Friday 9 September 2011

Guest Post by Johnny O'Brien (Author of the Jack Christie Adventures)

When I started The Book Zone the first review I posted was for Day of the Assassins by Johnny O'Brien. It was a book I had really enjoyed and thought it was a great boy-friendly read with which to start this blog. Since then two more books in the Jack Christie Adventures have been published, with Day of Vengeance being the latest. Johnny did a Q and A for The Book Zone back in April, and now he is back as part his Jack Christie Adventures blog tour, with his answer to a question I posed him: 

How can writing about history engage younger readers, and particularly boys?

Mmmm. How can I best answer this question? Maybe the best way is to take you straight over to the skies above Kent. It’s August, 1940...

“Then Jack spotted it. A single BF109 heading for home.

“This is Red Two. Snapper ten o’clock low. Tally-Ho! Tally-Ho!”

“Good luck Red Two.”

“Breaking – port forty-five degrees.”

Jack tipped the Supermarine Mark 1B into a steep dive. The twenty-seven litre Merlin III engine screamed as the Spitfire topped four hundred miles an hour, slicing through the freezing air. As Jack levelled out, the G-force crushed him into his seat. Surely the wings would be ripped from the fuselage? But he had managed it perfectly. He peered through the spinning disc of the airscrew at the yellow-nosed Messerschmitt 109 only a hundred metres ahead. The German pilot hadn’t noticed Jack on his tail, so focused was he on his run for the Channel. Jack flicked the gun button to fire and put the reflector sight on. He eased the dot in the middle onto the 109’s fuselage and, as he eased closer, the Messerschmitt drew into the cross hairs. Jack pressed the button. The four .303 Browning machine guns and the two 20mm Hispano canons let rip and the cockpit filled with the smell of cordite. The flank of the 109 was peppered. Instantly, glycol from the cooling system ignited and there was an explosion of white vapour. The 109 flipped onto its back and started to arc into a long, lazy dive. A few seconds before, the German pilot had been heading for home – free. Now he was dead and plummeting to an icy grave, still strapped to his seat. It was no better than cold-blooded murder. Jack was hypnotised and trailed the 109 towards the metallic grey of the sea, far below.

It was a schoolboy error.

The first Jack knew about it was the streaks of angry tracer millimetres above his perspex canopy. A second 109. He should have known better. They always hunt in pairs.

“Red One, Red One – Snapper on my tail.”

But the R/T just crackled. Red One wasn’t coming to his rescue any time soon.

He remembered Angus’s words to him not an hour before: “Never fly straight and level for more than twenty seconds. If you do, you’ll die.”

The Supermarine Spitfire and the Messerschmitt BF109 were the best fighter planes of their day. They were comparable but each had particular strengths. Jack’s training cut in as he remembered the one strength of the Spitfire, which might just save his life. He threw the Spit into a savage turn and glanced over his shoulder. The 109 was still with him – a dirty orange flash from its guns showed that the German was still clamped to his tail like a limpet. Jack heard rounds rip into his fuselage and suddenly a bullet passed right through his canopy, inches from his face. Jack cursed his luck. Trust him to pick a fight with a real pro. He gulped in oxygen from the clammy mask.

Jack tightened the turn and glanced at the instruments to see how badly he was hit – glycol at 100 degrees; oil pressure 70lbs – miraculously still OK – but suddenly his head felt heavy... the brutal speed and tightness of the turn was causing him to black out. If he could hold on he might just survive. Words from his training flashed through his head, “A Spit can turn tighter than a 109 – hold it long enough and the 109 can’t stay with you – he will trace a gradually widening circle in the sky and you may just live...”

Suddenly, the Spitfire started to shake – a high-speed stall. Jack bit his lip to stop himself losing consciousness and a drop of blood trickled down the inside of his mask. He knew it was possible to hold the Spit in the stall... if you were a good enough pilot. He was about to find out if he was. Jack made a fourth turn and snatched a glance at the pursuing 109. Suddenly he saw it wobble – it was also stalling – Jack’s heart soared... the German pilot was being forced to ease the turn to avoid engine failure. It was a matter of millimetres but it would save Jack’s life. A few more mad loops in the sky and Jack started to gain on the 109. His neck muscles were screaming for him to stop, but in seconds the tables would be turned and Jack would have the 109 in his own cross hairs. Sure enough the 109 crept into his sight. Jack felt the adrenaline surge through him and he stabbed the fire button. Again, he heard the staccato rip of his guns, but he had fired prematurely and the rounds flew high and wide. He tried again. Nothing. He was out of ammo already.

Abruptly, his adversary released the 109 from its turn and, just for a moment, Jack caught his eyes peeking out from the white strip of face between helmet and mask. The German pilot touched his temple briefly with an outstretched palm – it was a wry acknowledgement, which meant simply, “Until next time, my friend.”

The sun flashed briefly on the grey tail fin of the 109 as he finally broke for home and then... he was gone.

Jack was alone again in the great blue emptiness, ten thousand feet above the green meadows of Kent.


Still there? Good. If you are a young reader, and perhaps particularly a young male reader, I do hope you enjoyed this short extract from Day of Vengeance, the third in the Jack Christie series. I hope you were ‘engaged’ and I hope you would like to read on.

As well as, hopefully, being entertained, you may not realise it, but you have also learnt quite a lot. In a mere page of text, you’ve learnt some of the things that I had to learn in order to write it: you’ve learnt something about the respective capabilities of the two best fighter aircraft of their day, you’ve learnt something about the aerial tactics about how they would engage, you’ve learnt something about the specifications of the aircraft and you may possibly, have learnt something about what it might have felt like to be there. In doing so, you might sit back and reflect – what would I do in that situation, and would I have been good enough and brave enough? So – you might also have learnt something about yourself.

What you’ve been reading is history - a brilliant and thrilling subject which is endlessly fascinating but also teaches great skills which are applicable whatever you end up doing as in life – maybe even being a fighter pilot.


Huge thanks to Johnny for writing another brilliant guest post for The Book Zone. If you love time travel adventures with great historical settings then these books are for you.

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