David Almond, as regular readers of this blog will know, can do no wrong in my eyes. He is one of my all time favourite authors, not one of my all time favourite children’s authors. Author. Full stop.
His latest collection of short stories; Half A Creature From The Sea: A Life in Stories, does nothing to change this opinion for me. This is pretty miraculous, as I am not a huge fan of the short story. For David though, I can make an exception.
There are eight stories in this collection. Each is prefaced with an introduction by David. Each introduction sets the scene for the story, telling you the time in his life the story was inspired by, the places he sets the stories in and what they mean to him, and how the story evolved in a place between fact and fiction.
The introductions are my favourite bits of the whole collection actually. There is a real passion in Almond’s voice on the page, and I love the fact that the stories become more vivid, more rooted in reality because of what he has told us, the reader, before we begin.
As always, there is magic in Almond’s stories, ghosts and poltergeists, otherworldliness and a sense of the real and the fantastic existing side by side, sometimes colliding in wonderful, awe inspiring, sad and beautiful ways. None of this is lost because of the prosaic introductions. If anything, this sense of magic and transformation is heightened by what Almond shares with us.
I particularly loved the story; Harry Miller’s Run, in which the protagonist, a young boy, about to do his first Great North Run, finds out that his old neighbour, Harry Miller, once did a run very like the one he is about to do now. The story is full of spirit and beauty and the sense of a life fully lived. It actually made me cry at the end I found it so moving, and I rarely cry at books.
There are no weak stories in this book, which is one of the things I always worry about with short stories. Each one is perfect in its own way, and works wonderfully in the collection as a whole. You can see how lovingly curated and chosen they are. The whole collection is also given coherence by the fantastic illustrations of Eleanor Taylor, whose work reminded me rather of Jane Ray, who I also love. You can find out more about Eleanor through her blog and website here.
There is some violence in these stories, a couple deal with bullying and don’t pull any punches. There are also ghost stories and stories about the supernatural elements of religion. The stories demand quite a lot from the reader in terms of thinking about what is being written and/or shared by the author. As such I would suggest this as a book for children aged 11-16.
All the stories have boys as the protagonists, and often revolve around the interests boys have and the things boys share. Having said this, there is such a strong element of thoughtfulness, beauty and the supernatural in all its senses, I would suggest it is suitable for both boys and girls.