SINCE 1900 Galway has produced a number of quality children’s authors, beginning with Pádraic Ó Conaire on his M'Asal Beag Dubh, and continuing with Eilis Dillon's The Lost Island and Island of the Horses; Walter Macken's Flight of the Doves and The Island of the Great Yellow Ox, and, of course, Pat O’Shea from Bohermore, with her now classic The Hounds of The Morrigan.
More recently, Deirdre Sullivan from Knocknacarra has attracted much attention with Prim Improper and Improper Order, the latter one the few Irish interest books to be shortlisted for a major European literary prize. Within the last month another major player has entered the frame, Patricia Forde from Market Street, with The Wordsmith, published by the wonderful Little Island. Already the author of 14 books for children in Irish and English, this is Forde’s first full length novel in English and represents a major jump forward for this versatile writer.
That she is ready to make the jump is immediately evident as she opens her narrative with: “Smith Fearfall was a scavenger. The beach was his territory. He watched the canister as it danced, nibbling the waves, teasing him. He waited. He was good at waiting. Finally his quarry came within reach. He waded out. The plastic that covered his trousers snapped and cracked in the gale. The canister moved away from him. He waited, eyes on his prey, his mind fully focused.”
A few paragraphs later, the reader meets an exhausted Letta, the Wordsmith’s apprentice: “She had transcribed hundreds of words since early morning, each written with her own distinctive cursive style. This was their busiest time of the year, the time of change. It was now that the masters took on apprentices, teachers took on new pupils and people got ready for the long winter”.
The reader is introduced to the Brave New World of The Ark ruled by (surprise, surprise ) John Noa and his Gavvers (Pavee speak for police ) and is purported to be the last remaining conclave of human beings to survive “The Melting”. Noa is convinced that the near destruction of the human race was caused by the too free use of language and speech, and so only allows the use of an ever decreasing number of words in circulation, thus hoping to limit the damage that can be caused by having too many words in the public domain.
However, Noa has a much more sinister course of action in mind which is vigorously opposed by Benjamin, The Wordsmith and Letta’s father figure. Benjamin disappears, is reported dead but is he? Letta begins to have doubts especially since Marlo, one of the dreaded “Desecrators”, literally stumbled into her life.
Therein lie the bones of the story. At first glance, there’s not much there, certainly nothing new. That is until the Forde begins to weave her own special magic. From the first paragraphs quoted above, the reader is taken on a magic journey that twists and turns at every page with a rare and refreshing energy that continues non-stop until the last page. One of the more interesting and surprising aspects of the book is that, excepting the odd word such as “gavver” and Finn, the narrative is devoid of any Irish reference as Forde explores the dangers of extremism symbolised by Noa’s Final Solution.
The Wordsmith is an exciting fiction debut combining a strong narrative voice with an excellent storyline. As she grows into the story, Forde’s confidence as a storyteller grows to such an extent that the narrator disappears completely from the page and the reader becomes totally absorbed in the story. Not only is the book a most enjoyable experience for the reader, it adds a new bright star to the pantheon of Galway children’s authors. Here’s hoping we don’t have to wait too long for the next magical journey.