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master writer # 5-david almond, the savage

The Savage is a YA novel by David Almond, author of Skellig. It’s the fifth, and latest in my series of kidlit books in which the author demonstrates an incredible mastery of one aspect of the writer’s craft.

Blue Baker’s father has died. To cope with his grief, he writes a story about a savage who lives in the woods. But fiction and fact somehow overlap, and the savage becomes much more than words and pictures on a page.


To make the subconscious, physical.

1. Kids can understand the most complex concepts, if you MAKE YOUR IDEAS VISUAL. David Almond has Blue express his subconscious feelings about his father’s death through a story he writes. The unnamed, wild savage in his notebook tells us everything we need to know about Blue’s journey of pain, about his love for his mother and little sister, about who he is as a person.

Here, Blue’s character, the savage, writes about a bully who’s been bothering Blue:

“Why was the kid puffin smoke like he was burnin inside? What was the point of that? So the savage new the kid was stupid. He wanted the kid to come closer, so he cud kill him and chuck him down the pit shaft.”

Later, the savage describes Blue, himself:

“…and the savage seen the boy’s eyes and he seen he wasn’t a evil kid like the last one that had been up here.”

Here, the savage talks about Blue’s little sister:

“He opend Jesses door in silens. He stud over her, then he reached down and rested his hand on Jess’s brow, and there was tears in his eyes.”

2. It’s not enough to have this phantasm come to life just for your main character.* THE EXPERIENCE MUST BE VERIFIED BY OUTSIDE CHARACTERS. This way, the story grows from a personal dream or fantasy into a universal myth.

“Jess was crying. Mam brought Jess into my room. ..We cuddled her and tried to soother her, but she was sobbing hard. ‘Daddy,’ she gulped. ‘Want Daddy.’….So I showed Jess the pictures of the savage and I made a funny savage face and I did a funny savage grunt and Jess giggled through her tears…We all sat close together again, and Jess slowly went to sleep….’You’re a brave and clever boy,’ she {Mam} said. She winked. ‘And you’re a savage, too.’ “

3. As much fun as the savage is, the moment has to come when Blue owns his savage side, and THE SUBCONSCIOUS AND THE CONSCIOUS PARTS OF THE MAIN CHARACTER MUST REUNITE. If they don’t we have a permanently wounded character.

“We stood there, two lads together, and we peered one more time into each other’s eyes, then suddenly I was on the outside, at the ruined chapel, and I couldn’t see the way back in again. But the chicken feathers were in my hair and the savage was in my heart and my dad was in my soul.”

Please read The Savage by David Almond. You can do it in less than an hour. It is fabulously illustrated by Dave McKean. It is visceral, gut-wrenchingly true, and dense with love–all leaking from Blue’s subconscious. For that reason, I present DAVID ALMOND, Master of Making the Subconscious Physical.

*Mr. Snuffleuppagus, in his initial incarnation on Sesame Street, was only visible to Big Bird. Everytime Big Bird would try to prove his existence to someone else on Sesame Street, Mr. Snuffleuppagus would disappear. It was pretty funny. But this running joke ended up driving little kids insane with frustration. Moral of the story? KIDS DON’T WANT THEIR HEADS MESSED WITH. They’re still learning the rules of reality.


steamed punks

Steampunk: the new old genre.

Jules Verne and H.G. Wells are the fathers of Steampunk, what with Captain Nemo’s Nautilus:

and the Time Traveller and his machine:

The word “Steampunk” conjures thoughts of gears, goggles, parasols and petticoats.  Ingenious technology paired with Victorian sensibilities.  It’s often easier to show someone a picture than try to explain the Steampunk genre in words.

Sure, the trappings are cool–the computer with the fine oak cabinetry, the steam-powered bomb factory, the button-up leather coat.  But isn’t it interesting that Steampunk stories are generally set around the Victorian Era–and not past around 1930?

Why?  You ask.  Why? Why? Why?

Well, you’ve come to the right place, my dears.  I have all your answers.

Steampunklandia is a safe place to play.  To challenge ideas.  Like who should be considered strong or weak, who is appealing and who is repugnant.  Even who is right or wrong.

Once upon a time authors wrote about any human being they wanted to, in any fashion they wished,  with impunity.  The Pinhead.  Jo Jo the Dog-Faced Boy.  The Snake Girl.  But now, it’s no longer popular to write about characters as OUTLANDERS.  Our society has come to understand that we are all human beings, even the most seemingly different among us have the same fundamental desires and needs, and the right to respect and dignity.

Now, take the gal on the right:

You are not going to get away with writing about this little lady in a straight novel.

If an author wants to write about a gypsy in a modern-day novel, she will have to shed light on the historical context of gypsies: how they’ve been persecuted, their culture, lifestyle, migration patterns.  Heck.  She won’t even get to call them gypsies.

But in a Steampunk  book, there is an alternate universe she can populate with all kinds of clichés and politically incorrect characters, because it is OTHER.  Steampunklandia may feel familiar, but it is not our world.  We have permission to enjoy any character the author cares to dream up.

I think it’s a good thing that we demand gypsies aren’t just silly, two-dimensional characters in our literature any more.  That we want to know their real story.

But come on.  Somewhere deep in a guilty little corner of your soul…don’t you miss stuff like this?

i’m so excited that i just can’t hide it


Elizabeth C. Bunce’s  A CURSE DARK AS GOLD wins the American Library Association’s William C. Morris YA Debut Award. 2009 is the first year for this award, which honors a debut book published by a first-time author writing for teens and celebrating impressive new voices in young adult literature. The work cited will illuminate the teen experience and enrich the lives of its readers through its excellence, demonstrated by: compelling, high quality writing and/or illustration; the integrity of the work as a whole; and its proven or potential appeal to a wide range of teen readers.


You can read all the kudos and huzzahs for her writing all over the intraweb.  I want to let you know that Elizabeth is a smart, kind and generous writer.  I joined the same critique group she  belongs to right after her book was published.  I was too late to hear about Charlotte before she was bound between two covers, but I HAVE watched Elizabeth grow as an author.  Watched the reviews and awards slowly pile up.  Saw how humble and grateful she remained.
Elizabeth Bunce is not just a super-fab writer, she’s also a spiffy person.  She is a generous critique partner, gently honest.  Not too long ago, she said, “I can’t wait until we’re all published and can thank each other in our acknowledgments.”

How cool is that?

Click here to see how I feel.

The Time has Come, the Walrus Said…

…to jump into the blogging world.  Since I am among the tech-challenged, bear with me while I experiment and make lots and lots of mistakes.

I wonder how many people recognize where the title of this post comes from.  Does anyone read Alice in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking-Glass anymore?  Perhaps the craziness of real life has squelched the desire for the absurd in literature. 

I am a children’s writer, primarily YA fantasy.  I live in the imaginal realm four to six hours a day.  It is a strangely familiar yet dangerous place, filled with our most profound fears and joy.  I am lucky to work where myth and legend, imagination and creativity, and monsters and saints live.   

I also drive carpools and bake cupcakes.     

       We don\'t need no stinkin\' badges. Oh, and dress up my dog.


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