Sipping tea with David Almond

- Emma-Louise Silva

During November 2022, I conducted a research stay in Newcastle, UK. Not only was I invited to give a talk to the members of the Children’s Literature University Graduate Group (CLUGG) at Newcastle University, I also got the chance to visit Seven Stories, the National Centre for Children’s Books. Lucky for me, the exhibition “Listen to this story” curated by Karen Sands-O’Connor had also just been launched, so I got to visit that as well. The cherry on my research-stay-cake was meeting the author whose oeuvre I have been researching for more than two years, David Almond, and visiting the area that forms the backdrop of so many of his narratives.

Mural from ‘Winged Tales of the North’ / ‘Ancient Place’ by artist Faunagraphic with lettering by Ciaran Globel

The talk I held at CLUGG revolved around the Constructing Age for Young Readers project, which is funded by the European Research Council. I introduced our team members and the array of approaches with which we explore the authors in our corpus. I shared a glimpse of the podcast I created for our project, namely “What’s age got to do with it?”, and zoomed in on the multidisciplinary lens that I use to approach David Almond’s oeuvre. By intertwining children’s literature studies and age studies with philosophy of mind, genetic criticism (or the study of writing processes), and cognitive narratology (or the study of cognition in relation to narratives), my research for the CAFYR project investigates themes of authorship, character construction, thought processes, memory, and the linkages between mind, body, and world throughout the life course.

During the pandemic, I was grateful to receive some copies of writing material from the David Almond collection held at Seven Stories, but to actually get to visit the archive, meet the team, and explore the boxes of writing material there was extremely special. Being able to examine Almond’s notes, drafts, and other documents relating to the writing process certainly makes the author’s extraordinary craftsmanship more tangible.

In short, this research stay not only gave me the opportunity to engage with children’s literature scholars at Newcastle University (including a taste of Karen Sands-O’Connor’s homemade doughnuts and a wonderful lunch with Emily Murphy!), I also gained insights into the archival system at Seven Stories and the treasure trove that the David Almond collection represents. 

And yes, just like the gods in Almond’s Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf (2013, illustrated by Dave McKean), David Almond and I sat there “sipping tea together, and nibbling sandwiches and cakes”. As the graphic novel mentions: “They chatted about their creations, and gazed down at them with deepest fondness”. Aside from this, I got to witness how “cake produces the most marvellous of dreams”, just as those had by the gods in Mouse, Bird, Snake, Wolf.

Speaking of dreams, I am hoping to visit Newcastle and the CLUGG team again at the end of July 2023 for the International Children’s Literature Symposium, organised by Emily Murphy (Newcastle University) and Derong Xu (Ocean University of China). Let’s watch this space!

Written by: Emma-Louise Silva