Driving home from the allotment as the light was fading this afternoon I had the joy of listening to David Almond on Radio 4 talking about Skellig. If you’ve read any of David Almond’s books, or are a fan (as I am) you’ll know that the setting of his novels – Tyneside in the north-east of England – is as strong as his characters. He speaks with a wonderful Geordie accent, and his short reading of an extract from the book was beautiful to listen to. He seemed to add a whole new layer of meaning to an already layered book, simply through the strength of his voice.
As he was talking about Skellig and answering questions put to him partly by the presenter and partly by the audience (old and young) in the studio, two things came across strongly to me. Firstly was that this is a writer who absolutely knows his characters and his story, and as a result has created completely ‘real’ people and places (despite the air of mysticism and magical realism that hangs about all his books). At the same time he is a true craftsman, in that he lets himself be led by where his craft wants to take him within his basic structure – he spoke again and again of ‘not knowing’ about key aspects of the book while he was writing them – for example, why Skellig was there, who he really is, and most crucially, how the story was going to end.
How wonderful it must be, to be able to conceive and write of such fully-formed characters, whose lives become so real that they can take you with them literally as you write, and that you trust them enough to allow them to take you there. And how wonderful to be able to take them where they want to go with such control over language. If I could be anyone in the world right now I think I’d be David Almond.
If you haven’t already, read Skellig, then listen to David Almond speak. I hope you will be as captivated as I was.