We’re really excited to exclusively reveal the cover for Following Frankenstein by Catherine Bruton – a ‘sequel’ to Mary Shelley’s classic story.
Coming in October 2021, Following Frankenstein is truly an epic adventure – taking the reader from the icy Arctic Tundra to a sinister circus in New York and then ranging all across the American plains via the Transcontinental Railroad. Focused on the generation that followed Dr Frankenstein and his infamous monster, this is the tale of a mixed-up monster boy and the young girl who befriends him as they evade slave-catchers, bounty-hunters and evil men of science, all to pursue a very gothic American dream. The book is available to pre-order from Amazon or from Bookshop.
The cover artwork is by illustrator Thy Bui and the book is publishing with Nosy Crow on 7th October 2021.
With curriculum tie-ins galore, Catherine’s teaching experience really shines through the story as she touches on topics like the Underground Railroad, discrimination and empathy and even brings in a few other favourite literary characters for good measure (look out for a familiar Ishmael!).
But don’t just take our word for it – Catherine stopped by our blog this week to tell us more about the new story…
Guest Post: Following Frankenstein
by Catherine Bruton, author of No Ballet Shoes in Syria and Another Twist in the Tale.
It was 1982. E.T. fever swept the nation. My most prized possession was my extra-terrestrial lunch box; my favourite food was an E.T. biscuit which changed colour when you licked it; I wore a ra-ra skirt, maroon leg warmers and big Princess-Di collars; and all I wanted was to find an alien in my cupboard with a light-up finger who needed to phone home.
My wonderful primary school teacher Mrs Cockayne decided to tune into E.T. fever through a class project on aliens. But instead of looking at little green men, she read us ‘The Iron Man’ by Ted Hughes, ‘Stig of the Dump’ by Clive King and an abridged version of Mary Shelley’s ‘Frankenstein’. And through those stories, a wonderful teacher encouraged a group of 9-year-olds to think about ‘otherness’, and how societies and individuals treat those who are different. She asked us to consider the pain of exclusion, and the power of kindness.
Looking back, I wonder if she had an agenda. This was, after all, the era when ‘mean girls’ ruled the school, their modus operandi picking on someone to exclude, to treat as a pariah – the fat kid, the thin kid, the poor kid, the kid who didn’t wear socks with Disney motifs, who hadn’t watched the lasted edition of ‘Charlie’s Angels’, who didn’t know the dance moves to ‘Making your Mind up’. If you wanted to stay ‘in’ with the cool crowd then you had to join in with the persecution of the person who was ‘out’ – or it might be you next.
Did Mrs Cockayne read us those tales of outsiders to remind us to be kind? Did she pick stories of standing up for those who are persecuted because they don’t fit in to inspire the pupils of J3 to our own acts of heroism? For me it was the story of the lonely ‘monster’ longing for human contact that stirred my imagination. Because of Mrs Cockayne I’ve always loved the spine-tingling Gothic adventure that is ‘Frankenstein’ – I can still see the images of the monster wondering the frozen arctic wastes that she first conjured up in my mind during reading time in ‘homebay’ back in the early eighties. But she also made me see it as a story about how we treat those who are different. And about what that says about us. And in ‘Following Frankenstein’ I tried to write a tale about otherness, about what it means to look different, to feel different to everyone else around you. To be friendless, ostracized, abandoned even by your own family. And to overcome that through the power of friendship but also through the power of your own difference.
Many years later when I started writing this novel, the wonderfully wise Fox Benwell helped me to see that Frankenstein is also a story about disability and neurodiversity; indeed some critics see it as an early exploration of autistic spectrum conditions. Unfortunately, Mary Shelley’s wise, compassionate and philosophical original has been reinvented and twisted so much within popular culture so that when most people hear ‘Frankenstein’ they think of a monster with a bolted neck, gurning and inarticulate, dangerous and disfigured. And that image has in turn become responsible for many unhelpful tropes about disability that populate literature and wider culture. As I wrote this book, I considered how as writers we can challenge such unhelpful ‘ableist’ stereotypes and tropes – which have even been embedded in the very language we use. Because, as children’s authors, we have a responsibility to champion and to celebrate the 8% of children in the UK who are living with a disability. So I hope this story is one that celebrates diversity, challenges discrimination – and encourages all young readers to do the same.
‘Following Frankenstein’ – like Mary Shelley’s original – also explores mental illness, family breakdown and young carers. Before the pandemic there were 800,000 young carers in the UK – 1 in every 12 secondary aged pupils. Post-Covid those figures have grown exponentially, as have those of children living with a parent suffering from mental illness. The average age of a young carer is 13 but at least 10% of young carers are under the age of 10. As a teacher I have seen the impact this has on young people – many of whom are unaware of their own quiet unspoken heroism. So this story is in celebration of all the young carers I’ve had the privilege to teach – and to the many more across the world – in recognition of the burden they carry with dignity, stoicism and love.
It’s a story about families too. And the power of parental love. But most of all it’s a grand adventure in the style of stories I adore – a race across America with baddies in hot pursuit. It is a mishmash of stories I love and those I have loved teaching. From ‘E.T.’ ‘Stranger Things’ and ‘The Greatest Showman’ to ‘Moby Dick’, ‘Huckleberry Finn’, ‘Last of the Mohicans’, ‘The Scarlett Letter’, ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’, ‘Hard Times’ and ‘My Antonia’. In this novel, I’ve woven in some of my favourite characters and journeyed across America in my imagination to all the places I longed to go in Lockdown – from the New York Bowery to the Arctic Tundra, from Shadwell Basin to the forests of Minnesota and the Great Plains stretching endlessly west towards Manifest Destiny! A little like the monster itself, this story is stitched together out of fragments of other tales, brought to life with a little electricity of my own – it’s not always perfect, and you can see the stitches in places, but I hope that the 17-year-old Mary Shelley who first created the monster would approve, and that all others will forgive my monstrous temerity.
Because I wrote a lot of this story in a coffee shop in Bath, overlooking the site where Mary Shelley penned the final manuscript of her novel, I often found myself thinking of the young woman ostracized by society, shunned by her own family for the choices she had made. And of how she turned that pain into something powerful – a cry for tolerance and kindness which has endured across the ages.
Kata and Maggie encounter lots of people who are different in this story – people who are excluded and discriminated against on the basis of race, disability, culture, gender, appearance and skin colour. We may no longer have circuses that parade people as freaks and curiosities, but social media is its own circus, and the fight for equality is far from won. Yet as a teacher, I stand in awe of this generation’s ability to champion diversity, to own and celebrate their own uniqueness and that of others. So I hope young readers will see this as a story that celebrates difference, that shows how we can triumph not through excluding others but by inclusion, not by ‘fitting in’ but through being authentically ourselves. Because being different can be beautiful, brave, brilliant, loving and loveable.
Thanks to the publishers at Nosy Crow, we have three proof copies of the new book to give away to our followers. There are two ways to enter:
1. Twitter entry – To enter, follow @booksfortopics and RT the giveaway tweet.
2. Instagram entry – Follow @booksfortopics on Instagram & TAG in the giveaway post’s comments a friend who may also like to win this book for their home or school library.
You can enter both ways for two entries! Giveaway closes 11.59pm 15th July 2021 (UK).
Many thanks to the publishers at Nosy Crow for inviting us to reveal this cover and to Catherine for visiting our blog.
Following Frankenstein is available to pre-order from Amazon or from Bookshop.
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