- Virginia Johnson
Dockside in Liverpool, England, was an exciting place to be a kid. Growing up there, young Brian Jacques (pronounced "Jacks") was surrounded by a loving and hardworking family. When his seafaring uncles would stop by between voyages, Brian heard tales of faraway places and amazing adventures. He listened, fascinated as his relatives "painted pictures with words."
For a young lad with an active imagination, the local school was not an especially nurturing environment. One of Brian's teachers absolutely refused to believe that the story he wrote about a bird cleaning a crocodile's teeth was his own. It was just too good. Brian wouldn't back down and got caned (hit with a stick) for his impudence—a pretty common punishment in those days.
He left school, as many of his classmates did, at fifteen and went to sea. In an interview for Time magazine, he explained that although running off to sea sounded like it should be loads of fun, in reality his shipmates were friends of his mum and dad who'd keep the boy painting the bulkhead while in port so he couldn't go into town and get into mischief.
Brian Jacques loved the sea and always wanted to live near it, but he had many jobs on land, too. Storyteller, lorry (truck) driver, milkman, and more, Brian has met a lot of people and done a lot of things. Most of these experiences eventually found their way into his books.
He visited Liverpool's school for the blind regularly and decided that what those children needed was a good story. So he set out to write one about heroes who defend their abbey from wicked invaders. When young Matthias brandishes the legendary sword of Martin the Warrior to defend his friends from Cluny the Scourge, the fact that he's a young mouse and the villain is cunning rat makes no difference to the strength of the storytelling.
Brian deliberately wrote the stories full of description to make them more accessible to his blind listeners. Yet he didn't set out to write a best-selling children's book, the first of more than a dozen. A friendly teacher from his school days read the book and took it off to a major publisher without telling Brian. It was accepted, and Redwall, his first book, was published in 1986, followed by Mossflower, and Mattimeo.
Whenever the animals in his stories enjoy peaceful times, that's when they like to feast, and feast well at that! The Redwall Cookbook (available at the library) blends Brian's stories with tasty recipes. Here's a sample:
Cheerful Churchmouse Cherry Crisp
The author recommends that dibbuns (young children) get help from a big 'un (adult) with this recipe.
2 cups (12 ounces) fresh or frozen (thawed) cherries, stoned*
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
¾ cup rolled oats
¼ cup Demerara (raw) sugar
¼ cup sliced almonds
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
4 teaspoons honey, warmed until runny
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- Place the cherries in a pie plate, sprinkle the sugar and 2 tablespoons of water over them, then bake until the cherries begin to soften, about 10 minutes
- Meanwhile, in a bowl, mix together the topping ingredients. Sprinkle this mixture over the cherries and return the dish to the oven until the topping is crisp and golden, 10 to 12 minutes.
*pitted--in Great Britain a pit is called a stone
Did Brian Jacques think he ever might get tired of writing Redwall stories? No, indeed, he assured readers who wrote to him--he did answer every letter himself--that he loved Redwall and was perfectly contented to tell more stories as long as the readers wanted them.
However, he began another exciting adventure series which his readers may enjoy. In Castaways of the Flying Dutchman, a young, mute boy named Neb runs away from his brutal stepfather. He flees to the departing merchant ship called the Flying Dutchman, little knowing the doom that awaits it. Castaways is followed by Angel's Command and Voyage of Slaves.
His own story is complete. Brian died on February 5, 2011, at the age of 71 from a heart attack. He will be sorely missed but his wonderful adventure books can be enjoyed for years to come.
Want to learn more about Brian Jacques and the worlds he created? Click here for a full list of his books which our library owns, and look below for Web sites devoted to the author and his Redwall series.
An Interview with Brian Jacques
Brian talked about where he liked to write, how he wrote, and what he learned in the University of Life and the public library.