Claire Fayers talks about birds, books and belonging in her guest blogpost, having been shortlisted in our Books for Younger Readers category in the Children’s Book Award for her book, The Accidental Pirates (Voyage to the Magical North).
When I was in college, the hall where I lived had a duck pond outside and among the many ducks, there was one large goose. His name was Simon.
Every spring, students would smuggle slices of toast out of the canteen at breakfast and carry them down to the pond where flocks of eager ducklings bounced about like fluffy yellow ping pong balls, waiting for the morning bread delivery.
No one was interested in feeding Simon the goose, but he had a plan. The moment the first students appeared and the ducklings surged toward them, he’d put his head down among the yellow flock and waddle along with them, apparently hoping no one would spot the giant white body attached to his duckling-sized head.
I think we all feel like Simon at times. Hiding at the back of the popular crowd, snapping up crumbs and hoping no one would notice we shouldn’t be there.
Growing up, I remember always wanting to fit in and never quite managing it. But books gave me a place to belong. More than anything, I loved tales of high adventure in strange, magical worlds. Somehow, I found an echo of myself there.
It’s no surprise that The Accidental Pirates is stuffed full of pirates and magic, sea monsters and epic battles. Along the way, however, the adventure gained an extra layer: the quest for belonging.
Brine and Peter are accidental pirates. They never meant to end up on the Onion. Brine can’t remember her parents and Peter isn’t much better off – he hasn’t seen his family since they gave him away to be a magician’s apprentice. Even the heroic Cassie O’Pia, captain of the Onion, sails from island to island with no real purpose or plan.
‘That’s what floating about on an ocean does to you.’ she says. ‘You can’t plan ahead. The weather changes and your carefully timetabled fortnight of marauding is put on hold while you make emergency repairs.’
My infamous magician, Marfak West, hates stories, and with good reason. Stories represent freedom, a chance to escape into other lives for a little while. In stories, we find a window onto strange new worlds and a mirror showing us more about ourselves. We all need space to dream and a place to call our own.
As for Simon the goose, I like to think that, one day, another goose arrived at the duck pond. I imagine Simon raising his head from among the ducklings and gazing in wonder at the creature who was just like himself. And then, together, the two geese spread their wings and soared up into the perfect blue sky, where they’d always belonged.
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