Mike Revell used to be one of those kids who didn’t like reading. He was more inclined to run home and play video games than dive into a book. But the boy wizard changed that for him – and not only did Harry Potter make him a reader, it made him want to be an author too; he wanted to give to people the same feelings of wonder and enjoyment that J.K. Rowling gave to him as a young boy. Stonebird is Mike’s first novel and is influenced by the real experiences of seeing his grandmother suffer from dementia, as well as his love of myths. Mike stopped by the blog this morning to talk about his love of gargoyles and what influenced him to write this story. I hope you enjoy reading it just as much as I did!
Secrets in Unlikely Places
Halloween is one of my favourite times of the year, because a bit of the world’s magic slips between the cracks. Moonlight and shadows and scratchy bare trees hold more meaning. These days, October the 31st is more about fancy dress costumes, sweets and parties than anything else. But Halloween has its origins in spooky ghosts and spirits walking the land.
Of course, you don’t have to wait for Halloween to sense the world’s magic. As Roald Dahl once said, “watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you, because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places.” One of those unlikely places is up above you. Along the rooftops, on the corners of churches and old buildings, overlooking the streets and all of us busy people below. If you look up there, you might just see a gargoyle.
I’ve always been fascinated by gargoyles. They’re silent and stoic. Sentinels of their towns and cities and villages.
While they serve the purpose of draining rainwater from their buildings, in days past it was believed that they protected the buildings too. They stood guard against evil spirits. They’re cobbled together out of so many different creatures that they can’t help but look horrific; monsters with leonine heads, demonic wings, and serpentine tails. But then, if it’s your job to fight off evil spirits, I suppose it’s quite important to look pretty terrifying yourself.
It was around Halloween a few years ago that I first thought up the idea for Stonebird, my debut novel. It started as an itch in the back of my mind. I wondered how gargoyles fought the evil spirits at all. I realised they must have to come alive. And then I asked the magic question – what if?
What if they didn’t just protect the buildings they stood guard over? What if they could protect other things, too? What if they could protect people? That question became the starting point for Stonebird, in which a huge, living gargoyle might be the only thing that can help Liam, whose grandma has very bad dementia.
As I wrote the book, I spent a lot of time watching with glittering eyes the whole world around me. I grew up near Cambridge, and the city and the villages that surround it have some fantastic gargoyles, if you know where to look.
But I also spent a lot of time researching some of the most awe-inspiring, frightening, and wonderful gargoyles around the world. These are some of my favourites.
1. Notre Dame in Paris, France
Notre Dame is where my gargoyle in Stonebird comes from – and this particular gargoyle is a big reason why. There’s just something so intrinsically magical about it. I love its watchful expression, too, as if it really is guarding the people so far below.
2. Marble Church in Bodelwyddan, Wales
This is a classic example of how scary gargoyles can look just by piecing together some animals that aren’t normally too frightening on their own. A goat’s head, an eagle’s wings, and the legs of a bull – and one gargoyle I wouldn’t want to mess with!
3. Magdalen College in Oxford, England
Oxford is gorgeous, and like Cambridge, it’s home to some really gruesome gargoyles. Take a look at this one, for example. I can’t even begin to describe what it’s made out of – but that’s what makes it so intriguing. It even has a dragon or a serpent at the end of its tongue… the ultimate weapon against any monster.
4. The Duomo in Milan, Italy
One of my favourite things to do when I visit schools is to get the pupils to help me create a whacky gargoyle by drawing loads of different creatures. Each class comes up with something crazier than the last – from chainsaw tails to snail arms. But this gives even those monstrosities a run for their money. I particularly like its slithering legs.
5. Edinburgh Castle, Scotland
When I was at Edinburgh Book Festival in August, one of the first things I did was go gargoyle spotting. You can find this fearsome chap standing guard over Edinburgh Castle, high up above the city. A magnificent guardian, don’t you think?
Have you got any gargoyles where you live? Feel free to show your photos in the comments below!
About the book
When eleven-year-old Liam moves house to be closer to his grandma, he’s thrown into an unfamiliar place, with a family that seems to be falling apart.
Liam doesn’t remember what Grandma was like before she became ill with dementia. He only knows the witch-like old woman who snaps and snarls and eats her birthday cards. He desperately wants to make everything better, but he can’t.
Escaping the house one evening, Liam discovers an old stone gargoyle in a rundown church, and his life changes in impossible ways. The gargoyle is alive. It moves unseen in the night, acting out Liam’s stories. And stories can be dangerous things…
But Liam’s grandma’s illness is getting worse, his mum isn’t coping, and his sister is skipping school. What if the gargoyle is the only thing that can save Liam’s family?