Congratulations to Constantine, MA Creative Writing student at the University of Leicester, who has just been published his children's novel, The Cats of Charnwood Forest!
Constantine was born autistic (with other learning difficulties such as ADHD and Dyspraxia), at a time when not many in the UK could correctly recognise or diagnose such issues. Like so many others with his condition, he spent much of his late teens and early 20s living on London's streets. He always had a desire to be creative and, after working with Jeremy Deller in 2006, a seed was planted that, maybe, he could achieve something. He took himself into adult education in 2011 and was surprised to find how much more accommodating the education system had become to those like himself. In 2013, his first short was published in an anthology called Jam, and in 2017 he received a first class honours in Creative Writing at Middlesex University. He has since written a number of episodes of Pablo for Paper Owl films (currently showing on CBeebies and Netflix) and has written this book, The Cats of Charnwood Forest, which his script editor on Pablo, Andrew Brenner, was kind enough to edit.
Constantine is currently working on an audio version with the cast of Pablo, building a website to accompany the book (https://catsofcharnwood.com/) and hopefully finishing his Masters Degree at the University of Leicester.
You can read a review by Ayana Sen-Handley of The Cats of Charnwood on Everybody's Reviewing here.
About The Cats of Charnwood Forest
I can tell you what the book aims to achieve. First and foremost, it is a gateway book: a book for those clever six-year-olds who are tired of books for their age and want something more challenging, but are maybe not ready for the more grown-up themes; or for older 'reluctant' readers, readers who need to be coaxed and encouraged - ten-year-olds who pick up books for their age group and higher, but don't get past the first few paragraphs.
The book aims to connect with such readers firstly through the language: though it is gently paced throughout, it increases in complexity over the first four chapters in a way which, thus far, no child has mentioned but a few parents have noticed. Secondly, there are the protagonists, Bailey and Scruff. They represent not only the child but in particular the autistic child. As they grow over course of the book to adulthood, they deal with many of the same experiences as human children and adults - from bullying (on both sides), to gender roles and stereotypes and much more.
I'm not entirely sure exactly what lessons its sequel will explore as it is not finished yet, but I hope you enjoy this exclusive look forwards to the second book ...
From Joltanheim: The Cats of Charnwood Forest, Book 2
This book is not like most “second books.” Most second books take place the next day, or after the school holidays, or on the anniversary of the first adventure. But this is about The Cats of Charnwood Forest and in Charnwood, time is never quite a straight line.
Between the time I first met Scruff in that cave, and the time I finally finished writing up that first story, years have passed. Time is not the same for all of us. Cats' lives are shorter than the lives of the humans they own. Human lives are short compared to Goblins' and Goblins' lives are short compared to Elves.
Bailey and Scruff (sometimes with my help) had many more adventures over the years. I hope one day I will have them all written down. However, the story I have decided to tell next sort of goes next; because although it happened many years later, it also happened many years before.
I hope you enjoy.
Chapter One: A Grave Disturbance
Bailey stood by the brook as the last of the Fairies and Pixies jumped through a small door which led back to Fayre. Mai was last to go and she bowed to Bailey before hitting a button on her shoulder which activated her Elf-made artificial wings. She shot up into the air, looped the loop and shot through the doorway with a “yippee.” As the door closed, it melted away like mist and Bailey was left standing alone by the Brook.
Bailey couldn’t help feeling a surge of pride seeing Mai doing so well as the first citizen of Fayre to be a Guardian in living memory. He started to turn for home when he felt something - like a low loud noise which he couldn’t hear, but could feel in his bones. A strange silence seemed to fill the world. The birds stopped singing, mice stopped scurrying. Even the insects seemed to pause in their labours whilst this strange “rumble” filled everything.
Gothrick climbed into bed. His wife was already asleep. One of the moons of Alfhiem shone through their window and just now his wife’s bare arm, which lay outside of the sheets, glowed like mother of Pearl. Gothrick had always thought himself the luckiest of Elves. He loved his wife and his daughter and his King and Queen. But these days, being the first Elf Guardian since before the war was more than he had thought was possible.
He got into bed quietly so as not to wake her. As he lay there looking at his wife, he noticed that she seemed a bit blurry and out of focus. He rubbed his eyes but it got worse. The moon set and his wife appeared as elves do in the moonless night, as a figure made of slowly flowing water. Still she seemed blurred to him. He put his hand out to rest on her shoulder as he did most nights. All six of his long elf fingers seemed blurred. It was then he noticed the ripples on her skin, she wasn’t blurred, her skin was rippling as if being shaken very fast. The ripples in her skin seemed to be getting higher and higher. Then he felt it.
Scruff finished today's training of the Brownie cadets. As Guardians, Brownies were not necessarily the fastest or strongest or bravest; but they were excellent for reconnaissance. (In case you haven’t come across that word before it means sneaking around and getting information without anyone knowing you're sneaking around getting information except for the people who asked you to sneak around and get information.) The trick to training young Brownies was to make everything a game. Scruff found it getting more exhausting than it used to be.
As the last of the brownies saluted and left. Scruff took a moment to look around. The Forests of Bracken never seemed to look the same from one moment to another and she did not want to have to ask directions again; it was getting embarrassing. Scruff decided to try a direction based on the light level and the probable position of Bracken's Sun (which very few brownies had seen). Down here on the floor, though, only the green light, filtered by the eternal canopy of giant leaves miles above, made it through. Scruff leapt into Dream-Space and took a leisurely walk towards where she hoped to find the doorway back to Charley. As she concentrated on it, it appeared clearly before her and she sighed happily. Suddenly the misty greys around her exploded into a mind-numbing jangle of colours and smells. Dream-Space itself seemed to be coming apart.
Dzukaluke and Ghaz’on stood solemnly in their finest clothes. Around them hundreds of Goblins stood smartly attired. They lined the narrow streets of Kapul-Tok city, each holding up a small glowing crystal. From the palace, a cart appeared. The cart was ancient, made by the same Goblin craftsman of ages past who twisted the gold and platinum braids of the palace gates. Like the palace gates, the cart was inlaid with precious metals which glowed in the light of the gems.
Before the cart, pulling it gently along, a flightless bird, its plumage a pure ivory, walked regally forward. Upon its back, Burgh sat stiff and proud. Zie too sparkled in ancient ceremonial armour. On Zie's breast, a very special crystal sat. It had no internal light of its own, but reflected and amplified the light of all the stones it passed, painting the houses and streets with rainbow hues.
Behind Zie, upon the cart, in a simple box of whitewashed wood, the old one took that final journey which all creatures must take sooner or later. All of Kapol-Tok grieved his passing and it seemed to those gathered that the very ground shook along with them in mourning.
On the tors, the Chairman paced back and forth. The ground had stopped shaking and normality was returning. High above a Kestrel cry broke the silence. He reached out with his mind. To the east he could feel Scruff had returned, to the south he could feel Bailey. To the northwest there was a crazy mixture of thoughts and feelings which he recognised as Tipsy and Tumble, the Guardians of Osgathorpe. But to the west, a new scent reached him, like a jolt of fresh cold clean air when you’re in a musty room.
He ran westward, not risking Dream-space for fear of losing the sent. Carefully he crossed the Abbey road. A fork from the main Fault lay directly underneath and he could feel it as he passed over, like a great pressure in his forehead, a dam ready to burst. The scent was strongest at the top of the rise. A huge tor of stones were thrust up here. The south side was partly buried beneath the thin soil. On the north side they stood a clear twenty feet tall, and at the feet of the rocks, the melting snow had created a small pool. The Chairman stood before it, the smell of clear mountain air filling his lungs, making him feel young again. As he stood there, the ground shook again and a crack, barely visible before, began to widen. The Chairman felt no danger. From the crack, bright daylight shone out. It took a moment for his eyes to adjust.
When they did, he saw that the tor had become two mighty cliffs. Behind them was a range of mountains far higher and colder than he had ever seen or dreamed of. But more surprising still was the figure who stood between the two cliffs, holding them apart with her bare strength: The Giantess (for the chairman had no better words to describe her) stood at least sixteen feet tall and was dressed in furs and armour with a mighty cloak.
“I only have till the waters run out,” The Giantess said. Only then did the chairman notice that the waters, which had pooled at the bottom of the tor, were now running through the gap.
“What can I do?” asked the Chairman.
“Bailey and Scruff must be at the, what was it called … the Back Book Ressewer?” said The Giantess.
“The Black Brook Reservoir?” asked the Chairman.
“Yes, that was what they said, The Black Brook Reservoir. They must be there tomorrow at dusk,” said The Giantess. She grunted as the cliffs closed in on her. She turned sideways, bracing the closing gap with her knee and pressing with all her might.
“But why? I must tell them why,” said the Chairman.
“Because if not, the earthquakes will destroy everything, everywhere and everywhen,” said The Giantess. The last drops of the pool disappeared and The Giantess leapt out of the crack on her side. Before the tor snapped shut, she called out: “They must go alone.”
A moment later the tor looked as it had done for as long as the Chairman could remember, but far beneath him the ground grumbled.