Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein is an amazing historical fiction, and unlike any I’ve read before. Set in World War II, it looks at two girls doing extraordinary things in an extraordinary period of time. I loved the characters and the story, and how Elizabeth fit everything together so amazingly well that you get to the end and go OMG I need to start reading from the start to figure out how this all worked because that was amazing! You can read my full review of Code Name Verity HERE. And not only did CNV make our BIR list, it also made the New York Times Notable Children’s books of 2012 list!
Can I start out by saying that I am just delighted, honored, and so grateful to have Code Name Verity featured in your ‘Best I’ve Read’ selection? THANK YOU. Praise like this makes all the work worthwhile.
Can I also say that these are REALLY HARD QUESTIONS? So simple, and so difficult to answer! And not just because of the spoiler potential. I hope I am up to the challenge! ~ Elizabeth
1. Code Name Verity has a wonderful twist half way through, what you thought you knew isn’t quite the whole story. How did you keep the all the “truths” moving forward without taking any missteps? Did you story board or outline or anything like that?
I sort of brainstormed my way through the first third of the book and then I started getting a bit confused about the timing of what I’d written, so I had to start numbering ‘Verity’s’ writing days. I didn’t want it to feel like a diary or journal so I didn’t want to date things, but eventually I just couldn’t hold the timeline in my brain any more.* I had to sit down and make an actual day by day, dated and timed plan of the entire book – including cycles of the moon and actual events that were taking place during the war.
One kind of cool thing that I did once the whole manuscript was finished was that I pulled it all apart and rearranged it chronologically, so that I read all the sections from parts 1 & 2 in the order they were supposed to be ‘written’ – looking for major bloopers. I did find some – I’d end up with somebody working a week job during the weekend, or talking about something that hadn’t happened yet.
That ‘twist’ you’re talking about, the halfway-through one, was not originally intended to be a twist. It came out that way because in order for certain events later in the book to work out, Verity had to believe certain things that weren’t actually true. Which means that the reader ends up believing them too. It actually came as a surprise to me when some of my beta readers came back to me saying, ‘OMG I didn’t know – – -!’ I’d just been trying to fool the narrator, not the reader!
(It is really ridiculous trying to talk about this book without giving away spoilers.)
*(Eventually I did include dates in Verity’s section, but I tried to disguise them as file numbers – so when it says ‘Ormaie 10.XI.43 JB-S’ at the beginning of a section, that’s the local Gestapo administration filing system (in my head) organizing this as ‘Ormaie SS Headquarters, 10 Nov. 1943, [Verity’s actual initials identifying her as a prisoner].’ And in Part 2 I did include actual dates, but I embedded them in the text.)
2. While researching CNV, what’s the coolest bit of info that you came across that you couldn’t find a way to fit into the story?
There were a ton of little details that I’d have loved to include, which were just irrelevant. You’d find cute period things like this and you’d wish you could find a reason to stuff them in:
Do not believe the tale the milkman tells;
No troops have mutinied at Potter’s Bar.
Nor are there submarines at Tunbridge Wells.
The BBC will warn us when there are.
I think maybe the coolest wealth of information I uncovered was about the barrage balloons, the tethered hydrogen balloons they used to surround cities with to try to stop enemy aircraft getting through for bombing raids. As well as being difficult for aircraft to navigate around, especially in the dark, the cables that tied the balloons were often rigged with explosives. In May 1941, women were recruited to ‘man’ the balloons – by 1943, 1029 balloon sites were run by crews composed entirely of women, making up nearly half of Balloon Command Personnel.
Cool video here: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/waafs-and-barrage-balloon
This barrage balloon girl pic is in the CNV book trailer!*
3. I have a few things I’d love to know about that could potentially happen after the end of CNV, any chance for a short story or a revisit with the characters?
I will say that there is stuff in the beginning of my next book, Rose Under Fire, which should satisfy most people’s number one burning question about What Happens After. Maddie does feature as a minor character in this book, although the focus is on a new character.
4. What does it mean to you as an author to be in the top 10 of The Goodreads Choice awards?
I have been a member of Goodreads since 2007 – longer than I’ve been on Facebook. I’ve often told people it’s my favorite website. I’ve posted 189 reviews on Goodreads – every single book I’ve read since 2007 (except a handful from the last couple of months). I’m also a Goodreads Librarian, which is very cool.
If anyone had ever told me that at some point one of my own novels would become so popular it was going to float into the top 10 of the Goodreads Choice Awards in its category, I don’t think I’d ever have believed it. It is as astonishing to me as it is wonderful. And here’s a measure of how wonderful it is: in the last couple of days someone posted a review of Code Name Verity which said the reader would have never known about the book if it hadn’t been for the Goodreads Choice Awards.
So what does it mean to me? It’s a lifeline. Truly. It may actually make a difference to my career. And the best thing about it is that it’s readers who have done it. Marketing and publicity have absolutely nothing to do with this honor – it’s reader support that put the book there. So. It means more than I can say.
5. If you were in Maddie and “Verity”‘s shoes would you have made the same choices? What do you think drives someone to work as a spy during WWII?
I think I am more of a Maddie than a Verity in terms of my reaction to stress and the actions I take. I can’t possibly guess what I would do in the heat of the moment; a lot of Maddie’s actions are the result of choices made quickly and decisively. But you know, when my flight instructor asked me if I’d like to try flying a loop, I didn’t hesitate. And as I was doing it, my whole being was going, OH – THIS is why I wanted to learn to fly. If I die now, I will die happy.
But have I gone ahead to take aerobatic lessons? No. I am more a snap decision kind of person than a long-term daredevil. Definitely more Maddie than Verity.
I have actually read a lot about the women who ended up as Special Operations Executive agents in WWII, and they were driven by all different kinds of things. Patriotism, revenge for a loved one, devotion to a loved one, hatred of the Nazi regime, adventure – some of them were more patriotic than others, but they were all invested in a way that I don’t think we can quite understand from outside. I recently read Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, and I can assure you that the acts of heroism and tragedy that were going on in Nazi-occupied Europe were also going on in Iran while I was growing up, and they are going on in North Korea and elsewhere now. What drives people to take risks like this? Often, a desire for change. Sometimes, a kind of lunacy.
In Verity, I tried to create a character who had a strong moral sense and a strong patriotic sense but the driving force in her ‘spying’ is really just how much she enjoys bluffing and play-acting and fooling people. Her bottom line is that she’s in it as a game. That approach backfires very badly; it’s not a game. But what keeps her going in her worst moments is to play as if it is.
6. What’s next for you, any more books in the pipeline?
Phew, this is the easiest question to answer, because I’ve recently written a blog post for ‘The Next Big Thing’ author exchange and you can read all about my next book here (also, see Question 3, above!):
The book will take place a little later in the war, after the events of Code Name Verity, and feature a new Air Transport Auxiliary pilot, Rose Justice. She’s American but working in the UK. Different things happen. It’s intense, but not as twisty as CNV.