How to pronounce David Almond: To quote the author, his name is pronounced "just like the nut"
A Letter to Readers by David Almond about The Tightrope Walkers
The Tightrope Walkers has lots of connections with my own life. I lived in a house rather like Dom's when I was a boy. My own father fought in Burma during World War II, just like Dom's. Miss Fagan, Dom's first teacher, is based on my own first teacher. I remember her kindness, and the beautiful way she shaped letters and words with chalk on the blackboard.
I knew many people who worked in the shipyards that lined the banks of the river Tyne in the '60s and '70s. I worked in a shipyard myself for a couple of summers when I was a student. I cleaned tanks, just like Dom, and it was one of the most terrifying experiences of my life. We had a tramp in our town, rather like Jack Law, and he was a romantic figure to me, living his life of nonmaterialistic freedom in the hills above town. The bookshop, Ultima Thule, was a real place, and Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti really did visit and read. And I partied on the beautiful Northumbrian beaches, and listened to Joni Mitchell, and grew my hair, and dreamed of California and love and peace.
The book is fiction, of course: a merging of memory and imagination, truth and lies. I never knew a boy quite like Vincent McAlinden, but he does have similarities to some real people, and of course to elements of my growing self. I never knew a Holly Stroud, but again, she has elements of girls that I admired and maybe loved.
The book was often very difficult to write. Sometimes the words came fast and true. At other times, making the book was like making a ship, putting it together rivet by rivet, weld by weld. As I wrote, I entered the world of the '60s and '70s, and felt the harshness of the shipyard world, its toughness and strange beauty. I felt the joy of partying by the cold North Sea with people I loved. At times I felt like a teenager again, yearning for life and freedom, learning about myself, about books, about language, about the weird connections between hate and love, violence and peace. I grew close to my characters. They felt very real to me. I feel that their lives continue somewhere, now that the book is done, and I wish them well.
A letter to readers from David Almond, about My Dad's a Birdman
Most of my work has been for older children, but one of the joys of being a children's writer is the variety of possible forms: long novels, short novels, chapter books, picture books, poetry, plays... The children's book world is a place of great creativity and experimentation, and I like to keep moving forward, to take up new challenges.
My Dad's a Birdman began life as a play commissioned by the Young Vic Theatre, in London. I started doodling and scribbling, and images of wings and flying were everywhere on the page. Jackie Crow appeared, strapping homemade wings to his back, and his daughter, Lizzie, and dumpy Auntie Doreen with her dumplings, and Mr. Mint and Mr. Poop, and pretty soon there was a Great Human Bird Competition going on, and the script was leaping and flying into life. I loved writing for a younger audience, loved the process of collaborating with a director, a designer, a company of actors.
After, I put the script in a drawer, but the story stayed with me, and soon I found myself scribbling again: An ordinary spring morning at 12 Lark Lane... Within four days, I had the first draft. It helped to imagine my eight-year-old daughter, Freya, as reader, and to begin to think of it as an illustrated book. The right artist would bring her or his own vision to the story, just as my collaborators in the theatre had done before. But which artist? "Polly Dunbar!" the publisher said, and since I already knew Polly's wonderful work, I crossed my fingers. Now I can no longer imagine my story without it.
There is some darkness in My Dad's a Birdman, of course, but I think I found a way to make the story joyous, optimistic, life-affirming.
I'm proud of it, and when I look at it, with Polly's lovely leaping illustrations, it makes me feel very happy.
I do hope you enjoy it.
All best wishes,
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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