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>> David Almond's new novel marks Skellig anniversary

David Almond's new novel marks Skellig anniversary

David Almond's new novel marks Skellig anniversary

THE COLOUR OF THE SUN, DAVID ALMOND's latest novel, is his most autobiographical to date. Following Davie through the course of day, Almond reminds us of the wonder of life, and reassures us about the future.

The Colour of the Sun follows 12-year-old Davie after the discovery of a body of a teenaged boy. Davie, who is already grieving over the loss of his father, sees the body of the young man before heading off on his own to the hills outside his town, meeting people from his community, hearing their stories and visiting places he has known throughout his childhood.

As Davie leaves the town behind, what is real and what is not real become more confused, leading to an important revelation for Davie and a way to confront and resolve his grief.

We asked author DAVID ALMOND to tell us more about THE COLOUR OF THE SUN, and about the 20th anniversary of his debut novel, SKELLIG:

Q: Does The Colour of the Sun draw on your own memories of early adolescence?

A: In some ways it is my most autobiographical novel to date, it takes me back to my home ground in the physical landscape of Felling-on-Tyne where I grew up. It describes how it was and all the places I remember. The boy in the story is also called Davie and, like me, he has lost his father.

I just found myself writing about this boy growing up here in my home town and reminiscing on some old things and recreating them and filling them with light and colour. It felt like a journey into light and colour; all his encounters are infused with light and colour.

Q: Is it also a book about discovering yourself as a writer?

A: I felt that it was a book about writing and the act of creating, and creating fiction. Davie is aware that he is creating something as he walks through the town, he is creating himself and he even reflects on that at one point and asks if he is 'made of words'. It was interesting for me, for Davie, to reflect on those things. He reflects on himself and being a writer and whether God had made him a writer.

I enjoyed drawing on those things, on the nature of the mind; where do thoughts and memories come from, what does it mean to create something and are we just imaginary figments of someone's imagination? Where are the borders between what really happens to us and what we think happens to us?

When I was Davie's age, although I wasn't consciously aware of it, I did a lot of wandering when I would think about things. Looking back as an adult to how I was as a boy, I can see that I was creating myself as a writer, taking in the sights and sounds and textures that were all around me and when I write now about that childhood, I am suffused by those things. So when I was Davie's age I knew I wanted to write and I didn't know how to do that but now I realise I was doing that by doing that kind of looking and walking around and being amazed by the world.

When people ask me what I'm inspired by, I answer that it's just by the world. I remember as a boy being staggered by how amazing it was, miraculous even.

Q: Why have you focused on a young adolescent in this novel?

A: Davie is 12 years old and it's an important time. The story moves from Davie's grieving - you see the blacks and monochrome colours of the town - but as he moves on, the world becomes full of light and colour and it's a perfect age to write about, that move from childhood to being a teenager and becoming an adult. That stage is wonderful to write about.

Davie has had something terrible happen in his life; but while terrible things can happen to us, we can still be filled with optimism and hope. In some ways I get more romantic the older I get, there are so many terrible things that happen in this world but I am still so optimistic about humanity because of our young people. It seems to me that they will create a better world.

It seems a natural thing to do, that if I am writing about young people it brings optimism, I can't be cynical.

Q: During Davie's day, you also explore what religion means to those in Davie's community. Why did you want to explore and also to reject religion in this story?

A: Because I was writing about Davie at that age and at that time, religion had to be part of it. At that time there were lots of priests around and there was a sense of the Catholic church and the sacraments being very important. People talk about the darkness of Catholicism and how you move beyond it if you have been brought up with those beliefs; it can become a struggle. But another way to is to accept how things were and that there was a very benign aspect to it. The priests I knew were decent men.

In some ways, in the story, the priest becomes a metaphor of this struggle. His own childhood was filled with life and then he takes on the black clothes of religion. His renouncement of religion is an optimistic thing for me, a celebration of his humanity. He is enjoying being in this world and in this body; he doesn't need to hearken to another world.

So it's a celebration of human life and love. He describes how he came to his vocation through his love of life, while David is in a way discovering his own vocation as a writer through his own love of the world.

Q: One of the turning points in the novel takes place at Cooper's Hole, why did you introduce that particular place to the story?

A: It's a place that existed, up in the top of the town, behind fields and paddocks in an abandoned area. As I was writing I realised that that was the place where Davie would head for.

It is an aspect of humanity; we all have a Cooper's Hole somewhere. It's the darkness in us. The place also seems very benign and beautiful with the frogs and the light shining through the water, but it's also tinged with darkness which could be Hell; it's like a mythical place. Davie has to go there - to this place in his own psyche - and that's where he sees his father.

Q: This is also a novel where not a great deal happens. How did you decide on the structure for The Colour of the Sun?

A: The journey itself is the event in this story; Davie goes to the top of town and encounters various people on the way. He travels up to the sky and back down to earth again and on his way he meets people and hears about things that happened to them, so their stories also become his story.

It's about place and language and people united in a kind of community and it couldn't be told in any other way. The locality of the place and the language is important. Any place, no matter how unimportant, can contain things that are miraculous.

When I was writing as a young man, I remember wondering if there was a language out there that I could attach myself to, but I realised you are attached to the language you have had from the place where you were born. So I had to write about that place, using the language I grew up with.

Writing this was like a return and using the physicality of place and language suggests that there was also something beautiful about physical language and the people who use it.

Q: Why have you written Davie's journey in the first person and in the present tense?

A: I have moved it around a lot. When I first wrote it, it was in the past tense and the first person, then I tried it in the third person but I realised that for it to be an actual journey the reader goes on, then it needs to be in the present tense, and in the first person.

The reader sets out on a journey with Davie, it's not something that is reflected by him but a forward-moving journey that the reader shares with Davie.

Q: There is a lot to think about in the novel, but what would you like your younger readers to take away from it?

A: I would like them to know that it's going to be okay, which is one of the things that Davie's dad tells him. What I realised when I started to write for young people is that I was writing a book to myself, telling myself that it was going to be okay, and in the process of doing so, I'm telling all young people this. Some people's lives are terrible and what I am doing in this novel is saying exactly that; you might go through tough times but remember, it will be okay.

Q: It is 20 years since your first book for children, SKELLIG, was published. In writing The Colour of the Sun, were you reflecting on that anniversary at all?

A: Yes it somehow feels connected with Skellig. When I wrote Skellig, I thought I knew nothing about writing children's books and it was an amazing liberation writing a book for younger readers. But you always have doubts as a writer. Then there was this huge fuss around it which astonished me as a writer. Skellig has now been published in 42 languages, it's also a film and a play and an opera, and it's still used massively in schools.

I still hear people talking about Skellig and the effect it had on them but even when I was writing it, I didn't know what it was about; Skellig is still a mystery to me. All you can do as a writer is to write the best book you can, and I am proud of the impact it has had.

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