We need some warmth in our hearts right now and Hannah Gold’s debut novel The Last Bear promises that in abundance. It is also a vital story for our times.
We sat down to discuss the book, along with the novel Gold thinks would make a great TV show and the perfect soundtrack to her story’s opening scene.
Could you tell us about your novel The Last Bear
The Last Bear is the story of 11-year-old April who accompanies her scientist father to this remote Arctic island. There are supposedly no polar bears left but, one endless summer’s night, April spots something distinctly bear-shaped loping across the horizon. He is starving, lonely and a long way from home. Determined to save him, so begins the most important journey of April’s life.
HarperCollins (my wonderful publisher) describe it as a celebration of love between a child and an animal, a battle cry for the environment and an irresistible adventure with a heart as big as a bear’s. (I always love that last line!)
How do you feel about debuting in 2021?
I’m very much a cup-half-full kind of person so, while there are many things I will miss about publishing in a pandemic (like seeing my book in a bookshop on publication day!) I also know it’s the perfect time for a heart-warming story like this to come out.
We cannot waste any more time with the climate crisis, so I’m hopeful that booksellers and buyers will get behind the book and make sure Bear’s roar is heard and that his inspirational message gets out there.
What is the first piece of fiction you remember writing?
I remember being fascinated by Narnia when I was younger and was absolutely convinced that, if I tried hard enough, I could somehow find a way through my wardrobe. When that failed to happen, I turned to writing my own book. I can’t remember what it was about but I know I handwrote it on A4 pages. I managed about 30 before giving up and tossing it in said wardrobe where Narnia swallowed it up.
What was an early experience where you learned that language has power?
It was a story I wrote at school after my cat had died actually. I was absolutely heart-broken and wrote a story about how I was feeling. It was the first time I vividly remember being able to take all these quite overwhelming feelings inside me and do something productive with them.
My teacher loved it so much she wanted to put it in the school newsletter. But I was way too embarrassed at the thought of everyone else seeing how much I hurt and I said no. But many years later, I channeled equally powerful emotions for The Last Bear and, this time, I wanted everyone to read it!
I feel like writing with emotion is one of my hallmarks and I love the idea of touching other people’s hearts.
Which song would be the perfect soundtrack to your novel’s opening scene?
You’re My Best Friend by Queen was the song I used for inspiration as I was writing The Last Bear, as it perfectly captures the friendship between April and Bear and that sweet love between them. The kind of pure, instinctive bond you only really get between a child and an animal. So it has to be that one! I’m not sure if it was written for the love between a girl and a polar bear but I’ll take it anyway!
Which novel (other than your own) do you think would make a great TV adaptation?
Tough! Maybe The Midnight Guardians by Ross Montgomery. I read it just before Christmas and loved it. Its World War II setting of light defeating darkness is absolutely perfect for these times.
The Last Bear, written by Hannah Gold and illustrated by Levi Pinfold, is published on 18th February by HarperCollins Children’s Books. You can pre-order it from Waterstones here and Bookshop.org here.