Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Talina in the Tower Blog Tour: Michelle Lovric Guest Post!

Talina in the Tower was published in the UK by Orion Children's Books last week, and I have a great gust post from author Michelle Lovric as part of her blog tour.Hope you enjoy it, and here's a summary of the book in case you don't know what it's all about:

Savage hyena-like creatures threaten Venice - the Ravageurs are on the prowl and seizing men, women and children. On the night of 30 June 1846 Talina's parents disappear and she and her cat, Drusilla, are forced to go and live with her Guardian and his three savage dogs in his lonely tower in the northernmost edge of the city. Here she discovers that she has the ability to change herself into a cat, but changing herself back into a girl isn't quite so easy. As a cat she learns about the Ravageurs and how over the centuries they have become semi magical creatures, visible only to children in the human world, and that they are intent on destroying Venice. She is determined to save the city - it's time for desperate measures - and her adventures are about to begin.


Cross-species Trust
By Michelle Lovric

This is what Joan Brossa, the Spanish poet and artist, might call an ‘object poem’. Two things, each with very different but potent associations, are physically juxtaposed to set off an intellectual chain interaction. Here we see human hands, which can kill or protect, closed around a universal symbol of vulnerability: not just a fawn but a baby fawn. The shock of the picture is that this is not Disney’s Bambi, but a real creature. One hopes the little one is asleep – but it could also be dead.

As writers, we very often create ‘object poems’ by juxtaposing animals and humans. When I created the beasts I named Ravageurs for Talina in the Tower, I was thinking about the famous Edith Evans quote, ‘When a woman behaves like a man, why can’t she behave like a nice man?’

And I followed that train of thought into animals. When animals behave like humans – when we writers anthropomorphize them – it seems to me that they tend not to behave like nice humans. My Ravageurs certainly don’t. Here’s a detail from the back cover that gives an indication of just how badly they comport themselves: they are greedy, bullying, lying monsters who enslave every creature who falls into their clutches.

But what are we writers truly about when we write an evil anthropomorphized animal? I think that we may be engaged in an automatic activity that requires a little more examination.

I suspect the baby deer picture provokes a disturbing sensation partly because it forces us to confront the fact that we hunting, fishing, venison-eating humans are in fact the worst thing the little creature will have to fear.

Do we humans wish to be in this position? Are ferocious anthropomorphized animals in novels a way for us to shuck off the responsibility of our role as the dominant species on earth? (Or the feckless way in which we carry that responsibility?) Why do we love to write of murderous, jewel-hungry dragons? Of wicked wolves? Of ravening bears? Fables have allowed us to project our own – exclusively human – duplicitous cunning onto foxes, our infidelity onto rats, our greed onto pigs, and dishonesty onto snakes. Convenient, yes. Righteous reasoning – I think not.

Now, let us consider the predominance of animals in very young children’s literature. It appears to have had an interesting effect on the infant subconscious – apparently little children dream mainly about animals.

Our earliest response is to think that animals are like us, just operating inside a different body. But when our child readers start to comprehend consciousness, they also start to acknowledge the existence of different consciousnesses from their own. They still love animals, however. And it is at this point that we writers perhaps owe them a more synthetic approach to animals.

We have deconstructed a lot of human villains, created the concept of an antihero, even found ways to liberate our historical girls from the shackles and corsets of their time – but we still have work to do on animals, I believe. And myself more than anyone, judging by my Ravageurs. Yet I tried …

Not all my animals are bad in Talina in the Tower. Yes, I have fun with bully-boy cats and aggressive rats, but I also have some sensible and sensitive animals sit in judgement on their peers. There is a confrontation in court at the end of the book. Grignan, Lord of the Ravageurs, has been brought to account, not just for his crimes against Venice but also for his acts of cruelty against other animals, including his own species, on whom he deliberately inflicts rabies, to make them more ferocious and thus more likely to follow his murderous bidding.

In the Chamber of Conversation, presided over by animals, witches, Righteous Wraiths and a small Doge, a dignified zebra tells Grignan, ‘You are not even animals any more, you Ravageurs. Proper animals don’t carry on as you do. They do not have Lords. Or slaves. They do not make plots.’ In other words, Grignan has abandoned the commendable straightforwardness of animals and taken on the worst characteristics of mankind.

Grignan’s punishment is exile but also something worse … demotion:
The Doge continued sternly, ‘the Ravageurs will cease to be magical creatures. Your magic shall be confiscated and distributed to good causes. You will become visible to adult humans.’
‘Humans with shotguns and hunting dogs!’ mouthed a rabbit on the wall, with an air of someone who knew something about such a tricky situation.

So, the mighty Ravageurs shall become as vulnerable as the baby deer pictured at the top of this post. And so we humans should rise to a little humility, and not depict ourselves as inevitably omniscient and omnipotent.

Michelle Lovric’s website: Michelle

The image of the deer comes from the Critteristic website
(warning: unbearably sweet cat images there too).



Cliona said...

This book looks fab! That is the cutest picture everrrrrr :)

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