Quotes From My Non-Bryant & May Books No.9: ‘Calabash’

Reading & Writing


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.’

‘A messenger.’

‘Sort of. And adverts. Selling things.’

‘A merchant.’

‘And it tells us what the weather will be.’

‘An oracle.’

‘And it acts out stories. It shows you what life is like.’

‘A prophet.’

‘Sort of.’

‘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.

8 comments on “Quotes From My Non-Bryant & May Books No.9: ‘Calabash’”

  1. Dan Terrell says:

    Now, I understand more of what it is about. This one I’ll look out for.

  2. Wayne says:

    One of my Fav’s too. I love this one and have read it many times. Hits the spot in so many ways with that ability to transport you somewhere else.

    Kindle to get your backlist, sounds good, don’t forget your short stories collections….. I am missing a couple of those…

  3. Jo W says:

    Found this book at the local library some years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it. The Persians weren’t the only ones laughing. Had to get my own copy after that, to enjoy whenever.

  4. My favourite book. I love this book.

  5. Alan Morgan says:

    It’s your best, in my opinion. One of those books I’ve read and then finished only by slowing down for the last few pages and then on closing working out how long it has to be left before it can picked up and read once again. That’s the sort of thing that sounds overly gushing, but I don’t say it about many books and in your body of work this is that. So please take as a compliment such as is meant.

  6. Normandy Helmer says:

    Backlist as ebooks? Ooooh, yeh. Saturday, trapped by ice storms, I read Plastic, Hell Train, and Invisible Ink. Spanky and Paperboy are being shipped, courtesy of my friends up the road at Powell’s of Portland. Lots of your stuff is hard to find in the US, and then you go and dangle these quotes as bait. Damn you.

    Having finished Invisible Ink, I now have a long list of more authors to find. Now I’m reading What Makes This Book So Great by Jo Walton, which is adding more & more titles. Good thing I’m about to be unemployed, work does so interrupt the flow of a good novel.

  7. Carol Rowlands says:

    I run a book club at the school I work in for higher-achieving 11 yr olds and we’re reading this….I love this book, and so do they!

  8. Kate Marusich says:

    It would be lovely if you would put your books on iBooks as well. Thank you!

Comments are closed.