Shiver me timbers! This pirate can really write ... and draw
The Windvale Sprites
By Mackenzie Crook
Published by Faber and Faber
ISBN 978 0 571 24071 5
Mackenzie Crook is the latest actor to have a go at writing youth fiction, and it is an absolute pleasure to report that The Windvale Sprites is a wonderful success on many levels. Actors and other TV celebrities often think that they can get away with writing a book that will sell on their name alone. This is a disturbing trend. It takes special imagination and endless skill to create a story that will actually engage young readers regardless of the author's name.
With The Windvale Sprites, Crook, of The Office and Pirates of the Caribbean fame, has created a debut novel full of imagination and charm. It is a wonderful surprise to read a book as good as this from a new author. But rumour has it that Crook has always spent any spare time on film sets and in the wings of theatres drawing and sketching the goings-on. His talent as an artist is very much part of the success here.
Twenty-five years ago, the English countryside was devastated by a massive storm that weather forecasters never saw coming, and this great storm of 1987 is the starting point of Crook's tale.
His opening chapter gives an evocative word-picture of buildings being laid to waste and trees being uprooted. It doesn't take Crook long to show his reader that he is a bit of a magician when it comes to words and description.
The morning after the storm, young Asa Brown stands in the garden of his house surveying the damage. As he potters around the garden picking up broken flower pots and smashed fencing, he finds something very strange in the fish pond. It looks like a gigantic insect floating on the surface. But dragonflies - and most other insects for that matter - don't come as big as this.
The creature in the pond is some sort of sprite with wings, arms, legs and ears and a human face. Asa tries to rescue the creature, and this simple act of kindness starts him off on an adventure that takes him to the lonely moors of Windvale. Eventually he ends up at a ramshackle old house, the home of a legendary eccentric who knows all about sprites - and who is supposed to have been dead for the past 200 years.
Every page of The Windvale Sprites might as well be stamped 'satisfaction guaranteed'. It is expertly written, with magic, comedy and sadness in every chapter. Crook's accomplished illustrations punctuate the text in just the right places and help keep the intrigued reader turning the pages to see what comes next.
Crook relates his no-nonsense story with warmth and liveliness. The plot is funny without being silly, and involving without being sentimental. The words 'instant classic' are often too easily thrown around with works that impress, but perhaps we can stick the label onto The Windvale Sprites, and fervently hope that this is not the last adventure that Asa has with the sprites on the moor.
John Millen can be contacted on MillenBookshelf@aol.com