Animal fiction is a notoriously difficult beast. I had never intended to write any, until last summer, when my youngest son begged me for a story about wolves. I initially said no, but then I had an idea that nagged and tickled, and the voices in my head would not be silenced until I had put them on paper.
Writing for my son proved a very good motivator, and despite my trepidation I pushed ahead with what eventually became Echo and the White Howl. It was not an easy novel to write for several reasons. For one thing, one has to make sure the reader suspends disbelief. That means walking the tightrope between assigning human attributes to animal characters to make them relatable, and yet at the same time making sure their knowledge doesn’t exceed their natural awareness. Wolves would have no understand of things like helicopters for instance (in the novel they are referred to as giant flying metal insects).
Turns of phrase can prove problematic. In the first draft, I often caught myself writing things like “Echo couldn’t put his finger on the problem” when he has paws, not fingers. On top of that, I had to decide which facts from my research should be incorporated into my story, and what should be left out. So for example, how a pack hunts, challenges to the Alpha and so forth are all woven into the narrative, whereas the fact that wolves supposedly only see in black and white was ignored. Poetic licence is important, and to have included the latter point would have been as foolish as insisting space battles in Star Wars feature no laser sound effects due to the vacuum of space.
Finally, I made a very conscious decision that this novel would not patronise children. I absolutely cannot bear children’s fiction which talks down to the reader. Whilst Echo and the White Howl is suitable for all ages, it does contain some frightening and upsetting moments. Nor does it skimp on blood and gore in both hunt and fight scenes. I honestly believe none of this material is gratuitous or out of place. Indeed, to have censored or left it out would have been fundamentally dishonest. In the main the novel is a thrilling adventure story with an ultimately reassuring outcome, but the fears, doubts, moments of despair and tragedies experienced by Echo and Saphira on their journey are not glossed over either. I believe this is in keeping with the traditions of the very best animal fiction, in the likes of Watership Down, The Jungle Book and Bambi.
Echo and the White Howl is out now. Click here for your Kindle download or paperback copy.