Posted by Literary Titan
General Jack and the Battle of the Five Kingdoms follows two unlikely heroes who set out on a quest to liberate their repressed animal friends. What was the inspiration for the setup to this riveting story?
The main inspiration was my great nephew Jack. I am spending a lot of time with him now and he has an inquisitive mind. He bombards me with simple questions about this and that. He has a passion for animals, battles strategies and storytelling. Together we made up stories to illustrate the answers to his probing questions. In a way the novel is a compendium of these various mini-tales. I have always been a huge admirer of J.R.R.Tolkien, C.S. Lewis and George Orwell. So I used their frameworks as the matrix in which to embed and develop these mini-tales.
Jack is an intriguing and well developed character. What were some driving ideals behind his character development?
You probably mean Miaow. In his case, it all comes down to Saint Paul’s immortal quote in his letter to the Romans, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out- this I keep on doing.” This is at the heart of every illicit addiction that prevails especially in our times. The struggle between flesh and spirit generates inner conflict. This is good as it implies a vibrant healthy conscience. This is the hallmark of Francois Mauriac’s writing. He was a major influence on Graham Greene, who similarly created conflicted protagonists in his novels.
Regarding General Jack: He is the Christ-like figure who is the bearer of the good news. The manner in which the animals receive his message in the novel is a retelling of the transcendent parable of the sower.
What were some themes that were important for you to focus on in this book?
When I was in my early teens, I subscribed to the weekly periodicals “Look and Learn”, “World of Wonder” and “Tell Me Why”. I was hooked on them. It was amazing. Within the forty pages or so of each magazine, they covered a host of various themes like history, famous heroes and villains, geography, battles, literature, politics, geography, cultures, inventions, and many other issues. They presented these stories in a way to appeal to middle grade readers. These stories inspired, educated and entertained the reader. It’s a pity they’ve long gone out of print. With my book I attempted to emulate these types of magazines, in a way to stimulate and entice the reader unto higher reading.
Ordinarily, in a novel you’d have one or two themes. You can’t have more as the book risks losing its shape and focus. I could get away with stuffing myriad themes in one novel because I treated the novel as a symphony. Each chapter can be likened to the movement of a classical symphony- you have the different variations of the sonata, the andante, the allegro and the scherzo. Each movement has its own unique set of themes, they are rarely monothematic. But these themes blend in well together, at times complementing each other in the overall symphonic composition. A composer uses the movements to organise or contrast the themes and ideas in a larger piece of music. Incidentally, my book ends with an adagio that is preceded by an andante segment from the penultimate chapter.
In the main, the novel is an allegorical study of human nature and man’s destiny.
What is the next book that you are working on and when will it be available?
The next book is actually the first novel I wrote and it is the first novel of the Jack trilogy where the story centres around the namesake of my great nephew. They were intended for him to be read at his different literary ages. ”General Jack and the Battle of the Five Kingdoms” is the second. Unusually, I had two consecutive free weekends. I wrote the first drafts of both novels in each weekend. The manuscript has long been ready but I have been held up because of the illustrations. I hope to get it published by the middle of next year.
Again it’s a 21st century retelling of Aesop’s fables. It’s about a five year old boy who considers himself a superhero. He interacts with forty different colourful supervillains to protect the residents of Jacktown with unpredictable consequences. It is an illustrated chapter book intended for early readers 7-10 years. The title is “The Joyous Adventures of Whizzojack.”
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