Monday, March 22, 2010

Reading British: David Almond

I'm continuing my series highlighting some well-known British children's writers. Many of these authors I had never heard of until I moved here, and it has been a pleasure and a learning experience to become acquainted with them.

David Almond

David Almond is a children's writer beloved by both children and adults. His books have won numerous awards and are often suggested as part of the UK's National Curriculum. Born and raised in Felling and Newcastle, his stories have distinctly northern accents and characters: working class, Catholic and gritty. However, this backdrop is contrasted by beautiful images of nature and touches of the supernatural. His first novel for children, SKELLIG, has been adapted for the stage, film and even opera.

Genre: Almond writes paranormal or urban fantasy for middle grade children (8-12), though as I said previously, his books are quite popular with older children and adults as well. While he writes about angels and monsters, his books are distinctly set in northern England, with real families with real-world problems. His language is simple and quite readable, but his novels are also quite philosophical. For example, many of his novels play with opposites (life and death, reality and fiction) and explore the way these opposites meet.

What's in his books for writers? Almond is a master of symbolism, repeating numerous images throughout his text until the end, where all the symbols come together to form some greater meaning. His plotting is similarly tight and brilliant. His language is simple yet often breathtakingly gorgeous or creepy.

Quotes:

To show an example of Almond's creepy side, this is the moment in SKELLIG where Michael first finds Skellig in his garage (pg 6-7):

"Something little and black scuttled across the floor. The door creaked and cracked for a moment before it was still. Dust poured through the torch beam. Something scratched and scratched in a corner. I tiptoed further in and felt spider webs breaking on my brow. Everything was packed in tight--ancient furniture, kitchen units, rolled-up carpets, pipes and crates and planks. I kept ducking down under the hosepipes and ropes and kitbags that hung from the roof. More cobwebs snapped on my clothes and skin. The floor was broken and crumbly. I opened a cupboard an inch, shone the torch in and saw a million woodlice scattering away. I peered down into a great stone jar and saw the bones of some little animal that had died in there. Dead bluebottles were everywhere. They were ancient newspapers and magazines. I shone the torch on to one and saw that it came from nearly fifty years ago. I moved so carefully. I was scared every moment that the whole thing was going to collapse. There was dust clogging my throat and nose. I knew they'd be yelling for me soon and I knew I'd better get out. I leaned across a heap of tea chests and shone the torch into the space behind and that's when I saw him.

"I thought he was dead. He was sitting with his legs stretched out, and his head tipped back against the wall. He was covered in dust and webs like everything else and his face was thin and pale. Dead bluebottles were scattered on his hair and shoulders. I shone the torch on his white face and his black suit.

"'What do you want?' he said."

What's the buzz? SKELLIG won the 1998 Whitbread Children's Novel of the Year Award and the Carnegie Medal. THE FIRE EATERS (2003) won the Smarties Gold Award as well as the Whitbread. Almond has been shortlisted for several other literary awards. His books have sold nearly one million copies and been popular internationally. Of all the British authors I've written about, Almond is the one most recognizable to my American readers. KIT'S WILDERNESS won the US's 2001 Printz Award.

David Almond has a reputation as an innovative storyteller. He's not afraid of challenging characters and material (violent boys, bullies, class, death). He's also willing to try different formats. His recent foray into graphic novels, THE SAVAGE, is by far my favorite Almond book. Some complain his novels are basically the same story told over and over again, however no one argues that the stories are beautifully told.

Example of THE SAVAGE, written by David Almond, illustrated by Dave McKean:
US vs. UK cover:
Very different, but I must say I love both of these covers of CLAY (my first Almond read). Do they tell enough about the book, though?

US:

UK:

Further info: David Almond's website
Story is a Kind of Redemption (article about Almond's life and writing in the Telegraph)

My previous Reading British posts:
Great literature separated by a common language
Jacqueline Wilson
Meg Rosoff

Other authors you would like me to cover? Please let me know in the comments.

3 comments:

  1. He sounds like an amazing writer. I searched online for Clay and want to read it now. I like the US cover, by the way (it's more mysterious).

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  2. Skellig is one of my absolute favorite books. Every time I read it I'm amazed by how much Almond conveys in such a spare text. There's a mood to that story that is just mesmerizing. Thanks for the post!

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  3. Oh good, glad I could interest you in David Almond, Medeia! Clay is good, very creepy and interesting, though I must say I did struggle at times with the very northern dialect of the characters.

    Anna: Mesmerizing is a great work for Almond's work. I find reading him so inspirational in my own writing.

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