War, Peace & the Kid Book

photo from here.

Here's a speech I gave last night at The Winter Drey book launch, posted at the request of some of the visitors.

I’ve never given a speech at a book launch before, but upon reflection I discovered that, at this one, I actually had something to say.

It always seemed to me that that the overall theme of these books would be clear from the launching-off point of the first one, a true historical battle between a pair of Viking kings from the 10th Century in which the weaker-seeming king won without a single sword being hacked into flesh.

But since, in the highest profile review I received for that book, the reviewer chose to admonish me for not being bloody enough to satisfy her ten-year-old son, I feel compelled to spell things out a bit.

I love bloody stories, don’t get me wrong. So many children’s books are about the battle between good and evil. Harry Potter, Eragon, The Lord of the Rings. Even the Silverwing saga, by our own Kenneth Oppel, has a few good battles, if I’m not mistaken.

It’s what makes these books exciting.

Still, I wondered if it was possible to write a series of books, in the grand epic tradition, about characters who choose not to fight, without being accused by a grown-up of being too boring for children. Is it possible to depict courage without hacking off an arm with your sword?

That was my question.

The Feathered Cloak had, at its centre, the battle, or non-battle, that I described above. It portrays the events that lead up to it, some mythical and others everyday, and tries to imagine a reason why the cards fell the way they did. It had a lot to do with a bloodthirsty warrior getting his symbol of battle transformed before his eyes into a symbol of peace.

The book was also about the wishes and dreams and feelings of a young girl.

The Winter Drey explores a different path towards and away from war, one that might strike you as a little darker and more contemporary: That is, what kind of person (or creature) would seek to control a much larger person (or creature) than himself by manipulating the love that person feels for something, be it country, or family, or world-tree? What sort of person (or creature) would asset that control by invoking a powerful but entirely invisible enemy?

And what kind of event would give the other person (or creature) an inkling that maybe he was being manipulated?

The book is also about the wishes and dreams and feelings of a little boy.

He’s the brother of the girl in the first book. She’s not in this second book, but these two children, beloved to me, will meet again.

photo from here, posted in honour of The Winter Drey's own Rat-A-Task.

In this book too I’ve created the weakest character you could possibly imagine. Think of the weakest creature you can imagine and then make it weaker. And then I gave gave this creature more influence over the outcome than anything else.

(Hint: it's not a squirrel.)

So yeah, basically, what I wanted to write about is heroic Vikings who choose, in the end, based on hard experience, not to fight. It may not be bloody enough for some, and I may not be doing the world any favours by filling the heads of children with naive notions like how peace is better than war and can be just as exciting, but it’s what I set out to do, and I intend to finish it, with ever escalating stakes.

-Sean Dixon

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