This is a beautifully written story which talks of the relationship between not only humans and nature, but of power and conflict. With emotive writing, investing the reader in the struggle between wolves and foxes and the changing dynamic between the characters.
I devoured this book in one sitting; Sam’s writing grips you into the story, weaving plot and emotion together to create this wonderful story. Today, I have a Q & A with Sam, who had his adult book long listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2012, before writing this debut novel for children.
- Why did you choose wolves to be the animal which is the main focus of the book?
My children are big fans of wolves, so it was an obvious choice! As I wrote the book, I found I was thinking a lot about how humans impose meanings on other animals or use them as symbols for aspects of ourselves. No animal has been more subjected to this than the Big Bad Wolf, so it felt right to have wolves at the heart of this story.
- Where did the name Isengrim come from?
Isengrim the Wolf is a character in a cycle of medieval European folk tales about Reynard the Fox. Reynard is a clever trickster who’s always getting into trouble but always comes out on top, and Isengrim is his archenemy who ends up beaten and mocked every time. That was one inspiration for Wolfstongue: reading those old tales I felt sorry for the poor old wolf and wanted to write a story that took his side.
- There are some really valuable lessons in this book. What is the main takeaway you’d want the reader to finish the book thinking about?
I’d hope the book would offer courage to anyone who struggles with words — with making themselves heard or communicating the truth of themselves — and I’d hope it would remind them that it’s through that struggle that we come to understand how much good words can do, and how much harm.
As I got deeper into the book, I became very interested in how our language creates the world we live in, but how there’s also a silent world, beyond human language, where all the non-human creatures live. It’s comforting to think that we are part of the silent world, too; but at the same time our words are always eating away at it. I’m still trying to work out how all these ideas fit together, which is why I’m working on a sequel.
- Silas is a really endearing main character. Was he inspired by anyone you know?
Again, my children. My son Odhrán was having difficulties with speech at the time I started writing the book, and that came together with his love of wolves to give me the seed of the story. And as I got to know Silas better, aspects of all three of my children appeared in him — not just his struggle with words, but his shyness, his determination, his observant eye.
- Which character was your favourite to write?
Much as I love the wolves, Reynard the Fox was my favourite to write. He’s a tricky, treacherous schemer who’s always several steps ahead of everyone else, and that kind of character is just fun to create. I began to admire Reynard a bit as I wrote him, too: he does bad things but I’m not sure his motives are necessarily wrong…
- Without spoilers, there were some surprises as you read through! Did you have the ending in mind or did it develop as you wrote?
I had most of the story in mind from early on, but I didn’t know the ending until I got there – I knew Silas would have to try and speak for himself and others in a way he had never done before, but I didn’t know what he was going to say. It can be alarming to write a book without knowing how it’s all going to work out, but with luck it means you end the story having discovered something you didn’t know before.
- Did you find writing adult or children’s books more difficult? Or, if it was the same, what was similar and different?
Essentially I want to say there’s no difference: whatever age you’re writing for, it’s about trying to tell the story that wants to be told, and to do it in the clearest, simplest language possible. But I do find that having a child reader in mind gives an extra urgency to the storytelling. It feels like serious business, because the books I read as a child are the ones that have made the deepest impressions.
If you like the sound of this book, buy it here.
📚 Book gifted by publisher