Friday 12 August 2011

Guest Post: Catherine Bruton - Debut Author of We Can Be Heroes

Today I'm very excited to introduce you to author Catherine Bruton whose debut novel We Can Be Heroes was released on the 1st of August. 

My dad was killed in the 9/11 attacks in New York. But the stuff in this book isn’t about that. It’s about the summer me and Jed and Priti tried to catch a suicide bomber and started a riot.

There’s stuff about how we built a tree house and joined the bomb squad; how I found my dad and Jed lost his; and how we both lost our mums then found them again.

So it’s not really about 9/11 but then again none of those things would have happened if it hadn’t been for that day.

So I guess it’s all back to front, sort of …

Sounds like a great read doesn't it!  I ordered my copy but didn't have a chance to read it before my holiday so watch out for a review when I get back.  I'll leave it to Catherine to tell you more about the inspiration behind the story and to introduce you to some of the main characters.


Hello, and thank you so much to Sarah for inviting me to do a guest post on her fab site, and for letting me talk about my own new novel We Can be Heroes. It seems rather shameless of me and I’m not very good at this whole self-promotion lark, so I think I’m just going to have to screw up my eyes and go for it!

We Can be Heroes tells the story of 12 year old Ben, whose dad died in the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York. Ben was only three when it happened so he doesn’t really remember his dad. He goes to spend the summer with his grandparents because his mum is suffering from a mystery illness and there he meets Priti, a 10 year old Muslim girl, who is convinced her brother is a suicide bomber. The pair, along with Ben’s madcap cousin Jed, decide to turn detective to foil the bomb plot with hilarious – and explosive consequences.

We Can be Heroes has been compared to Millions, The Curious Incident and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. It has been described by reviewers as a ‘an outstanding debut’ ‘an astonishing, inventive book’, ‘a remarkable piece of work,’ and‘An important book: brave, honest, funny and very tense.
You can read an extract on The Guardian Books website

The central idea came from an article I wrote for The Times in 2008 about children who lost a parent in the September 11th terrorist attacks

After that about a million other things inspired me, from the Year 9 boys doodling manga cartoons in my lessons; my daughter’s obsession with wheelie shoes; the mischief my kids and their pals got up to (nibbled washing machines, disappearing lap top keys etc!); reading teen spy books to my son; a joke somebody made about a terrorist moving in across the road; watching Son of Rambow and Juno; the Muhammed family wedding on Elm Grove . . . and lots more that I’ve probably forgotten. The whole lot seemed to come together in a big muddle and the silly stuff was as big an inspiration as the serious bits.

Sarah asked me to talk about my characters and where they came from so my first big confession is that the three main characters in the novel are hugely inspired by the kids in To Kill a Mockingbird – my favourite novel as a teenager and still now. In fact I deliberately borrowed from Harper Lee the idea of three kids with over-active imaginations imagining a threat where perhaps none exists, whilst failing to perceive the real danger that lurks on their doorsteps! I guess I also borrowed the central themes of racism and prejudice but set in a modern British context.

Priti in particular is very much inspired by Scout – a kid with a big imagination, a huge vocabulary and an ability to miss the blindingly obvious! She also takes a lot of elements from many brilliant and bonkers little girls I have been lucky enough to teach over the years. Her quirky intelligence comes from my best friend from primary school, Kit. Her sense of style is inspired by my little daughter who has a zany and eclectic dress sense (she once went out with a pair of tights on her head – but not on her legs because, as she explained, ‘Then it would just look weird, Mummy!’) Oh and because the novel explores themes of racism, Priti is also a Muslim who is Islamophobic! She buys into all sorts of negative Muslim stereotypes which I hope the novel ultimately confronts and challenges.

I love Priti because she is hilarious but my favourite character is Ben who narrates the story and sees life in terms of the cartoons he is always drawing (his comic book version of events even appears at the end of the book!) I think I feel most strongly about Ben because he’s based on the real kids who lost their mums and dads in 9/11 - kids who I had spoken to, or whose parents I had interviewed. I always had them in mind as I was writing the novel. I sort of wrote the novel for them.

Jed is Ben’s overbearing older cousin who seems like quite a bully when you first meet him but he’s got stuff going on too. His parents have split up, he no longer sees his mum, and his dad is a bit of a racist bully (actually more than a bit) so no wonder he’s messed up. Jed is the Dill character in the novel - the one who needs the game of let’s-catch-a-suicide-bomber more than any of the others because it provides an escape from the difficult stuff that’s going on in his life.

Jed’ story was inspired by an article I wrote for The Times on Parental Alienation Syndrome and mums who are estranged from their children and so I guess his story line and that of his mum are a tribute the amazing MATCH mums I interviewed. I can’t help hoping that by the end of the novel readers will have come to love Jed as much as I do but he’s not easy to love! Jed’s way of talking and his appearance are totally inspired by my utterly Uber-cool nephew (who is actually a total sweetie, so I hope he will forgive me for borrowing his mannerisms and giving them to a character who is utterly foul at times!)

Most of the other characters are a mix of several people. Granny and Grandad are inspired a bit by my in-laws but also by my own grandparents, and the parents of various school friends. Oh, and Ben’s dad is clearly my lovely hubbie - which he isn’t happy about since I killed him off in print! ‘How could you kill me off?’ he wailed when he found out. ‘Why couldn’t I be the hero and do a car chase and kill some baddies and stuff?’ I tried to explain that Ben spends most of the book trying to connect with the father he never knew – and that there are baddies, and bomb-plots and kidnapping and stuff and they are all sort of a result of his character dying. But the old man is unconvinced and still sulking about literary husbicide (is that the word for killing your husband? If not, what is? Please help) Sorry, Jonny!

So, um, that’s it! If you do get a chance to read We Can be Heroes I’d love to hear what you think of it. Thank you again, Sarah, for inviting me to do a guest post on your fab site and Happy Reading, one and all!


Thanks so much for a wonderful guest post Catherine, I'm really looking forward to reading We Can Be Heroes!  I love the fact that your daughter is confident enough to go out with her tights on her head and not worry what anyone else thinks (I have to admit I also feel a bit sorry for your hubby that you killed him off lol).

If you'd like to find out more about Catherine and her work you can visit her website here, follow her on Twitter or like We Can Be Heroes on Facebook.  You can also read a sample chapter from We Can Be Heroes on the Egmont website here

If you've already read We Can Be Heroes I'd love to know what you thought of it so please leave a link to your review in the comments & I'll read it when I get back from my holiday!

Paperback / Kindle


  1. I just bought this book to take on holiday after a bookshop owner thrust it into my hand and gave it the most glowing recommendation possible. Can't wait to read it, thanks Sarah and Catherine for a very interesting post.

  2. OMG, I really thought this book would be heroes, and I mean those heroes with superpowers. Also a fun, light read. I blame it on the cover. It sounds very serious and very good. Different than I thought it would be, but still great! ;)

  3. Hi Keren - I'm really looking forward to reading this one, it sounds fabulous! I hope you enjoy it & I'm glad you liked the guest post :o)

    Hi Nina - I can see why you thought this was a story about super heros from the cover! It's funny how covers can be misleading at times isn't it!



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