of its reading—that if you so much as move, you’ll scare the bird away.

Iain Lawrence lives on one of the Gulf Islands off the coast of British Columbia, and is an avid sailor. He lives with his longtime companion Kristin, as well as their dog Misty, and cat Sam.

A CONVERSATION WITH IAIN LAWRENCE ON THE LIGHTKEEPER'S DAUGHTER
Q: When did you develop an interest in writing? Did your teachers recognize your talent and encourage you?
A:
My grade three teacher told my parents that I would grow up to be a writer. In later years, in junior high school and high school, creative writing class was my favorite part of school. I remember being praised but not encouraged. I was a very shy child, so it was intensely embarrasing if my stories were chosen to be read aloud, and excruciating if I had to read them myself.

In grade eleven or twelve, I volunteered to be a school correspondent for the neighborhood newspaper. But my first published story was so changed from the version I submitted that I never wrote another one. When I graduated from high school, though, I hoped to be a writer.

Q: In the Acknowledgments you talk about Lucy Island as the inspiration for the setting of The Lightkeeper's Daughter. What was your inspiration for the characters and story?
A:
The first time I sailed to Lucy Island, there was a lightkeeper and his family living there. The last time, their house was just a stub of foundations poking up from burned and bulldozed ruins. It was like a different island, sad and somber, and it's this one that the McCraes inhabit–with a different name so that the real and very happy lightkeepers won't be mistaken for my fictional ones. The McCraes were inspired in part by the sense of loneliness and loss that lay thickly over Lucy then, and in part by the needs of the story. I gave each of them one strong desire, and their relationships arose naturally from the clashing of their different wants.

Q: You write "Alastair was good at everything because he only did the things that he was good at" (p. 101). How should we decide what to do, if it's not simply the things we're good at? Is there something you're not good at that you enjoy?
A:
It's a bit of a Catch-22, isn't it? You can never enjoy doing something you don't do well, but if you do it badly long enough, you get good enough to enjoy it. There are many things I like to do now that were only painful at first. By never trying twice, Alastair limited himself to a very narrow range of interests.

Q: Tell us about your process. Some writers say that their best writing comes out of revising and editing, while others prefer the spontaneity of their first version. How do you work?
A:
I love writing but don’t care much for rewriting. Once I’ve told a story, I tend to lose interest in it and want only to go on to the next one.

I used to start a novel knowing nothing of what would happen. I just began at the first page, wrote through to the last, and called the whole thing finished as soon as I reached the end. After many rejections, I realized I was doing something wrong. It’s my theory now (and I wonder sometimes if I didn’t just pick it up from someone else) that you can outline and write, or write and rewrite. But, really, it amounts to the same thing. A story that is started without an outline will become the outline, going through changes and revisions until it seems right.

Now I like to plan the story carefully and fully, going through it chapter by chapter until I know, for each of them, the beginning and the end, and most of what will happen in between. I like to know the characters, what they are like, and how they talk. The writing always strays from the outline in places. But, like a new highway built beside an old one, they eventually rejoin.


Q: Do you have any personal experiences with whales? What is your connection to them, and why was it important to you include the whale in the book?
A:
This story really began with the whales. The very first thought that inspired it was to tell the songs that whales might sing to each other. Its title then, and nearly till the end, was The Singing of Whales. Several years passed from the day I started the first version to the day I finished the last, all during a time when I spent entire summers wandering the coast in a little sailboat. I often saw whales, and sometimes sought them out. I bought a hydrophone to listen to their voices in the water, and it was always incredibly moving to be near them. One time, we were overtaken by a pod of killer whales. We were going so slowly that they could have shot by, but instead they slowed as they passed. They surfaced right beside the boat, and all around it, a big group of adults and children, and it seemed for a while that we were traveling with them. It was magical, really. The killer whales of the coast represent the ultimate in freedom to me, and it breaks my heart that they're dying.

Q: Usually we think about parents sacrificing for their children. Yet, in a way, Alastair sacrifices his future for Murray's when he agrees to stay on the island. Do you think that happens often in families? How do you decide what to sacrifice for someone or something you love?
A:
I think children seldom make even small sacrifices for their parents. But when they're older, and adults themselves, they often make huge ones, I think. It's ironic that Alastair, by giving his father what he wants, almost guarantees that Murray can't hang onto it. I can imagine that Alastair might have gone to school, studied whales, and returned to Lucy Island one day. I can imagine, too, that Squid would have stayed, and that Murray would have died a happy man on his own little island. But Alastair found that he had given up too much, and by doing it had doomed them all. If sacrifice has a limit, I have no idea what it is. But I can't imagine giving up life for a country, or even for a tiny little island.

Q: In many ways, this story is a tragedy. The characters learn and change, but only through great pain and the death of Alistair. Did you consider other fates for Alastair?
A:
For a time, Alastair did have a different fate - or at least the possibility of one. An earlier version of the story made it clear, at the end, that Alastair paddled away from the island in hope of reaching Vancouver. Whether he arrived or not wasn't said. But it was unthinkable that Alastair would go on with his life without letting Squid, at least, know that he was still alive. So the ending was changed to be less ambiguous, and I think this one is better. But, yes, these character became very real for me, and I thought about them for a long time afterward, often wondering if Alastair might have survived.

Q: At one point Hannah reminds Murray that "No man is an island" (p. 112). Do you agree? Do you identify with Murray's desire?
A:
Hannah, of course, is quoting the poet John Donne: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..." I agree very much with that. The more firmly a person is connected to the mass of humanity, the better that person seems. At the same time, I understand Murray's wish for a simple life in an idyllic place, free from the worries of the world. That he can't have it, no matter how he tries, is a sad reality. Like most people, I think, I'm often less of an island than I'd wish, and sometimes more than I'd like.

Q: Why did you want to tell this story (particularly for a young adult audience)?
A:
For a long time, I considered telling this story in a more straightforward way, beginning with Alastair's birth and ending with his death. It would have been the same story, but very different. Trying to tell it as a series of memories was a puzzle that interested me through the planning and the writing. I wanted a sad story about people struggling for something they couldn't quite reach, and settling for something close. That, to me, pretty well sums up what life is about.


PRAISE

THE WRECKERS
“A fast-paced, atmospheric yarn that will have adventure buffs glued to their seats. . . . First-rate!”—Starred, Publishers Weekly


GHOST BOY
“This poignant adventure invites readers to look beyond others’ outer appearances and into their souls.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly

“This touching novel, [set a few years after World War II], will speak especially to readers who consider themselves different, flawed, or misunderstood.”—Starred, School Library Journal


LORD OF THE NUTCRACKER MEN
“Big themes are hauntingly conveyed through gripping personal story and eerie symbolism.”—Starred, Kirkus Reviews

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