I hadn’t thought, a year back, that the CBe stable would include among its mares and stallions a pony, a children’s writer. Even though it’s been clear for a long time that some of the most ambitious writing around is to be found in the so-called children’s section. But it’s specialist, isn’t it, the children’s market? And a children’s book needs glitter and a dragon on the cover, not the CBe spartan livery, doesn’t it?
But a book that takes me by surprise, that shows me new things writing can do – and which, in this case, moves me to tears each time I read it – is welcome, whatever its category. (YFB/E3N79 according to the Book Industry Communication codes, which are apparently helpful to someone.)
Nicky Singer has written several adult novels and children’s novels (Feather Boy won the Blue Peter Book-of-the-Year Award, is published in 28 countries, and the TV adaptation won a BAFTA); she’s co-founded a charity to train film, theatre and opera writers; she’s chaired the Brighton Festival lit committee; etc. The new book, Knight Crew, will be staged as a opera at Glyndebourne next March with a cast much younger than me or you (I’m trying not to use the phrase ‘young adult’ in this post, and I’m doing OK), and a three-part documentary about the making of the opera will be screened on BBC2 later in the year. All that’s by the by.
Knight Crew retells the King Arthur legend (and I thought I knew what that was about, being an Eng Lit kind of guy, but I didn’t, until I read this book) as the story of Art, Quin and Lance, members of a teenage knife gang who experience violence, love and a revelation of how their lives may be changed. If it gets any attention the sub-eds will say it’s about knife crime. And it’s true there are knives, and deaths, and grit and deprivation. But really it’s about, as the Merlin-figure puts it, ‘what we do in our allotted time . . . It’s who and how we love.’
Despite the legend at the back of it all, it’s not programmatic; the conventions the book creates for itself (this isn’t straight naturalism) allow freedom and engagement. As well as love, it’s a book about narrative – about the stories we were told as children, and the ones we make of our own lives, and the ones bigger than us and that continue after us.
It’s not a pony at all. To be published in September, with, oh yes, a full-colour cover. If anyone wants advance reading proofs, especially anyone in a position to help this book along, email me.