At my recent book launch for the first of the Firebird Chronicles, Rise of the Shadow Stealers, I was asked what I wanted to say through the book. Part of me wanted to answer, “Read it and draw your own conclusions!” but actually I think it’s a fair question. If you’re going to write a book, there’s generally something you want to say, and people are intrigued by what that something is.
At the time I was reading my friend’s book, Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace (also published by John Hunt). In it, Noel Moules describes the choice we must make about how to understand reality – a choice between Nihilism and Universalism – the first being the belief that there is no meaning in life, that things are ultimately futile, and the latter the idea that reality is fundamentally charged with purpose and there is something that holds all things together. This conflict is at the heart of Rise of the Shadow Stealers.
The book is set on Fullstop Island, a land made of stories. To the south-east of the island is Blotting’s Academy, the school to which all story characters go to be trained, where they make their first mark. This is the place where Fletcher and Scoop, the heroes of the story, awake. They have no recollection of how they’ve got there, no memory of anything before that day. In their quest to discover why, they stumble across the small but deadly Shadow Beetle, an insect that feeds on words. Shadow Beetles eat reality, leaving little piles of blankness in their wake. The power of the Shadow Beetle is destructive, it nullifies and cancels out. It is the creeping possibility of Nihilism. But there is also a creative force at work on the island – the Storyteller. As the plot progresses, Fletcher and Scoop find themselves becoming entangled in his story. Gradually they uncover its thread, a thread that ultimately leads to the discovery of who they are and why they have no memory. The Storyteller’s tale is filled with meaning and leads to rebirth, symbolised by the rising of a firebird. This is a universalism, where even the apparent emptiness of darkness and death are revealed to have purpose. This is the hope at the heart of Fletcher and Scoop’s world.
There are so many things in our world that eat stories, things that stop us living in the fullness of reality. One of the things I want to say to the children (and adults) who read this book is, “Live your story! Discover who you are – don’t let life be eaten away by the shadows that can trap us, distract us, control us, or give us amnesia.”
I love to sit in the theatre and watch an audience react as a play resolves. There is a deep collective sigh and sometimes, if the performance is good, spontaneous applause. This is the psychological relief we feel as a story tells us there is a way forward, both within ourselves and in the world at large. Life is more than just Shadow Beetles and deathly stings, for although we might travel through what appears to be meaningless for a while, there’s a twist at the end of the tale, and even treasure to be stolen from the shadows. That’s the central theme I wanted to explore in Rise of the Shadow Stealers. In so doing, I add my voice to so many of the great stories that carry this hope.
That’s definitely worth a tankard of Noveltwist Cordial, don’t you think? Cheers!