Monday, 29 December 2008

On the Fifth Day of Christmas my True Love Gave to me ... Five Gold Rings

by Guest Writer: Jonathan Stroud

Jonathan Stroud was born in Bedford and grew up in St Albans. He always had a burning desire to write a full-length work of fiction which he would have wanted to read when he was younger, and so after graduating from York University he embarked on a publishing and writing career in the game book and non-fiction department at Walker Books. He moved to Kingfisher Publications to edit children's non-fiction, and for a time juggled working with writing; but Jonathan is now a full-time writer. He lives in St. Albans with his wife and their two young children.

Jonathan is published in the UK by Random House Children’s Books, and is represented by his agent Laura Cecil.

Rather cheekily I shall take this fine seasonal motif and, in the blink of an eye, melt it down to form one gold ring, namely the famously baleful object at the heart of J R R Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. The keystone of the book was the quest to destroy the ring; ever since, because fantasy is inherently conservative, similar objects and quests have multiplied. Tolkien was influenced by Norse myth and legend; today fantasy bookshelves burst with tale featuring dwarves, trolls and brawny blokes with swords.

All this was on my mind while I wrote my novel Heroes of the Valley, which is being published over Christmas. I purposefully wanted to create something which was inspired by the old Icelandic sagas (wonderful mixtures of fantasy and domestic realism), but which also subverted a lot of the post-Tolkien saga-quest clich├ęs.

It took me a while to work out how to do it, but eventually I realised that my protagonist – a short, somewhat squat, boy named Halli – had to share the assumptions that a lot of fantasy readers have. Every night, as he lies in bed, Halli listens to tales about the great heroes of the past, stories which form the bedrock of his society’s culture. He longs to repeat their feats and, when a relative is murdered, seizes the chance to head off on a quest of vengeance. He (and the reader) sees it all ahead of him: a long journey, a series of dangerous encounters, a climactic battle and final triumph. Instead, I took great delight in pulling the rug from under Halli (and the reader)’s feet at every turn. Nothing occurs as he expects, actions have consequences, violence is decidedly unromantic. Instead of a simple linear narrative, Halli’s story loops back in on itself: halfway through, he finds himself back home… By the end Halli has learned a great deal about the limitations of old tales, while I’ve learned that it’s possible to create plenty of comedy and suspense by deliberately undercutting hoary old fantasy traditions. Hopefully the result will help freshen up this particular corner of the genre.

Well, I can see I’ve strayed rather from the five gold rings theme, and I haven’t a clue how to bring us back there, except to say that Heroes of the Valley would make jolly good reading for young readers – and adults – on the Fifth (or indeed any other) Day of Christmas…

Have a good one!

Buried Fire ISBN 9780552549332
The Leap ISBN 9780099402855
The Last Siege ISBN 9780552551465
The Amulet of Samarkand ISBN 9780552550291
The Golem’s Eye ISBN 9780552550277
Ptolemy’s Gate ISBN 9780552550284
Heroes of the Valley ISBN: 9780385614016 *
(*Publication Due: 1st January 2009, £12.99 hardback)

Heroes of the Valley is the tale of young Halli Sveinsson, who’d very much like to be the hero in question. Certainly he’s got a hero’s heart (brave, reckless, resolute); unfortunately he’s also short and squat, with little stumpy legs and a face like a toad peering out in a rainstorm. Still, this doesn’t stop him trying to emulate the tales of the great heroes of old, much to the annoyance of his parents, his brother and sister, and everyone else in his small Scandinavian village.

Jonathan's website
The Bartimaeus Trilogy website

The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem’s Eye and Ptolemy’s Gate form the Bartimaeus Trilogy, which has sold over 4 million copies in the UK. Miramax is currently developing it into a major film.

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