Behind Red Stone Walls
Many readers’ experiences with Brian Jacques’ Redwall books began in childhood. I was in my senior year of high school when I first discovered the books, but as with all of my reading, age never mattered, whether it was my age or the intended audience of the books.
At that time, since I didn’t have a good bookstore close to home, I picked up a lot of my casual reading from the book and magazine sections of local grocery stores. One day I found Martin the Warrior on those racks alongside thrillers and romances, and from the first glance at the cover, I was hooked.
It was a while before I realized the book was technically children’s fiction. This paperback edition was mass-market size, not the larger format I was used to for middle-grade fiction, and the bookstore where I bought the later works shelved all of them in the science fiction and fantasy section. To me it just felt like fantasy, with a childlike sense of wonder and its cast of animal characters — some friendly, some fierce — that appealed to me instantly. I’d never read anything quite like it, and as soon as I could, I started tracking down the other books.
Throughout my life, there have been various authors — only one or two at a time — from whom I’m willing to purchase hardcovers without having read the book first. Brian Jacques occupied that honored position for several years. While I quickly caught on to the formula of his plots, I loved inhabiting the world of fairy-tale valor he’d created.
By the time Marlfox was published in 1998, I had recently married and was living in San Diego. While there, I’d had the opportunity to meet more than one of my favorite authors, and I kept hoping for Jacques to visit. I finally got my chance when he came to a children’s bookstore in Riverside, California, in February 1999, while on tour for Marlfox. Because he’d injured his hand at a previous stop, he wasn’t able to personalize books, just sign them, but it was still a chance to say hello — though I think I was the oldest fan there, unless you count the bookstore’s staff.
I’d only ever owned a paperback copy of Redwall, so I bought the hardcover anniversary edition for him to sign. At some point when he was signing the book, either I or my husband mentioned that I’d written a children’s book as well (a middle-grade portal fantasy that remains unpublished and probably always will). He said well, someday he would have to come stand in line for my book. I babbled something inane along the lines of how he wouldn’t read it, though, because I’d heard that he never read other children’s authors. I admit I don’t remember most of the talk he gave that day, but I do remember how much I loved hearing him, how wonderful he was with the children who sat at his feet, and (as I noted in my journal afterward) that “he reminded me of the kind of uncle that all the children look forward to seeing, with stories to tell them and treats hidden in pockets.”
My husband and I left San Diego not long after that, moving back to my home state of Virginia, to an apartment near Dulles Airport. There were planes flying over almost constantly, their contrails marking the daytime skies. And then came a September morning in 2001 when there were suddenly no planes in the sky at all.