His books have thrilled readers all over the world. Inspired by the classic adventure stories of his childhood, not to mention his many real-life travels, Brian Jacques has conjured up the magical world of Redwall and now the equally unforgettable Castaways of the Flying Dutchman.THE BASICS
Born: Liverpool, June 15th 1939
Jobs: Merchant Seaman, Railway Fireman, Longshoreman, Truck Driver, Bus Driver, Boxer, Police Constable, Post Master, Stand-up comic, Radio presenter, Author.
First Book: Redwall, 1985 THE BOOKS
Brian Jacques (pronounced “Jakes”) was born into a Liverpool Irish family on the eve of World War Two and grew up close to the docks. He began reading at an early age and was especially keen on adventure stories by writers such as Daniel Defoe, Sir Henry Rider Haggard, Robert Louis Stevenson and Edgar Rice Burroughs. From the age of ten, Brian attended St. John’s School. On his first day there, Brian and his classmates were set the task of writing a story about animals. Brian wrote about a bird that cleaned a crocodile’s teeth. His teacher refused to believe that a ten-year-old could write so well and accused Brian of copying the story. Brian ended up being caned as a “liar” when in fact it was his story. At least he had the satisfaction of knowing that he had a talent for writing.
Thankfully, there were some more encouraging teachers at St. John’s, such as Austin Thomas, who introduced his class to poetry and Greek literature. “Because of him,” remembers Brian, “I saved seven shillings and sixpence to buy The Iliad and The Odyssey at this dusty used bookshop.” Such books would shape Brian’s imagination and help to inspire his own adventure stories such as Castaways of the Flying Dutchman. Another teacher who would play an important role in Brian’s life and career was Alan Durband, but more of him later…
After leaving school aged fifteen, Brian set out to find real-life adventure as a merchant seaman. He travelled to many exotic places; from New York to Valparaiso to Yokohama. It was an exciting time but the life of the sailor proved lonely and he decided to return home to Liverpool. It was the 1960s and, with the Beatles causing a worldwide sensation, Liverpool was the place to be. Brian, his two brothers and three mates formed a folksinging group called “The Liverpool Fisherman”. Brian has also backed Roger McGough’s band “The Scaffold”. He has life membership of The Cavern nightclub.
Brian’s writing career began in earnest with playwriting. His three plays, Brown Bitter, Wet Nellies and Scouse have all been performed at Liverpool’s Everyman Theatre.
Brian wrote his first book, Redwall, for the children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind. He first came into contact with the children through delivering milk to the school. He started reading books to them but saw that the stories were not sufficiently firing the kids’ imaginations. He decided to try a story of his own. “I didn’t have a typewriter and I was skint, so I went and bought dozens of 30p pads and sat up all night.”
After Brian wrote out Redwall, he lent it to his former schoolteacher Alan Durband (who also taught Paul McCartney and George Harrison). Durband showed the book to a publisher without telling Brian. The manuscript was handwritten, over 800 pages long and stored in an Asda carrier bag at this stage!
Brian was signed up on the spot for the first five Redwall adventures. The series has proved phenomenally successful throughout the world. There are over seven million copies of the 14 Redwall books in print. They are published in 19 countries and 16 languages. In the year 2000, The Legend of Luke remained on the New York Times bestseller list for six weeks, while Lord Brocktree was there for over 17 weeks. A TV animation of Redwall has been created by Nelvana Productions. There has even been an opera version!
Brian continues to visit the children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind. He has also set up a literary award for children’s writing in Merseyside. Rest assured, any promising writers will be rewarded with a prize rather than a caning!
Throughout his thriving career as an author, Brian has hosted a weekly radio show, “Jakestown”, on BBC Radio Merseyside. On-air, he shares his comic outlook on life as well as his deep passion for opera. In 1980, he won the prestigious Sony Award for Best Light Entertainment Show.
Brian has two grown sons who live close by in Liverpool. Marc is a builder, carpenter and bricklayer. David is a professor of Art and a muralist. Brian wrote Mariel of Redwall in honour of his granddaughter Jade and dedicated The Great Redwall Feast to her.
Brian enjoys doing crosswords and, when there’s time, reading books by his favourite authors including Damon Runyon, Larry McMurty and P G Wodehouse.
Brian often finds inspiration for his novels when taking his West Highland Terrier Teddy out for a walk in Stanley Park in Kirkdale. Sometimes, ideas come to him as dreams in the night. He generally writes in the garden of his home, under an umbrella, on a manual typewriter.
Many of his stories are based on adventures that Brian or his friends have had themselves. The enduring themes of his work - courage and decency in the face of danger - are firmly rooted in his memories of his wartime childhood. Although the heroes and villains of his Redwall books are animals, their characteristics come from people he has encountered throughout his life, all over the world. He’s even written himself into the stories as Gonff, Prince of Mousethieves. When asked why the mice are the heroes of Redwall, he answers that “like children, mice are little and have to learn to be courageous and use their wits”.
Brian’s first book for Puffin marks an exciting new direction for this compelling author. Castaways of the Flying Dutchman is every bit as gripping as a Redwall. In 1620, a young mute boy named Neb is “shanghied” to sail on The Flying Dutchman. The ship’s captain is an evil, godless man with the power of life and death over everyone on board. The Flying Dutchman is not a ship for the faint of heart! Although most of the characters in the novel are human, there are two particularly strong animal heroes; Den, Neb’s talking black Labrador; and Horatio, the ship’s sardine-obsessed cat.
For further information check out Brian Jacques’ website: www.redwall.org. The site was created by Canadian David Lindsay. David was in his early teens when Brian first met him while on an author tour. David asked permission to create the website. Brian says “he’s been superb… what a cracking lad!”.WHAT HE SAYS...
“I think kids are very important. I write for children. But I also write for the child in everybody. What a horrible world it must be for people who’ve grown prematurely old and can’t remember the magic of childhood, the lovely escapism of ‘Once upon a time and far away…’.”
“Books were so important to me as a child. They were my escapism in post-war Liverpool.”
“I was born and bred in Liverpool and that’s the place I’ll die. I have never considered myself patriotic English but I’m a patriotic Scouser.”
“I’ve always written, always, always, always. Thank God, I was born with the talent to write. I’ve always been a good descriptive speaker and I can paint my pictures with words.”
“If you look through my books, it’s always a tale being told. Sitting in an abbey, it’s winter, they’re round the fire, and up to the door comes a tramp. Some old mouse, some old otter who tells a tale for a winter night. It goes right back to when I was a kid. All we had was radio then and we used to beg our dad and mum to be able to stay up to listen to Valentine Doyle, The Man in Black. So we’d all sit on the lino in the front room, put the lights out and sit by the old coal fire, you know? When you heard the music, you could feel the hairs standing up on the back of your neck.”AWARDS
The Lancashire Libraries Children’s Book of the Year Award for Redwall
The Lancashire Libraries Children’s Book of the Year Award for Mossflower
The Lancashire Libraries Children’s Book of the Year Award for Salamandstron
The Western Australian Young Readers Award for Redwall
The Western Australian Young Readers Award for Mossflower
The Western Australian Young Readers Award for Mattimeo
Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Redwall
Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Mossflower
Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Salamandstron
Shortlisted for the Carnegie Medal for Mattimeo
Brian Jacques (pronounced ‘jakes’)
DATE OF BIRTH:
15 June 1939
PLACE OF BIRTH:
The works of Mario Puzo, Damon Runyon, and P. G. Wodehouse are amongst Brian’s favourites. That is when he has time to read!
As you may already know Brian loves opera, but all music is a must ‘I could not live without music’
MOST TREASURED POSSESSION:
Teddy. Brian’s West Highland Terrier!
Did you enjoy reading as a child?
I loved reading adventure stories by Daniel Defoe, Robert Louis Stevenson and Kenneth Graeme. I remember saving up to buy copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey, these ancient Greek stories definitely shaped my imagination when I was young.
The sea is very important in your stories, why is this?
When I left school I became a merchant shipman. I travelled the world seeing amazing things. I think the sea is very exciting; it can be thrilling, dangerous, or comforting.
What do you hope children will get from your books?
Most of all I want children to have fun. I want to fire their imaginations. In my stories the motto is always that courage and decency in the face of danger is very important. You can do well in life if you stick by that!
Why did you decide to write your Redwall series about animals not humans?
Having animals as the main characters gives me more freedom than with humans. I can be really inventive with the characters and their lives. The mice are the heroes of Redwall because like children, mice are little and have to learn to be courageous and use their wits.
How did you become a full-time writer?
I wanted to write an exciting story for a group of school children, so I wrote the first Redwall tale. I didn’t have a typewriter so I wrote it by hand. I lent it to a friend, who showed it to a publisher, they were interested and signed me up for five Redwall books. The rest is history…
What advice do you give to people who want to write?
Paint. That’s the magic word. Paint pictures with words. That’s the greatest advice I can give anybody. Paint the pictures with words.