Although best known to most as a television and screen actor, Mackenzie Crook is at the Book Festival to discuss The Windvale Sprites, his debut novel for children, together with its companion volume The Lost Journals Of Benjamin Tooth.
Crook describes how he first had the seed of the idea for his story after the infamous ‘hurricane’ of 1987 when, as a young boy, he discovered one of his sister’s dolls floating in the garden pond the morning after the storm. From this single image, the tale of Asa was born: a lonely boy who discovers that there really are fairies at the bottom of the garden…
Discussing writing, Crook tells of how he has “always had a fascination with stories”, which he expressed most frequently in writing character comedy sketches for which he became famous. During the lengthy periods between filming scenes for movies such as Pirates Of The Caribbean however, Crook used the time to write The Windvale Sprites, inspired by the books he himself loved as a child.
Though he himself had a happy childhood (“perhaps I longed to be a bit more lonely”), Crook has always been drawn to tales of solitary children discovering magical secrets, citing Tom’s Midnight Garden and The Borrowers as books which influenced him. A love for wildlife was also something which inspired him, not only the exotic kind discovered during childhood trips to Zimbabwe, but also the unique animals native to Britain.
Both themes are present in The Windward Sprites, which has it is heart the environmental message of leaving nature undisturbed. This also surfaces in The Lost Journals of Benjamin Tooth, a mock diary by a youthful 18th century naturalist who has also discovered the secret of the sprites, and who features again as a character in the novel.
Both books are also illustrated by Crook, whose evocative line drawings bring the fantastical world of the sprites to life. When asked if he would like to see that world turned into a movie, he replies that he would rather see it turned into a stop-motion animation – something which, through being more whimsical and magical, he feels would better capture the mood of his stories.
A suggestion from an eager fan in the audience that he write another book told from the sprites’ viewpoint gets Crook excited – perhaps then if we are lucky, we will see yet more gentle and beautifully-told tales from this affable and talented author in the near future.