Brian Jaques (rhymes with rakes) signed copies of Voyage of Slaves at the south Borders in Colorado Springs yesterday, and I happened to be there.
First of all, let me give the disclaimer: I haven't read any of his books. I picked up Redwall yesterday and read a few chapters, but I haven't made any judgments on it yet.
I wandered into the Borders, intending to find a chai and a chair and do some drafting. Hm...lots of people wandering around...someone said something about Jakes doing a reading today, so I blew it off. Lots of kids sitting on the floor over by the cafe, bit noisy...I wandered off to look for books, because I was going to have to find somewhere else to work, but a pleasant hour spent wandering around looking at books really hasn't been wasted.
The MC starts talking, and tries to explain how Mr. Jakes has changed his life (in a watered-down kind of way, saying that he was well down the path of making some "bad choices" when one of his teachers handed him Redwall. I got a glimpse of the writer and wandered over: he looked interesting. Shortish, round, bald, deep creases (you can't call them wrinkles if there's muscle behind them). Then he started talking.
What language is that? I wondered. After ten seconds or so, my brain started to sort it out. English...that's English. Then he started making jokes about how he likes to come over to America, because he ends up with a different name. Mr. Ja-quez. Or, if he's around Spanish-speaking people, Senior Ha-quayz. Oh, I think, it's Brian Jaques. Not Zhaks, but Jakes. And the accent isn't British--I can grasp TV British on first go, thank you very much--so much as it's from Liverpool.
He's supposed to be reading from his book Voyage of Slaves, but he never gets around to it. "Rather be a stand-up comic," he says. He does a good job of it, performing for the kids.
"When I am in America, someone always asks me, 'Mr. Ja-quez, when did you decide to be an author?' (Imagine the question in Pepperpot.)
"Well, it doesn't work like that. There wasn't a morning when I woke up--Bing!--and said, [Effete swashbuckler voice] 'Ho-ho! To-day, I shall be...an au-thah!'
"But I was always good at words. Good at words and terrible at maths."
He tells a story about the schools in Liverpool, how they had playgrounds on the rooftops and how they'd lose a couple of first-years to despair, and how he sat next to a boy with thick glasses (he uses his own as a prop) who was good at maths, and how he got caught by his teacher because the boy wrote, "I don't know the answer" to question 8, and Brian Jaques wrote, "And I don't, either." So kids, don't cheat. Why? Because you'll get caught!
He talked about spooky stories, and how, for him, they all go back to one verse of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. I forget what the verse was, but it was something about being afraid to look back over your shoulder, because a specter walked close behind. He used to be a bobby (and explained that that meant policeman) who would patrol the docks, long, windowless, misty streets...it always sounded like footsteps were following him, because of the hoist chains knocking against the sides of the warehouses.
He explained that any book (especially his own) about pirates must be referred to like this: with one eye closed, one side of your mouth pulled back in a sneer, and...."Yaaaarrr!"
I can't remember everything he said, but you could tell he loved to entertain kids. The kind of grandfatherly type that would have the parents saying, "Oh, Dad. Do you really think you should tell the one about the..."
Very fun. I didn't get the book signed--hours of standing in line? No, thank you. But he's quite the character...