By this time, having thoroughly confused my publishers about the direction in which my career was going, I decided to throw them for a loop and write a novel about a teenager who falls off a pier in the 1970s and wakes up in 13th century Persia. As you do. I think at this point my editor just threw up her hands with a cry of ‘Whatever.’ Thinking back, the obvious thing would have been to market it at teens, but in the absence of any advice whatsoever from anyone, I ploughed a lonely furrow and produced one of the books I still love the most.
Calabash touched on many themes, but the main one was the danger in which imagination can destroy as well as create, by preventing you from growing up. The book was championed by Joanne Harris, who wanted to see copies given out at schools. Without marketing it fared poorly, but will soon be back, as I hope to get my backlist up onto Kindle this year.
So here’s a truncated bit of dialogue between the boy, Kay, and the Persian doctor Trebunculus, about what Kay has in the modern world;
‘We have an invention like a box with a little theatre, it runs on electricity which accumulates in the sky. You plug the box into the wall.’
‘You have electricity in the wall?’
‘We turn on the box and it gives us the news.’
‘Sort of. And adverts. Selling things.’
‘And it tells us what the weather will be.’
‘And it acts out stories. It shows you what life is like.’
‘But what can it do that a man cannot?’
‘Well, nothing really.’
‘And for this you have to make your own storms? It seems like a lot of effort.’
‘We can light a room with electricity.’
‘So can we, with candles.’
‘But not very well.’
‘How much light do you need?
‘But a candle burns if you stick your finger in the flame.’
‘Of course, if you stick your finger in the flame, but who would be so stupid? So electricity does not hurt if you stick your finger in it?’
‘Well yes, it hurts very badly. It can kill you.’
‘There you are. Better stick with candles.’
By the time Kay tries to explain the concept of trains designed to get you to places faster, the Persians are in fits of laughter. It is a lovely book, even if I say so myself, and I hope those of you who haven’t seen it finally get a chance to do so.