Jun 3, 2014

Blog Tour: In Darkness by Nick Lake

I’ve written before about various influences on In Darkness, from studying Creole to watching news reports showing people being dug out of the rubble after the 2010 Haitian earthquake.

But it struck me recently that these are only influences on the fabric of the book, on its outer manifestation. The body under this fabric, the core of the book, could be set anywhere, and I can think of one event in particular that clearly shaped it, which I don’t think I’ve talked about in any meaningful way before.

This event happened to me in a hotel in Oxfordshire, about as far from Haiti as could easily be imagined. My wife and I were staying for a wedding. We went to bed late, and tired. For various reasons we were not feeling optimistic, had been knocked back, nearly knocked out. Out of love with life. Though we were still very much in love with each other.

I said something like, “there’s no point to anything. Growing up means realizing that there is no magic in the world.”

“No,” said my wife. She smiled. We were… um… not safe to drive at this point, let’s say. She pointed to the large wardrobe in the corner of the hotel room, which was an attic room in this old, maybe 16th century hotel. “There’s a door at the back of that wardrobe,” she said.

“This isn’t Narnia,” I said.

“Still. There’s a door. Open it and see.”

I should specify that we had not been up to the room before this point. Not all night. Not at all. I walked over to the wardrobe, opened it, and… there was a door. A small door, waist height. I opened it, called to my wife.

“No way,” she said. “I was joking.”

“Yeah, well,” I said. I led the way through the door. There was an ancient passageway on the other side, paneled with oak. A single light bulb hung from cobwebby eaves. The passageway twisted and turned. We followed it, feeling like we were crossing the whole attic of the large hotel. At the other end was another small door: we opened it and were looking down into someone else’s bathroom. In the morning we asked about it, were told that it was probably a secret passageway built when Catholics were persecuted, were hiding themselves in priest holes, escaping through passages like this.

“See?” said my wife, when we got back to our room that night. “Magic is real.” She was right. And perhaps not coincidentally, we now live in the village in Oxfordshire where we had that experience.

When I started writing In Darkness, I began with the idea of a boy trapped in the rubble. But I was also consciously thinking about magic, and how it is real, and how this is something that teenagers – all of whom are going through a difficult time, though to varying degrees – need to know. I was thinking about specific pieces of everyday magic that I knew about from my masters degree in Linguistics: such as the way that the human ear acts as a bandpass filter, privileging sounds in the 4000 – 6000 hertz range, where a large part of human speech resides. Which means that when people are trapped, after an earthquake, rescue workers are programmed by biology to hear their cries for help, to hopefully hear them, among the noise of machines and creaking and digging.

But I was also, I realized afterwards, thinking about that passage, at the back of the wardrobe. Shorty, in the book, is mostly trapped inside his mind: he can’t see or even really explore his surroundings. The room he is locked in is himself. But I ended up giving him a door, without really thinking about it or consciously intending to: a passageway that he crosses, in his imagination, into the mind of the revolutionary slave leader Toussaint l’Ouverture, three hundred years before. It allows him to escape: to lead another life, to be another person. Which in turn gives him strength, from Toussaint’s strength.

This was important, I thought, though perhaps not consciously. Because magic is real, and magic opens passages into other places.

One very obvious example is a book. A book is a passage into another place. Into another person. It’s an everyday machine of absolute, wonderful magic.

It is.

It really is.

And, after that grand sweeping statement, a necessary corrective: sometimes I like to get one of those miniature Coke cans they give out on airplanes, and a funsize Mars bar, and pretend to be a giant.

Nick Lake is the much-acclaimed author of In Darkness, winner of the Michael L. Printz Award, and Hostage Three, which received three starred reviews and was named a Publishers WeeklySchool Library Journal, and Boston Globe Best Book of the Year. His next book is There Will Be Lies, out in January 2015. He is also the Publishing Director for fiction at HarperCollins Children's Books UK. Nick lives near Oxford, England. Visit him online at www.in-darkness.org and on Twitter at @NicholasLake.

Here is the description of his next book, THERE WILL BE LIES, due out in January 2015:

In four hours, Shelby Jane Cooper will be struck by a car.

Shortly after, her mother will steal her from an Arizona hospital without explanation, and take her on a winding road trip toward the Grand Canyon.

All Shelby knows is that they’re running from dangers only her mother understands. And the further they travel, the more Shelby questions everything about her past—and her current reality. Forced to take advantage of the kindness of unsuspecting travelers, Shelby grapples with what’s real, what isn’t, and who she can trust . . . if anybody.

Award-winning author Nick Lake proves his skills as a master storyteller in this heart-pounding new novel—his most commercial offering yet. This emotionally charged thrill ride leads to a shocking ending that will have readers flipping back to the beginning.


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