Allison's Book Bag

An Author From England

Posted on: October 25, 2013

DavidAlmondBorn in England, David Almond was raised in a big Catholic family in a big Catholic community, with a big Catholic church at the bottom of the hill. His father served as an office manager in an engineering factory and his mother as a shorthand typist until she had children. Almond had four sisters and a brother and lots of relatives nearby. His father died when Almond was only 15 and one sister died when a young age, which are tragedies that according to The Guardian now haunt his books. The family moved several times during Almond’s childhood, but always within Felling, one of the largest urban areas in Gateshead, Tyne, and Wear, England.

Felling had once been a coal mining town, but the pits were all closed by the time of Almond’s childhood. Almond loved playing football in the fields above the town, camping out with friends, and messing about with his grandfather. He spent time as an altar boy and still knows snatches of the Latin mass by heart. He also loved the local library, and dreamed of seeing his books on its shelves one day. He was obsessed by Roger Lancelyn Green’s retellings of Greek myths and the legends of King Arthur but, according to The Guardian, the writer who most influenced him was Hemingway. “I pulled a volume of his short stories from the shelf and was electrified. The plainness of the writing felt like a language I could relate to.” One of his uncles had a small printing works. According to Almond, his mother said that she used to take him there as a baby and he used to laugh and point at the printed pages coming off the rollers – so maybe I began to fall in love with print when I was just a few months old.

Although his mother suffered from arthritis so severe that she had both hips replaced before she was 40, Almond credits her on his Biography page, with being “a great woman who held it all together and made sure we all went to college and were allowed to wander”. Almond attended the University of East Anglia, completing a degree in English and American Literature. After stints as a hotel porter, laborer, and postman, Almond next trained to be a teacher. He mistakenly believed it would involve short hours and long holidays and, as such, would be  the perfect job for an aspiring writer. While  Almond found teaching fascinated and learned a great deal from it, he also found it consumed his time and left him exhausted.

Needing more time to write, he resigned and sold his house. He went to live in a commune in Norfolk, where he lived for almost two years on a few hundred pounds and wrote what he considers his “first decent stories”. He became a fixture on the small press scene, bringing out collections of short stories, and even editing a literary journal. When his money ran out, he found a job writing booklets for an adult literacy scheme, which led to his final teaching job, in a school for children with learning difficulties.

His first book for young people, Skellig, was published in 1998. Prior to that, he had spent five years writing a novel called Seances which every publisher in the country rejected. Then Skellig came along. On his Biography page, Almond explains, “It seemed to come out of the blue, as if it had been waiting a long time to be told. At times seemed to write itself.” In the wake of Skellig, despite having written for adults all his life, Almond found himself labeled as a children’s writer. Deciding to continue down that path, Almond has written several more children’s novels, including Kit’s Wildnerness, which I’ll review tomorrow. He also went on to write a collection of stories based on his childhood, picture books, and children’s plays for the theater.

The Guardian declares that his stories are “fired by and freighted with the stuff of his home.” All of Almond’s novels are set in the north-east of England, specifically in an ex-mining community based on Felling. Although Almond is no longer a practicing Catholic, his religious upbringing allow him to infuse mystical and spiritual elements into his fiction. School has also proved a rich seam for his fiction. According to Almond, themes of education and learning run through his work.


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Happy New Year!

Allison’s Book Bag is currently on hiatus. I will return after a much-needed rest with reviews of Advanced Reader Copies including: Freddy Frogcaster and the Flash Flood by Janice Dean, One Two by Igor Eliseev, Incredible Magic of Being by Kathyrn Erskine, Dragon Grammar Book by Diane Robinson, and Wide as the Wind by Edward Stanton.



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