So Many Firsts

The fifth anniversary of Brian Jacques's death is coming up in just a couple of months, so I thought I'd take a moment to acknowledge the man who influenced me the most as a young writer.

The man himself.

Jacques was the first author whose stories I fell head over heels in love with. The first author I wanted to emulate. He's the reason the cartoons I created as a child almost exclusively featured anthropomorphic animals. (Also, I couldn't draw people for shit.) To this day, many of my stories include no or few human characters.

However, his lasting impact on my writing has been much more profound.

Jacques was my first real taste of an author striking a believable balance between the historical and the fantastical. He taught me that you don't need dragons or magic to instill a sense of wonder—that a story can take place in an imaginary world, populated by talking mice, rabbits, and badgers, and still feel grounded in reality. He helped shape the way I view the role of the supernatural in fantasy stories—as a tool used not to dominate the narrative, but to illuminate the truth within.

Oversized t-shirt and JTT haircut.
This was my JAM.

Jacques was also the first author I ever met. When I was twelve or thirteen, he made an appearance at the Concord Free Public Library, which I dragged my mother and brother to. I don't remember why my father didn't come. (He was traveling to London regularly at the time, which I forgave him for, since he'd bring back UK editions of Jacques's latest releases, often before they were even available in the US.)

Between the reading and the signing, Jacques took a smoke break, and a handful of us kids braved the cloud of second-hand carcinogens just so we could spend a few extra minutes with him. I gushed about how much I loved OUTCAST OF REDWALL, and asked if he had plans to return to Bat Mountpit in the future.

"Oh, you like the bats, do you lad?" He winked at me, but made no promises.

Bunny ears.
My brother wasn't impressed.

Afterward, he signed four of my books. (There was a two-book limit, but I gave the other two to my brother, who to this day hasn't read a single Redwall novel.) All four still grace my shelves, and are among my most prized possessions.

So thank you, Mr. Jacques. For imagining such a wondrous world. For trusting young readers with stories that were often grim, occasionally terrifying, but always uplifting. Thank you for inspiring me.

And above all, thank you for being so many of my firsts.