Mr Ian Eagleton, inventor of the celebrated Reading Realm gadget for use with those infernal iPlod devices which everyone seems to use these days, has been kind enough to speak well of my Vale of Strange novels on several occasions, so I am delighted to be able to reciprocate here with some very well deserved words of praise for his own magnificent book, which by all accounts has been flying off the shelves as fast as he can squeeze it out of his exceptionally vivid imagination.
When I was young, my aunt had an apron which was covered in pictures of the seaside. She held me in goggle-eyed fascination as she showed me what she said was the house she used to live in and the street leading down from it to the beach, with its row of multicoloured changing huts, and the nearby harbour where the fishermen landed their catches and mended their nets. James Mayhew’s illustrations for Ian Eagleton’s fabulous fable ‘Nen and the Lonely Fisherman’ seem likely to have a similar power to enchant, their windswept multi-hued blues and contrasting patches of golden yellow providing a memorable setting for the story of the merman Nen and his new friend Ernest the fisherman, who come together across a great chasm of loneliness and differentness to find happiness together.
It’s a story of triumph over adversity, hope in the face of despair, of what can be done if we follow our dreams and don’t give way unnecessarily to the fears of those such as Nen’s father, who – it turns out – may have just a little more advice to share then they have of wisdom.
One of my favourite parts of the book is where we see the deep sea angler fish, which have always terrified me with their bulging mouths full of sharp pointed teeth, each of them dangling an illuminated fishing rod from their mouths to ensnare their unwary prey. But on this occasion the angler fish themselves have to flee in terror when Nen’s father Pelagius unleashes a great tempest upon the ocean, and their gruesome mouths gape open in fear as they try to escape. (Serves them right for scaring us all…)
I guess you could argue that this whole book is about emerging from darkness to live in the light. It has many issues to raise about our attitude to others, how we treat our planet, and our right to lead the kind of life that we want to lead. I think we may find that children have plenty to say on these matters – and I would guess they may have even more to say after reading this splendid book.