Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Secrets of the Secrets - Sally Nicholls

The new edition of Season of Secrets is out this month - hurrah! It's a story about a child whose mother has died, and whose grief cycle mimics that both of the seasonal year, and of the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King - pagans gods who rule over summer and winter, and do battle at the spring and autumn equinoxes.

When I first started writing children's books, all of my stories were realistic. My first book, 'Ways to Live Forever', is very realistic. I'm interested in people, paricularly damaged people, and there seemed to be so much interesting stuff to write about in the real world - love, death, happiness, unhappiness, abuse, loneliness, families, friendships, sex etc - that I wasn't really sure what the point of adding fairies was.

But I've always been fascinated by the Oak King. Like Eliot's Fisher King, he brings life and health to the land as he grows. And when he is killed in autumn, death comes. The plants die. The summer vanishes. It's winter. And then, in spring, he's born again and the life comes back.

It was the Oak King's damagedness which interested me. Here is someone so powerful that they change the world just by existing - yet each year they go through this painful and destructive cycle of death and rebirth. I wanted to write about him, but I wanted to do it through the medium of a real child.

How would this child's story be connected to the Oak King's? The idea that emotions affect the physical world is another old one - Demeter, in Greek mythology, brings winter through her grief for her stolen daughter Persephone. And winter is a good metaphor for grief, because although the spring does come back, winter is never truly gone - the sadness and the happiness will always be part of your life.

The myth became - not a metaphor, exactly - but a way of exploring Molly's grief for her mother. And because stories are much more interesting and fascinating than metaphors, it became a way of exploring her feelings towards her absent father - and a way of figuring her father. It's been described as a love story, and though that isn't what I intended when I wrote it, it's become that as well.

Aren't stories great?

Sally's website:
Buy 'Season of Secrets':


Anonymous said...

Sally, what age group is your book aimed at? I have a 10-year-old reader who's read all of JK Rowling and most of Jacqueline Wilson. Would your beautiful-sounding book be appropriate for her?

Sally Nicholls said...

Yes, perfect age. I'd say 9+.
Molly in the novel is a Jacqueline Wilson fan too ...