A Writer's Dream
A modern-day Mark Twain, Jacques left home at fifteen and has since been a longshoreman, docker, long-distance truck driver, policeman, stand-up comic, folksinger, playwright, poet, radio personality and patron for the blind. Although he started writing as a child, Jacques never expected to get published. "I originally wrote Redwall to be read to children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind, which I had adopted," Jacques said. "I never dreamed I’d be an author. Authors had names like Sir Author Conan Doyle, and authors didn’t come from where I came from."
When delivering his final version to be read, Jacques ran into a former school teacher, Alan Durband, who asked to see his story. On 800 pages of recycled paper in a Safeway shopping bag, Mr. Durband took the story to a publisher, and Redwall Abbey was born.
How did growing up in England influence his stories? Jacques said, "A lot of American children have the impression that I live in some flowery country down in Medieval England and go around shouting "Tally ho.’ But Liverpool is a heavily industrialized seaport. I lived down by the docks, so for me reading was an escape from the bleakness, especially 1945-46 during W.W.II when the place was bombed flat and riddled with unemployment. The choicest place you could be was at the reading room at the library."
His war-time home also influenced the unique, mouth-watering foods found in Redwall. "During the war, there was a great shortage of food in my country, and I’d often read something in a book like, "The king took the four friends into his castle and gave them a magnificent banquet, after which there were horses waiting...’ Just a minute, I thought. What did it look like, what did it taste like? Was it good? Was there enough?"
"I consider good food to be as much a part of an adventure as a battle or a song or a quest or a riddle." Just how good? How about roast chestnuts served in cream and honey, or clover oatcakes dipped in hot redcurrant sauce, celery and herb cheese on acorn bread with chopped radishes, or a huge home-baked seed and sweet barley cake with mint icing, all washed down with October ale, pear cordial, strawberry juice or good fresh milk.
Jacques receives letters from families who have feasts; some send leftovers. Sometimes schools serve feasts. Once a boy in Redwall costume said, "We haven’t got any October Ale, Mr. Jacques. Will Diet Coke do?"
A Hero For All Time
Jacques' heroes? "Every movie star who ever rode a horse across the screen was my hero. I was also fascinated by the Greek legends, especially Odysseus from the Iliad."
For would-be heroes: "Learn to be a warrior, not someone with a black belt in Kung Fu. I mean for anybody, any age, child, man or woman, be someone who others can point to and say, ‘There is somebody that never lies, who you can trust. There's somebody who will not bully other people, but who will defend you against a bully. There’s somebody who has the respect of the family and who is always surrounded by friends.’ That’s a true warrior, and that’s the aim.
I had the opportunity to chat with Brian Jacques (pronounced "Jakes") when he visited Indianapolis during an eight-city tour promoting his book, Outcast of Redwall, one of the Medieval adventure stories about Redwall Abbey and the peaceful woodland animals who protect it. In Jacques’ stories, the "good guy always triumphs." With courage, conviction and humor, characters like Martin the Warrior mouse and badgerlord Sunflash defend Redwall against rat vermin like Cluny the Scourge.
Long Ago and Far Away In Redwall Abbey
An Interview with Brian Jacques
"Learn to be a warrior. Someone others point to and say there is somebody who never lies, who you can trust, who won't bully but will defend against a bully. Somebody who has respect of family, who is always surrounded by friends. That's a true warrior, and that's the aim."
"The sequence of his books is of no consequence. You can pull one out, never having read another, and there's a complete and full story. The kids link them up and know when they take place more than I do."
Jacques has turned down several offers for video games: "No one is going to play splat the rat with my books. I want lasing integrity. My books are for children, libraries and book shops. For kids who read, and when I'm gone, that's where they're going to be."
Brian Jacques at Kids Ink Childrens' Bookstore in Indianapolis