“A boy. A drone. And the danger below.”
Welcome to my stop on the blog tour for ‘Spylark,’ with a special piece by Danny Rurlander about the beautiful Lake District setting for his book.
Since his accident, Tom’s not only struggling with the loss of his father but also loss of mobility. Retreating into the world of his workshop, Tom has been working in his secret escape – his high-spec drone, Skylark. His gadgets give him the ability to soar high above the hills and lakes of his Lake District home.
The arrival of the summer holidays signals the arrival of guests at his Aunt Emily’s boathouse. Tom knows that he’ll be expected to play tour guide to the family’s children. It’s the least he can do, but he can’t help regretting the time he’ll miss constructing in his workshop, messing about on a boat on the lake or clambering up hillsides instead.
But things take a surprising turn of events when he witnesses a very strange event on the lake via Skylark. He has inadvertently uncovered a terrorist plot which could have very serious ramifications for the whole country!
I always like to see what Book Boy goes for when my book post arrives, and Spylark was one which got taken and hidden in his bedroom before I had a chance to look at it – a good sign!
After reading it myself, I can see why. Drones – yes! Spying – yes! Properly bad baddies – yes! Everything he loves in a book and more!
I would describe it as being like a cross between the Alex Rider and Famous Five series. The perfect blend of glorious British countryside, fearless children and high-tech gadgetry.
Explosions and spying aside, the story also explores the mental effects of the loss of a parent and suffering a debilitating injury. Tom initially struggles with his desire to be left alone in the workshop rather than playing tour guide for the boathouse visitors, but slowly starts to warm to the idea of working with Maggie and Joel.
All in all, a thrilling whirlwind of a read with the tension ratcheting up and up until the explosive finale. Recommended for readers aged 9+.
Now let’s hear from Danny about the stunning location for his story:
My new thriller Spylark opens with 13 year old Tom Hopkins flying his homemade drone over the iconic ‘Swallows and Amazons’ landscape he calls home. He stumbles across a criminal plot which catapults him into the world of global terrorism, and the beautiful Lake District hills and lakes suddenly become a more threatening backdrop for a struggle to overcome the terrorists, his own physical disability and his worst fears and phobias.
This setting where I grew up was a key influence behind the book. I remember a particular day – probably around four years before the book was finally accepted for publication – when my son and I were camping by Lake Windermere. We were watching the setting sun lighting up the bracken in an orange glow on the horseshoe of fells at the head of the lake, a deep blue sky studded with a few early stars behind, and bats flitting through the trees. I not only knew at that moment that here was my setting for a classic adventure story with a modern twist, but I could also see in my mind’s eye a scene involving a triangle of hills that would become a crucial plot point in the book. That key scene became the foundation around which the whole book was built.
One of my aims for the book was for this setting to be more than an incidental backdrop, but to create an unforgettable real world arena in which the characters live and act. I wanted to try and capture this wonderful place in a such a way that you could smell that tangy scent of summer bracken that covers the hills from the very pages.
All of the action of the book is set in, on, around or above the northern half of lake Windermere and the surrounding fells. But there are two elements of this landscape that provided particular opportunities for the plot.
The first is the islands. There are, as Joel Green – a character in the book who loves maps and exploring – points out, nineteen actual islands on the lake. Each of these – not the various unnamed tufts of rock that break the waterline here and there – is named on the large scale maps. Each has a history, a story to tell.
In my school visits I get children to ponder why islands appear in some of the greatest stories ever written. Think of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe, Robert Louis Stevenson’sTreasure Island,
and Shakespeare’s The Tempest for some older classics. Then some of my favourite modern children’s books would include The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis; Kensuke’s Kingdom by Michael Morpurgo and Tintin and the Black Island by Herge. Even Blyton’s Famous Five series famously began with Five on Treasure Island! More recently one thinks of The Girl of Ink and Stars by Kiran Millwood Hargrave and The Storm Keeper’s Island, by Catherine Doyle.
Why? The answer is of course, as Maggie Green, Joel’s more romantic sister explains:
‘An island isn’t just a piece of rock. It’s an idea, a miniature kingdom, our own little secret world.’
The second, more unusual landscape element I exploited in Spylark, is the Thirlmere Aqueduct. It’s easy to forget how privileged we are to have fresh water. But in Manchester if you turn on the tap, out comes clean, soft water, fresh from the Lake District hills. And this is thanks to the Thirlmere Aqueduct, a staggering feat of Victorian engineering that still provides water for the people of Manchester today. At 100 miles long the Thirlmere Aqueduct is the longest continuous underground aqueduct in the world. It carries water from the Thirlmere reservoir in the Lake District to Manchester, a descent in height of a mere 230 feet, or a fall of just 20 inches to the mile, moving the water at a sluggish 3 mph by gravity alone, taking just over a day to reach Manchester.
To explore the setting in more detail, including three beautiful ‘Spylark Walks’ see my web site, www.dannyrurlander.com
If you happen to live near to or be visiting Lake Windermere, I’d love to hear if you spotted the same things as Danny!
Make sure you visit some of the other stops on the blog tour too!