Saturday, June 30, 2007
My new book Heart of the Serpent, published this week (on 5th July, though it’s already available in some shops) is the third and final part of the sequence that began with Worm in the Blood and continued with Beast Beneath the Skin. When I wrote the first of these stories I had no idea it would turn out to be the opening volume of a trilogy. I still think I could have stopped after either of the first two books, if I’d had to, and the series wouldn’t have seemed unfinished. Neither book ended on a cliff-hanger, for instance, in the way Pullmans’ Northern Lights and The Subtle Knife do. Having said that, I did feel, once I’d finished Beast Beneath the Skin, that I really wanted to write the third book. I felt it would give me the chance to take the story as far as it would go. I guess trilogies might be a natural length for a series, equating to the notion of a beginning, middle, and end. I hope all three books work as complete tales in their own right. And for those with a continuing interest in what lies ahead for Sam Lim-Evans, his friends and his family, Heart of the Serpent will tell all that’s left for me to tell.
I dedicated the book to the memory of my dad, who died on the day I finished writing the first draft (12th May 2006). Dad was always very interested in my writing. His last birthday present to me was a copy of Peter Dickinson’s book The Flight of Dragons. This book is a piece of scientific fantasy that sets out to explain how fire-breathing, winged dragons, as illustrated in antiquated paintings, might reasonably be supposed to have existed as real, physical creatures. With a straight face scrupulously maintained throughout, the author makes a very convincing job of it. For instance, he goes so far as to write out the chemical reaction responsible for creating hydrogen within the body of the dragon (thereby making them lighter than air and able to fly on their unfeasibly small wings!). My father, a man with a practical eye who also loved a good story, was mightily impressed by this book.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
On a recent author visit to Waterstones in Putney I spoke to a very articulate and intelligent group of Year 7 and 8 students from nearby Elliott School. I took the opportunity to ask them what sort of information they’d like to see posted up on an author’s blog. They gave me a wide range of suggestions that included the following.
New ideas – details of what the author is working on now and how it’s going.
Biographical details and information about the author’s influences etc.
Details of when the author’s next book is to be published, and so on.
Details of the author’s private life. - I’m not too sure about this one! It might be entertaining to read about some authors, but I fear my own day-to-day diaries would make very dull reading indeed! For instance – Monday: Sat at computer – got up and walked around a bit, thinking – fed cat – sat down again, typed a couple of sentences. Then deleted them. Stood up. Fed cat again…and so on.
Contact details. - I have this already. I can be contacted via the Contacts page on my website.
Ways for readers to contribute ideas of their own to the website. - This too, is already set up. Comments can be pasted onto the Book Log (this blog) against any entry.
I’ll see if I can address some of these suggestions in future as a regular element of the Book Log pages. And I’ll keep up with the book reviews too. If anyone is interested in looking at the archives, then here’s a list of books I’ve written about so far and where to find the entries.
Mondays are Red by Nicola Morgan – June 16th 2007
Arthur and George by Julian Barnes and The Final Solution by Michael Chabon – 6th June 2007
Strange Meeting by Susan Hill – February 2007
A Darkling Plain by Philip Reeve – November 2006
The Merrybegot by Julie Hearn and I, Coriander by Sally Gardner - October 2006
Candy by Kevin Brooks – May 2006
The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean – March 2006
Martin Pig, Lucas and Kissing the Rain, all by Kevin Brooks – November 2005
Ambergate by Patricia Elliott – June 2005
Ryland’s Footsteps by Sally Prue – May 2005
The Demon Headmaster by Gillian Cross – April 2005
Grandpa by John Burningham – March 2005
The Thief of Always by Clive Barker – January 2005
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
A couple of months ago I visited a school in Clapton. Clapton is the part of North East London that influenced me most when I was writing the Worm in the Blood trilogy. The marsh where Sam undergoes the first stages of his metamorphosis, and where the final book, Heart of the Serpent, ends up, is based on a stretch of urban wilderness bordering the River Lea between Walthamstow and Clapton. The Marshside of the books is based on this area, mixed with some other parts of the city I have known over the years (a flyover in 1980s Silvertown, for instance, close to the Thames in East London). Many of the Year 6 students I met at Benthal Primary School are enthusiastic authors in their own right. They’ve been sending me examples of metamorphosis stories, based on the well-known legend of the werewolf, which they wrote after my visit. They’ve all been greatly enjoyable to read. Below is the first of these stories to be sent to me, printed here with the author’s permission.
LETHAL CHANGE by Siraj Patel
Chapter 1: Mysterious Blackout
James O’Brien is angry, his P.E teacher had blamed him for causing the mayhem, or the chaos as the P.E teacher had said, however James did not remember a thing! He had walked in to the gym and the next thing he knew was that he was lying face down on the hard gym floor.
James is a tall, muscular boy and was not used to being told off for he was very clever – a genius. As he got up from the floor his friends had shrank away from him as if he was a demon. He did not understand at all but he tried smiling at them, however, they only shrank back more. Then the P.E teacher had come in and bellowed at James saying, “WHO ARE YOU? WHAT ARE YOU? WHY ARE YOU CAUSING ABSOLUTE CHAOS?!!!”
James lay down on his bed and put his head on the frame. It cooled his boiling head. There was no one in the house except for James so he made up his mind that he will go and watch the football match Manchester united vs Liverpool but as he stood up and looked out of the window he saw a full moon.
A sudden wave of anger washed over him and he punched the wall in frustration, however, to his astonishment his hand was black and he had huge claws on his hand. Then everything blacked out.
When he came to, he cringed at the mess in his room. His bed was ripped apart, his wardrobe was broken and his door was smashed into two pieces. “WHAT HAPPENED?!” exclaimed his mother and once again James didn’t know.
Chapter 2: Confused
James looked at his new room and smiled, at least the mysterious blackout did some good! He thought. He had a brand new bed, a new wardrobe and a new door made out of steel. The mystery still remains, he thought to himself.
James walked over to his computer and switched it on. He searched the net to find out the score of yesterdays football match and was delighted that it was 1-0 to Manchester United. Suddenly the door slammed open and in came his father, Tony O’Brien; he was red in the face and looked madder than a bull! “WHAT THE HECK DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?! SMASHING UP THE HOUSE LIKE A WEREWOLF! EXPLAIN NOW!!” He bellowed. “I don’t know what happened” said James with a shrug of his shoulders. “WHAT DO YOU MEAN!? Shouted Tony.
“I just don’t know!” Screamed James in reply. Then suddenly he didn’t feel like telling his father anymore so he ran out of the room and out of the house into the awaiting night.
Chapter 3: Blackout is bigger and Deadlier
James ran down the street and turned left into the funfair, the lights were dazzling and the place was full of people. He spotted his friends Michael and John and waved to them but as soon as they saw him they turned around and ran away without a backward glance.
James felt cold, his own friends had abandoned him and STILL he didn’t know why. No one he knew was here so he walked over to the dodgems queue and stood there with a packet of popcorn. After 10 minutes the queue was finished and he was allowed to go on when without warning, a loud cry from the sky startled him, making him look up. He caught sight of the moon – a FULL MOON- when another wave of anger washed over him and he fell down unconscious.
James woke up with his face in the ground, already he knew what awaited him but he didn’t know that this time it was much worse. He sat up and looked around; he was dumbfounded by the sight of what he saw. Out of the blue appeared dozens of police cars, they surrounded him and police officers jumped out of them, some drew their weapons. “Put your hands above your head and don’t dare to move a muscle!!” came a voice from a loudspeaker. James was so shocked that he didn’t even speak, he just did what the voice
had told him. “Now don’t get angry sir”, continued the voice, “just surrender and don’t turn into a werewolf again! It was too much for James, his mind couldn’t take it and he passed out.
Chapter 4: Doomed
James felt someone dabbing at his eyes with a wet cloth, he pushed it away and sat up rubbing his eyes. He was in a small box room with no windows and no furniture. Its floor, ceiling and walls are made of steel. The person in the room is a tall, stern looking lady who had a sub-machine gun in her hand for no reason James saw fit. He wasn’t a demon; he wasn’t a criminal so why are they keeping him in a small room with a lady who has a sub-machine gun? He thought to himself. He was just thinking about his parents when the door opened and two men came in holding a rifle apiece, followed by them were his mum and dad. They stood in front of him, hands on their hips with a stern disappointed look in their eyes. “We are ashamed” Tony spoke “We never thought you would do that”. “Do what?” James snapped. “What do you mean by that!?” His dad’s voice had risen to a shout “Do you know what you’ve done!?” His father bawled then carried on without waiting for an answer “You ripped the dodgems apart, you killed 3 people and that cost us 3 million pounds!! Now you’re in jail and you’re going to court today but you’re most likely to be imprisoned for life!” James was so stunned that he only managed to utter a few words, “what…how…I don’t know anything….” He couldn’t speak anymore and he sat there as still as a statue.
An hour later a police officer put his head around the door “Come on, time to see what awaits your life” James didn’t feel like joking so he didn’t say anything, he just walked over to the door but was pulled back by the lady in the room. “Where do you think you’re going? And she handcuffed James’s arm to hers even though James’s hand were already handcuffed. They walked down a corridor then turned left into a large hall which was the court room where there were 100’s of rows of seats, most of them were occupied. James was led to a seat at the front of the court room where he saw his mum and dad, he waved to them, looking for reassurance from them but they ignored him. So he sat down feeling angry and sad that nobody in his life cared for him. The judge called for silence and everyone became quiet. Then the trial began, the judge called for witnesses after witnesses but James didn’t pay much attention. All they kept on saying was that they saw him as a werewolf and that he was a danger to the public. Then the judge called for James to defend himself, he stood up and said one sentence I AM NOT A WEREWOLF!! – It was a full moon and he saw it- and that is when he turned into a WEREWOLF
Chapter 5: The Curse
James lay on a bed, his hands were chained to a metal bar and his legs were tied together with a metal chain. There was a small man in a chair in the room who smiled when he saw James open his eyes. “Who are you?” James asked “what happened? How did you come in here? Am I in…” The man held up a hand “Wait, not too fast! Ill answer your questions one by one”, he said, “Firstly I am a man by the name of Howard king and I come from china. Secondly, in the court room you turned into a werewolf and killed 5 people!” “But..” James spluttered. “Wait” said the man quietly “There other things I need to tell you. To answer your third question ill simply say I came in through the door, I am a human being like you, well not exactly like you seeing as you’re a werewolf anyway I have come to tell you how you came to be a werewolf.” The man paused letting the information sink in then he continued “A long time ago a man by the name of Juan O’Brien insulted a Werewolf, in those days werewolves were very common and they were well respected. The worse a mistake a person can do was insult a Werewolf. Now, Werewolves don’t have much power as there isn’t much left today. Anyway, Juan O’Brien made that mistake! So the Werewolf cursed his descendants that 1 in every generation will be a werewolf and I am sad to say that you are one of them”. “But I don’t even know what happens when I am a Werewolf and is there anyway I can stop this?” James asked. “You are still in the growing stages, a thing which is called a LETHAL CHANGE, once you become fully grown you will be able to experience it and there is no way you can stop this curse but you can try and stop yourself from becoming a werewolf by not looking at the moon when it is a full moon. Now you are in jail for life, but you might come out of jail sooner then you think”. He added with a mysterious smile. I am sorry to say my time is up and I have to go.” With that he stood up and walked out of the door. “WAIT” called James but the man was gone leaving James in his ETERNAL DARKNESS.
By Siraj Patel, age 11
Saturday, June 16, 2007
Luke wakes up in hospital to find he has nearly died. And now he can smell colours and see sound. He has developed synaesthesia, a condition where the senses are muddled and mixed. Luke’s world is now a feast of wild sensation and imagination. But there’s something else. Inside his mind, Luke is no longer alone. A smooth-tongued, shape-shifting tempter has arrived and he’s out to steal Luke’s soul. Thus begins a tense and compelling tale in which different layers of reality merge together into an anxiety-wracked psychological horror story. Set in the midst of a brain-numbing heat wave, the reader is taken on a rollercoaster ride through Luke’s mindscape, as he veers from vivid, hallucinatory wish-fulfilment to furious loathing, and a disturbingly fierce disgust levelled at his older sister. All concludes in fire. Peace is restored in the end, but some mysteries still hang in the air. Who exactly was the devilish tempter inside Luke’s head? It seems the answer is that he was Luke himself, not a particularly comforting thought. Luke’s wise grandfather appears to sort out the facts from the tricks of the mind, but I was still left musing on the possibility that the entire story, grandpa included, might be being played out inside Luke’s head. In which case Hannah, the girl he meets at the end, had better watch out!
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
I haven’t read any children’s fiction for a while, for one reason or another. My daughter has just lent me MONDAYS ARE RED by Nicola Morgan, however, which I’m looking forward to reading.
I did read ARTHUR AND GEORGE by Julian Barnes, which is essentially a fictionalised biography of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and George Edalji, two men, both famous but for very different reasons, whose paths crossed under intriguing circumstances during the early years of the twentieth century. The story is full of anxiety and tension (George was wrongfully arrested - for mutilating farm animals!), though it also has elements of humour and some particularly touching moments. I enjoyed the way the book was constructed, with the story of the two men’s lives related side by side, despite the difference in their dates of birth (George was considerably younger than Arthur).
I have an interest in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle because I am a fan of Sherlock Holmes (a fact that would doubtless have irked Sir Arthur himself – he found the success of his fictional detective to be something of an albatross around the neck). I read a Sherlock Holmes story, written not by Doyle the Edwardian writer but by Michael Chabon in 2003. It's a short(ish) novella called THE FINAL SOLUTION. Using the chilling new resonance that the title of Doyle’s last Holmes story has since acquired, following its use by the Nazis as code for their attempted extermination of the Jewish race, Chabon creates a truly ancient Holmes, 89 years old, and already touched by the shadow of Alzheimer’s disease. It is the aged Holmes takes on one last case in an effort to help a young concentration camp survivor - and his parrot.
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