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Find more The Booklist Interview
This is the third time Booklist Senior Editor Ilene Cooper has had the pleasure of interviewing David Almond. The first time was in conjunction with the publication of Skellig (1999), Almond’s first book for children. He talked then about coming from a family of storytellers. When they spoke again in 2001, he had just won the Michael L. Printz Award for Kit’s Wilderness (2000), a book he said was exceptionally difficult to write—“a nightmare”—unlike Skellig, which “came to him like a gift.“ While writing Skellig, Almond was still teaching school. Now, he’s won almost every literary prize to be had writing for young people and is the author of 20 books.
I see echoes of Mina and Michael from Skellig and My Name Is Mina in The Tightrope Walkers’ Dom and Holly. Was there a real girl—and a real relationship—you’ve drawn on for these characters?
Almond: Yes, there are definite echoes. I don’t think there was an actual girl who inspired Mina/Holly. I do keep using such characters, though, and drawing such male/female relationships, in which the boy learns much from the girl and is helped to become more rounded as a person. Maybe that’s how good relationships are—each person in the relationship is helped to be more of him- or herself.
BKL: Tyneside is the setting for a number of your stories. Besides it being your childhood home, what draws you back?
Almond: I spent a lot of time trying not to write about Tyneside, maybe because I did know it too well and didn’t want to be limited by it. But I just had to give in (just as I had to give in and accept the Catholic influences of my childhood). Once I did turn my mind back to Tyneside, to deliberately use it, I realized it provided a wealth of history, landscape, character, and language. By accepting the “limitations” of my background, I was liberated as a writer.
BKL: I believe this book was published for adults in Great Britain. Were there any qualms about publishing it for a younger audience here?
Almond: None at all (that I know of!). Candlewick took the book to their hearts from the very start, and as always, they are publishing it beautifully.
BKL: So many of your books struggle with the nature of good, evil, reality, and the supernatural. Have you come to any conclusions?
Almond: Nope. The older I get, the more I’m astonished by this amazing, beautiful universe. The overwhelming gorgeous immensity of it all, and the awe-inducing beauty of the tiniest fragment of the earth. I don’t think there is an objective thing called “Good” or an objective thing called “Evil.” I don’t think there is another “supernatural” world. This world is the marvelous, miraculous place, and we are nowhere near understanding the depths of its strangeness.
We live our lives at the edge of an amazing immensity. We’re tiny creatures, but we live through dramas that seem to us to be massive. We’re capable of tiny acts of kindness and acts of the most appalling destruction. The good and the evil exist in our imaginations and in our actions. Writing/storytelling is a way to try to explore the world, to celebrate and praise and somehow embody that world, to create an object that in its own way might be beautiful enough to have its own place in the world. It is a way to explore ourselves, to dramatize the conflicts and confusions that exist within us and in our relationships with others. It’s a way to explore darker aspects of humanity but, at the same time, to control them.
All writing, all art, no matter how “dark” it might sometimes seem, is an act of optimism and creativity. Every carefully crafted sentence helps to hold back the forces of destruction.
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