A Voice Thundering Down the Decades

A sign to Alderley Edge
by K. M. Lockwood @lockwoodwriter
This month's Inspiration Feature focuses on the influence of Alan Garner on writing for children in the British Isles and beyond. Known primarily for his fantasy works, there's much more to consider about the Cheshire-born author.

A little about Alan Garner

Born this day in 1934, Alan Garner came from a working class family in Cheshire. He is descended from stonemasons and blacksmiths, whose ancestry in the area can be traced back to 1592. As a child he absorbed traditional tales about Alderley Edge - where he played then and lives now. ( I recall a local woman being delighted that I associated Alderley Edge with Alan Garner - not with footballers' mansions.)

Armada Lion cover from 1971 - I had this version.

The place and its stories - such as the King sleeping beneath the hill - became integral to his novels for children: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) and The Moon of Gomrath (1963) being the first two.  His deep knowledge and love of folklore, legend and myth made him unafraid to rework the tales he had heard and the ones he studied in his own way. In The Owl Service (1967) he reuses the Welsh story of Blodeuwedd  (the flower maiden) in a contemporary setting.

TV Times, August 1969 article

The same sense of  underpinning from his deep understanding of local history and geography supports all his work. He uses the rhythms of Cheshire dialect (which he had his mouth washed out for speaking as a child) in much of his writing. In Red Shift (1973), he layers different stories occurring in the same place through time. An ambitious and influential novel for teenagers then, it still influences YA today - and it's far from the only one.

Mow Cop ( which features in Red Shift) by J. E. McGowan CC

Have look at some of the contributors to  First Light: A Celebration of the Life and Works of Alan Garner (2016):
  • David Almond
  • Margaret Atwood
  • Susan Cooper
  • Frank Cottrell Boyce
  • Helen Dunmore
  • Cornelia Funke
  • Neil Gaiman
  • Philip Pullman 
  • Elizabeth Wein
 His storytelling is like a vein of ore that keeps being re-worked.

Blackden in Winter c/o The Blackden Trust

Some ideas for use in your own smithy

  • Are there current writers whose work is precious to you? Could you tell them - or create something to express that debt?
  • What about the local stories where you live - or where you were as a child? Could they play a part in your work - if you gave your self the freedom to play with them? (Garner described himself as 'the voice of Aeschylus reading Desperate Dan'.)
  • What is specific to the setting of your stories - names of places or people, the strata of history, the vernacular - be it spoken or architectural? Could that bring richness to your storytelling? 

'At the bottom level, my stories have to work as entertainment, keep a reader turning the page to find out what happens next. At the top level, they have to work for me, say what I want to express.'

by K.M.Lockwood  
chief, cook and bottle-washer at Peacehaven B&B

1 comment:

  1. ILOVE Alan Garner. I was a late comer to his work, a student when I first read Weirdstone and Elidor, but instantly hooked, very close to the Manchester I lived in then. Brilliant piece, many thanks!


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