In celebration of Manon Steffan Ros, winner of the 2023 Yoto Carnegie Award for Writing with her crossover novel The Blue Book of Nebo.
- About ‘The Blue Book of Nebo’
- ‘The Blue Book of Nebo’ – two audiences, two languages, two narrators
- About Manon Steffan Ros
- Manon Steffan Ros’s inspiration
- Mother tongue Welsh
- My thoughts on ‘The Blue Book of Nebo’
- Some reviews of ‘The Blue Book of Nebo’ from the Hope Valley College Carnegie Shadowers
- The Yoto Carnegie Medal 2023 – shortlist
- My books
- Over to you
Published by: Firefly Press, 2022. Available from Amazon.
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About ‘The Blue Book of Nebo’
The novel begins after The End. In 2018 the electricity went off. A nuclear power station exploded. Slugs drew themselves out of the soil to die. Birds left in huge sky-darkening clouds. Deformed animals were born. Everybody disappeared from their houses, or died in their beds.
It seemed there were only two survivors, Dylan, aged six, and his mother, Rowenna. Some time later, baby Mona is born.
It is a story of grim, resourceful survival, as Dylan and Rowenna find ways of making their home and their garden work for them. What is left anywhere they can walk to, or carry away from, is theirs now. Especially books.
Also, it’s very much a story of the bond between mother and child, the relationship of mutual dependency, the sharing and caring. And yet there are secrets, as each tries to keep hurtful truth away from the other.
Importantly, it’s a book about language and identity as Dylan teaches himself Welsh, and Rowenna recalls her own rarely spoken mother tongue.
‘The Blue Book of Nebo’ – two audiences, two languages, two narrators
The novel is a crossover book, as our interest is equally in Rowenna and in Dylan. It was first published as a book for adults, and some foreign language publishers have published it as a book for adults. Firefly Press, publishers of the English edition, describe it as a crossover novel.
The Blue Book of Nebo was first written and published in the Welsh language as Llyfr Glas Nebo. Manon entered it for the National Eisteddfod under a pseudonym and it won the 2018 Prose Medal. Subsequently the author adapted (she rejects the word translated) it herself into English.
It is a two-voice narrative. Rowenna and Dylan are mother and son sharing the same experience and coping with it in different and private ways. Together and apart, they write a diary in the ‘Blue Book of Nebo’, which Rowenna has given to Dylan to write his stories in. It’s his idea that they should both write it, as a record of what is happening to them, to record the now of history. Each promises never to read what the other has written, which gives the author of the novel licence to reveal all the hidden truths and emotions that can’t be told.
About Manon Steffan Ros
Manon Steffan Ros is a Welsh novelist, playwright, games author, scriptwriter and musician. She has written over twenty books for adults and children and has won many awards, including, three times the prestigious Tir na n-Og.
Manon says of her writing process that she starts off longhand (so do I!). Although the idea for the novel was in her head for a long time, she wrote it in three weeks in order to enter it for the Prose Prize at the National Eisteddfod, which she won.
She doesn’t plan what she writes: ‘I write what comes. I feel freer when I’m writing Y/A fiction.’ Like many authors, she’s obsessive about notebooks and nice pens.
After leaving school she became an actor, and has written several award-winning plays. Her dramatisation of The Blue Book of Nebo, under its Welsh title Llyfr Glas Nebo was toured in 2020.
Manon Steffan Ros’s inspiration
In her Yoto Carnegie interview the author explains that her inspiration is fear. ‘I’ve always had this fear of something huge and awful happening in the world.’ As a child she went on protest marches and campaigned for nuclear disarmament.
I wonder if another of her inspirations is joy. Many times in her interviews she use the word ‘joy’ in connection with writing and reading. Her passion for the process of writing shines through, and it is evident that words, both the written and spoken word, in English or in Welsh, are powerfully inspiring.
Mother tongue Welsh
Welsh is Manon’s mother tongue, and all her novels were written in Welsh. She is a translator, but she talks of ‘adapting’ rather than ‘translating’ when she refers to the process of turning Llyfr Glas Nebo into The Blue Book of Nebo.
‘I’m so lucky to have two languages to write in. The characteristics of the two languages are so different. They’re both so full of joy for me as an author. Things tend to feel a little bit darker in Welsh. The English version is quite different from the Welsh version.’ In the English version, Dylan teaches himself Welsh from the books he and his mother have ‘stolen’ from deserted houses. Rowenna no longer speaks in Welsh, and the realisation of the importance of their national language became a theme of the adaptation. ‘Finding the Welsh language and using it – this was a matter of confidence for Rowena.’
In her Yoto Carnegie interview she asks ‘Who owns a language?’ She describes how wonderful it feels to have people reading a book which is about the Welsh language. The Blue Book of Nebo is the first book in translation to have won the award.
My thoughts on ‘The Blue Book of Nebo’
This short post-apocalypse novel is honest, stark and gripping. The fact is, it could happen, and it might happen in our lifetime. The searing consequences of a nuclear disaster are related with simplicity. There is cruelty, and there is tenderness. There is hopelessness, and there is resourcefulness. There is the reality of total isolation in a bleak and horrifying landscape, and there is the sometimes uncomfortable but unflinching mother-son bond that gives Rowenna and Dylan the energy to somehow survive.
The emotional undercurrent of this small, simply told story is vast. It takes a worthy place among other major post-apocalyptic novels, and I’m glad the publishers had the foresight to publish it for young adult readers.
Some reviews of ‘The Blue Book of Nebo’ from the Hope Valley College Carnegie Shadowers
Here are some reviews from young readers of Hope Valley College, shadowing the Carnegie medal.
Overall review of The Blue Book of Nebo: 4.5. I genuinely really enjoyed this book. It isn’t like your typical book, one that’s set out with an overarching plot that gets resolved at the end and is all perfectly tied together with a neat little bow on top. Instead, this book’s ending leaves you questioning what you just read for days to come. The Blue Book of Nebo is essentially a diary written between the shared perspective of a mother and her son during an apocalyptic world. While the son writes about the present and how life is for them now, the mother writes about the past.
It’s a strangely brilliant experience as you are able to relate to the mother describing the past as it’s generally describing activities that we do daily, ones that we wouldn’t even question but the son in this apocalyptic world finds ‘strange’. This book is brilliantly written as you slowly find yourself getting attached to the characters as you begin to see life from their perspective. And, as I mentioned previously, the ending was just phenomenal.
Instead of resolving everything, it just leaves you with more questions, forcing you as the reader to fill in the blanks and complete the ending yourself, but that’s the whole point of the story. It doesn’t have to have an ending as it’s a beautiful story about survival and their fate is always uncertain, but as mother and son, they will face every challenge together. At first, after finishing it I wasn’t sure I liked the ending. In fact, I couldn’t form a definitive opinion at all. But after being able to think everything through, I realised that isn’t the point of the book, though you would have to read it for yourself to properly understand.
I also loved the mixed use of Welsh in the book, it was always used during a perfectly fitting moment! The only reason this book isn’t 5/5 is due to some inconsistencies I found in the story, though that’s probably me just being a bit too nit-picky. Overall, an amazing read and I highly recommend to readers who want something different than your regular boring story or even anyone who is looking for something unique, a story that will make you question every detail.Abbey
The Blue Book of Nebo was a captivating and packed book, filled with so much of… everything! With the two completely different characters, Dylan and Rowenna, all of the emotions completed this novel perfectly. I loved the concept of two unique people, fighting together. The ending of The Blue Book of Nebo was incredibly shocking, and added a touch of suspense. This book was AMAZING!!!!Martha
A fantastic book! I read it in one day! The Blue Book of Nebo is set in apocalyptic Wales. Although their world situation is different from ours, it does feel like a very plausible narrative. So much so, it made me think about how I’d do in the same situation. I decided I should learn to pickle things… just in case!Claire
I found The Blue Book of Nebo quite interesting because it made me think about what the world would be like without any other people except my family. Some parts of the book were quite sad. I thought it was nice that you could read the story from the perspective of Rowenna as well as Dylan because it showed how they were very different, but still went through everything together.Zoe
The Blue Book of Nebo is set in Wales after an apocalyptic event that has apparently wiped out the entire population, with the exception of a small family of survivors. Since The End, Dylan, Rowenna and Mona have lived in hilltop isolation without power or mains water, growing and gathering everything they need, the boy and his mother each recording their story in a notebook ‘stolen’ from a house in the deserted nearby village. Neither reads what the other has written, so neither knows the other’s secrets, but the reader builds up a picture of events from the two perspectives in the Blue Book.
It is powerfully but gently written with moments of beauty, great sadness and cautious optimism and space given to the reader to fill in un-spelled-out detail and imagine what might follow beyond the end of the book. I’d give this one the Medal without hesitation.Harriet
The Yoto Carnegie Medal 2023 – shortlist
- The Light in Everything by Katya Balen (Bloomsbury Children’s Books), a beautifully written book for 10+ readers. Zofia and Tom, two very different children, are thrown together unwillingly through the developing relationship of their parents. In 2022 Katya Balen won the Yoto Carnegie medal with October, October.
- When Shadows Fall by Sita Brahmachari, illustrated by Natalie Sirett (Little Tiger). 10–13s. The poignant story of Kai, Zak and Orla and the changing landscape of their adolescence and their childhood haunt.
- Medusa by Jessie Burton, illustrated by Olivia Lomenech Gill (Bloomsbury Children’s Books). A girl looks down from a high cliff, sees a young man in a boat, and falls in love with him. She is Medusa, snake-haired. He is Perseus. Is their love doomed from the start? Jessie Burton has a terrific writing voice, muscular and vivid, and this story is immensely readable. Medusa, a feminist and hard-hitting story, is her first Y/A novel.
- The Eternal Return of Clara Hart by Louise Finch (Little Island). 14+. A timeloop novel. The main character keeps reliving the death of Clara after an extremely drunken party at his friend Anthony’s house. She dies and then she comes to life again, time after time. Is Spence to be trapped in this cycle of horror and grief for ever? But little by little, things begin to change for him.
- Needle by Patrice Lawrence (Barrington Stoke). 12+. Charlene knits to hide her emotions. After her mum dies she is cared for by a foster mother Annie, and is separated from her beloved little sister Kandi, who lives with their dad. Her foster mother’s son Blake destroys a dinosaur blanket she’s making for Kandi. Charlene stabs his hand with a knitting needle. NOW SHE IS A CRIMINAL, SHE’S BLACK, AND SHE’S A JUVENILE. She has to say she’s sorry, but she can’t.
- I Must Betray You by Ruta Sepetys (Hodder Children’s Books). 16+. Hard-hitting, intriguing and immensely readable. Set in Romania during the tyrannical regime of Ceaușescu. Kristian is blackmailed to become an agent.
- The Blue Book of Nebo by Manon Steffan Ros (Firefly Press).
Some interesting facts about the shortlist
- All of these books are written by women
- Two are by previous winners of the Carnegie Medal for Writing (Katya Balen and Ruth Sepetys)
- Five of the authors are winners of other important literary awards
- One of the books is the author’s debut novel
- This is the first time the award has been given for a book in translation
- Four of the seven books feature children whose mother or father is dead
You might like to read my own book about survival, Children of Winter, which is due to be republished in November 2023.
Over to you
Two other crossover books about young survivors of a national or global disaster are:
- Over One Thousand Hills I Walk With You by Hanna Jansen – see my 40 all-time favourite books blog
- Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys.
There are many more children’s books about survival – what would you most recommend to other readers? Please add your favourites to the comments box below.