Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"The Windvale Sprites"

When a storm sweeps through the country, Asa wakes up the next day to find that his town is almost unrecognisable - trees have fallen down, roofs have collapsed and debris lies everywhere. But amongst the debris in his back garden Asa makes an astounding discovery - the body of a small winged creature. A creature that looks very like a fairy. Do fairies really exist? Asa embarks on a mission to find out. A mission that leads him to the lost journals of local eccentric Benjamin Tooth who, two hundred years earlier, claimed to have discovered the existence of fairies. What Asa reads in those journals takes him on a secret trip to Windvale Moor, where he discovers much more than he'd hoped to...   
WATERSTONES CHILDREN'S BOOK PRIZE 2012 The Windvale Sprites has now been nominated along with 17 other children's book titles for the prestigious Waterstones Children's Book Prize having been shortlisted in the fiction category for readers aged 5 to 12.

I realize there are a lot of children's and middle-grade books being released all the time with lovely and inventive fairy stories but I thought this one was worth commenting on as it has a good chance of drawing attention to other similar books, especially those based on (or similar in tone to) Victorian fairy tales.

The book is written and illustrated by The Office actor, Mackenzie Crook (also from the Pirates of the Caribbean movies) who wanted to write a fairy tale like those he loved when he was young. The book is titled: The Windvale Sprites.

From The New Zealand Herald interview HERE:

After his home was hit by the great storm that ravaged southeastern England in 1987, the then-teenage Crook imagined there was a deceased fairy in his garden pond.
"That was when the story first came to me, but I just wanted to write the sort of book I would have read when I was a kid," he says.
...Set in the fictional Cottingley Woods, Crook's book pays tribute to the young cousins Elsie Wright and Frances Griffiths, who astonishingly convinced many so-called experts - including Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle - that they had actually photographed fairies in the countryside near their Bradford home. 
"That's a reference for anyone who wishes to pick up on it," says Crook. 
"I loved that story as a kid. It's astonishing that these girls could fool such eminent scholars and important people, because you look at those pictures now and it's pretty obvious they were cardboard cut-outs. But at the time, people didn't see that and it's strange that their eyes saw so differently from us. The idea of 'what if they had actually 
found a fairy?' was a big influence on the book and while they admitted they faked the photos, one of them still claimed they saw things in those woods." 

Instead of charming Tinkerbell-style creatures, Crook's sprites are dragonfly-esque insectoids that definitely aren't human. "I was fascinated with the myth of the fairy and where it could have come from," he says. "It's like the myth of the mermaid, which, it's said, came from mannites or sea-cows, which were spotted by sailors and, through Chinese whispers and hazy memories, were turned into these beautiful, voluptuous women. I was thinking of what could be spotted fleetingly or from a distance that could be turned into this myth of a magical fairy with a wand. It's like the root of that myth."
Read the whole article and interview HERE.

The descriptions remind me of a number of other books (particularly Tony DiTerlizzi and Holly Black's The Spiderwick Chronicles and Gregory Maguire's What the Dickens) but citing the Cottingley Fairies as a main source of inspiration, I can easily see how this book might have grown mainly from that concept. As long as it's unique in the telling and presentation, which this seems to be, we can't really have too many books telling of discovering fairies at the bottom of the garden, can we? ;)
Mackenzie Cook's website, with more details about the book and his other creative work, is HERE. All illustrations shown in this post are by Mackenzie Crook for The Windvale Sprites.


  1. You can read a PDF extract of this book from Waterstones here:


  2. @ AL Loveday Thanks for adding the link. I've enjoyed what I've seen of this one.