Ways to live forever, p.1
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       Ways to Live Forever, p.1

           Sally Nicholls
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Ways to Live Forever


  “Powerful, inspiring and courageous … the debut of the year”

  Waterstone’s

  “This is an elegant, intelligent, moving and sometimes even funny book. Young readers (and brave parents, and teachers) will love it”

  Guardian

  “… A Jodi Picoult for teens that pulls no punches”

  Sue Steel, Simply Books

  “... Wonderful. Moving and funny and, yes, sad”

  Eva Ibbotson

  “Heart-wrenching… an exceedingly poignant read”

  Bookseller

  “A deeply affecting and life-affirming read”

  Nikki Gamble, Writeaway

  “Sympathetic, touching and surprisingly funny … a fantastic debut”

  Lovereading4kids

  “Moving, tender but also deeply humorous”

  The Bath Chronicle

  “An excellent and moving work … beautifully done”

  Irish Times

  Ways to Live Forever

  WINNER

  Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize

  Glen Dimplex New Writer of the Year

  Concorde Book Award

  North East Book Award

  Hillingdon Secondary School Book of the Year

  Warwickshire Secondary Schools Book Award

  Bolton Children’s Book of the Year

  Calderdale Book of the Year

  Luchs Prize – Best Book of the Year (Germany)

  USBBY List of Outstanding International Books (U.S.A.)

  SHORTLISTED

  Branford Boase Award

  Manchester Book of the Year

  UKLA Children’s Book Awards

  Lancashire Book of the Year

  Brilliant Book Award, Nottingham Libraries

  Grampian Children’s Book Award

  Gateshead Libraries Children’s Book Award

  Mad About Books Stockport Schools' Book Award

  Le Prix des Incorruptibles (France)

  LONGLISTED

  WHSmith Children’s Book of the Year

  CILIP Carnegie Medal

  Praise from readers

  “The best book I have ever read”

  Sarah, age 12

  “Perfect from start to finish”

  Phoebe

  “An excellent, inspiring book”

  Mark

  “This is the most AMAZING book ever, both hilarious and moving at the same time. When I got to the end I was fighting back the tears”

  Nadia

  “(My 11-year-old daughter) enjoyed it so much she begged me to read it … it is an amazing book that touched me so much”

  Claire

  “This is a beautiful, life affirming, funny and special book. I laughed through the first half and cried through the next”

  Hilary, age 31

  “I will recommend this to anyone I can and will LOVE it forever”

  Rebecca

  “I can’t remember the last time I sobbed so much and when a novel has had such a profound effect on me. I can’t wait to loan (but not give!) this book to my friends”

  Joy, age 39

  To Mum and Tom,

  Nicola, Carolyn and Sarah.

  Thank you.

  CONTENTS

  List No. 1 – Five Facts About Me

  A Book About Us

  Why I Like Facts

  Ella

  Questions Nobody Answers No. 1

  How Do You Know That You’ve Died?

  List No. 2 – Five Facts About How I Look

  Mum and Dad

  List No. 3 – Things That I Want To Do

  The Occasional Wardrobe Nightclub

  Questions Nobody Answers No. 2

  A Bloody Battle

  The French Spy or The Story of How I Met Felix

  Why Does God Make Kids Get Ill?

  List No. 4 – Favourite Things

  Too Disturbing for Home Viewing

  My Life in Hospitals

  Captain Cassidy

  Dr Bill

  Escalators

  Questions Nobody Answers No. 3

  Death Scene

  The Story of Grandfather’s Footsteps

  Me and Marian

  True Facts about Coffins

  Visits

  Why I Want an Airship

  Be a Teenager

  List No. 5 – Ways to Live Forever

  Going to the Moon

  The Story of Stars

  Explosions

  Kidnapping the Phone

  The Story of the Cure

  A Phone Call

  Questions Nobody Answers No. 4

  What Happened

  What is Dying?

  Alone in the Night

  Mum

  List No. 6 – What To Do When Someone Dies

  More Fighting

  Questions Nobody Answers No. 5

  Bullet Holes

  The Story of the Man Who Weighed the Human Soul

  Annie

  Questions Nobody Answers No. 6

  The Funeral

  Things That Have Happened

  A Snow Fall

  Questions Nobody Answers No. 7

  What Happened in the Middle of the Night

  List No. 7 – Five Facts About Dad

  Surprises

  Dad’s Airship

  An Advertisement for Washing Powder

  List No. 8 – Fantastic Airship Facts

  Perfect

  List No. 9 – Best Things

  A Decision

  Questions Nobody Answers No. 8

  The Moon and the Apple Tree

  Why Do We Have to Die Anyway?

  Different

  Clay Birds

  Cards

  Presents

  Everything

  Spring

  List No. 10 – Where Do You Go After You Die?

  Dreaming

  Dying

  List No. 11 – Things I Want to Happen After I’m Dead

  Acknowledgements

  Information

  Biography

  Footnotes

  Copyright

  A BOOK ABOUT US

  7th January

  Today was our first day back at school after the Christmas holidays.

  We have school three days a week – on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, in the living room. There are only two pupils – me and Felix. Felix doesn’t care about learning anything.

  “What’s the point of being ill if you have to do maths?” he said, the first time he came to school at my house. Mrs Willis, who’s our teacher, didn’t argue. She doesn’t fuss if Felix doesn’t do any work. She just lets him sit there, leaning back in his chair and telling me what’s wrong with whatever I’m doing.

  “That’s not how you spell ammonium! We never spelt ammonium like that at my school!”

  “There’s a planet called Hercules – isn’t there, Mrs Willis?”

  “What’re you doing that for?”

  Felix only comes to school to see me and to give his mum a break.

  Nowadays, Mrs Willis thinks up ploys to interest him. You know the sort of thing; making volcanoes that really erupt, cooking Roman food, making fire with a magnifying glass.

  Only my mum didn’t like that one, because we accidentally burnt a hole in the dining table.

  Sort of accidentally-on-purpose.

  Today, though, Mrs Willis said, “How about you do some writing?” and we both groaned, because we’d been hoping for more fire, or possibly an explosion. Mrs Willis said, “Oh, come on, now. I thought you might like to write something about yourselves. I know you both like reading.”

  Felix looked up. He was playing with two of my Warhammer orcs, advancing them on each other and going “Grrrrah!” under his breath.

&n
bsp; “Only ’cause there’s nothing else to do in hospital,” he said.

  Me and Felix are both experts at being in hospital. That’s where we met, last year.

  I didn’t see what reading had to do with writing about me and I said, “Books are just about kids saving the world or getting beaten up at school. You wouldn’t write about us.”

  “Maybe not you,” said Felix. He pressed his hand to his forehead and flopped back in his chair. “The tragic story of Sam McQueen. A poor, frail child! Struggling bravely through terrible suffering and hospitals with no televisions!”

  I made vomiting noises. Felix stretched his hand – the one that wasn’t pressed to his forehead – out to me.

  “Goodbye – goodbye – dear friends—” he said, and collapsed against his chair making choking sounds.

  Mrs Willis said, “No dying at the table, Felix.” But you could tell she wasn’t really angry. She said, “I’d like you both to have a go now, please. Tell me something about yourself. You don’t have to write a whole book by lunchtime.”

  So that’s what we’re doing. Well, I am. Felix isn’t doing it properly. He’s written: “My name is Felix Stranger and”, and then he stopped. Mrs Willis didn’t make him write any more. But I’m on page three already.

  School’s nearly over now, anyway. It’s very quiet. Mrs Willis is pretending to do her marking and really reading 70 Things To Do With Fire under the table. Felix is leading my orcs in a stealth attack on the pot plant. Columbus, the cat, is watching with yellow eyes.

  Next door, in the kitchen, Mum is stirring the soup, which is lunch. Dad is in Middlesbrough, being a solicitor. My sister Ella is at school. Real school. Thomas Street Primary.

  Any minute now – there it is! There’s the doorbell. Felix’s mum is here. School is over.

  WHY I LIKE FACTS

  I like facts. I like knowing things. Grown-ups never understand this. You ask them something like, “Can I have a new bike for Christmas?” and they give you a waffly answer, like, “Why don’t you see how you feel nearer Christmas?” Or you might ask your doctor, “How long do I have to stay in hospital?” and he’ll say something like, “Let’s wait and see how you get on”, which is doctor-speak for “I don’t know”.

  I don’t have to go into hospital ever again. Dr Bill promised. I have to go to clinic – that’s it. If I get really sick, I can stay at home.

  That’s because I’m going to die.

  Probably.

  Going to die is the biggest waffly thing of all. No one will tell you anything. You ask them questions and they cough and change the subject.

  If I grow up, I’m going to be a scientist. Not the sort that mixes chemicals together, but the sort that investigates UFOs and ghosts and things like that. I’m going to go to haunted houses and do tests and prove whether or not poltergeists and aliens and Loch Ness monsters really exist. I’m very good at finding things out. I’m going to find out the answers to all the questions that nobody answers.

  All of them.

  ELLA

  7th January

  My sister Ella went back to school today too. She and Mum had a huge fight this morning about it. She doesn’t get why I stay at home all day and she doesn’t.

  “Sam doesn’t go to school!” she said to Mum. “You don’t go to work!”

  “I have to look after Sam,” Mum said.

  “You do not,” said Ella. “You just do ironing and plant things and talk to Granny.”

  Which is true.

  My mum named me Sam, after Samson in the Bible, and my dad named Ella after his aunt. If they’d talked to each other a bit more while they were doing it, they might not have ended up with kids called Sam ‘n’ Ella, but it’s too late to change that now. I think Dad thinks it’s funny, anyway.

  Ella’s eight. She has dark hair and bright, greeny-brown eyes, like those healing stones you buy in hippie shops. No one else in my family cares what they look like. Granny goes round in trousers with patches and padded waistcoats with pockets for pencils and seed packets and train tickets. And Mum’s clothes are all about a hundred years old. But Ella always fusses about what she wears. She has a big box of nail varnish and all of Mum’s make-up because Mum hardly ever wears it.

  “Why don’t you wear it?” says Ella. “Why?”

  Ella always asks questions. Granny said she was born asking a question and it hasn’t been answered yet.

  “Was I?” said Ella, when she heard this. “What was it?”

  We all laughed.

  “Where am I?” said Mum.

  “Who’re these funny-looking people?” said Granny.

  “What am I doing here?” said Dad. “I was supposed to be a princess!”

  “Who’d make you a princess?” I said.

  It’s afternoon now and I’m still writing. I bet I could write a book. Easy. I was going to do some more after Felix went, but Maureen from Mum’s church came round, so I had to be visited. She only left when Mum went to fetch Ella from school. I was thinking up “Questions Nobody Answers” at the dining table when they came back. Ella ran straight over to me.

  “What are you doing?”

  “School stuff,” I said. I curled my arm around the page. Ella came right up behind me and peered over my shoulder.

  “Ella. I’m busy,” I said. It was the wrong thing to say. She tugged on my arm.

  “Let me see!”

  “Mum!” I wailed. “Ella won’t let me work!”

  “Sam won’t let me see!”

  Mum was on the phone. She came through with it pressed against her chest.

  “Kids! Behave! Ella, leave your brother alone.”

  I pulled a face at Ella. She flung herself on to the sofa.

  “It’s not fair! You always let him win!”

  Ella and Mum always fight. And Ella always says it’s not fair. I bet that’s the only reason I win, because I don’t throw baby tantrums like she does.

  Mum put down the phone and went over to Ella. Ella shouted, “Go away!” and ran upstairs. Mum gave this big sigh. She came over to me. I closed my pad so she wouldn’t see the writing.

  “Secret, is it?” she said.

  “It’s for school.” I held my pen over the closed pad. Mum sighed. She kissed the top of my head and went upstairs after Ella.

  I waited until I was quite sure she was gone, then I picked up my pen and started writing again.

  HOW DO YOU KNOW

  THAT YOU’VE DIED?

  9th January

  Today we had school again. I told Mrs Willis I was going to write a book.

  “It’s about me,” I said. “But also it’s a scientific inquiry. I’ve done loads.” And I showed her my first “Question Nobody Answers”.

  “Very commendable,” she said. “How exactly are you going to find the answers to these things?”

  “I’m going to look them up on the Internet,” I said.

  You can find out anything on the Internet.

  Mrs Willis let me and Felix look up how you know that you’ve died today. We had to bring Dad’s laptop down from the study, because Felix has a wheelchair at the moment. When I first met him he was only in it some of the time, but he’s almost always in it now. He can walk really. He just likes having people wait on him.

  We started with www.ask.com and ended up with this website on near-death experiences. A near-death experience is when someone almost dies but changes their mind at the last minute and comes back. The website said this happens to five per cent of adult Americans.

  “So they say,” said Felix.

  All sorts of things happened to these people, according to the website. They went down dark tunnels. They saw bright lights and angels. Sometimes they floated over their body and saw their doctors talking about them or giving them electric shocks. It was exactly the sort of science I want to do. I thought it was brilliant. Felix didn’t.

  “It’s not real,” he said. “How can everyone see angels? What about serial killers?”

  Mrs
Willis made us write out all of the evidence for and against, like a proper scientific study. It was yet another ploy to make Felix do something, but it worked. He wrote eight whole sentences “Against”.

  Near-Death Experiences – Against

  by Felix Stranger

  Near-death experiences aren’t actual death

  experiences because people don’t actually die.

  They’re just people’s brains going funny because

  they haven’t had enough oxygen or are on weird

  drugs. If they’re real, then why do different things

  happen to different people? And why do only good

  things happen? Why don’t people get devils or

  something? Also, it’s the sort of thing people make

  up to get attention. Like crop circles. Everyone

  thought they were made by spaceships, but

  actually it was just farmers with lawnmowers

  trying to be famous.

  He was the cynical public. I was the groundbreaking scientist, so I did “For”.

  Near-Death Experiences – For

  by Sam McQueen

  Near-death experiences have been happening since

  Plato, who lived thousands of years ago. We know

  because he wrote about them. In a near-death

  experience, the person actually dies. And then

  comes back. So obviously what happens to them is

  real. Also, they see real things. For example, one

  woman was floating on the ceiling and she heard

  her doctors saying all this stuff which she found

  out later that they’d actually said. Only she

  couldn’t have known about it because she was

  dead at the time. And bad things do happen to

  people sometimes. One guy had elves poking him

  with pitchforks.

 
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