The Feather and the Rose
2nd edition - Carlsen, 1998
from The Feather and the Rose
The door moved heavily, creaking
on its hinges. He had first to put his shoulder to it to get it to open
slowly. A rank, musty stench of mould assaulted his nostrils. The chill
air from the Deep stretched its spectral arms out to him and he noticed
how the cold caused his skin to contract. He had to squint for a moment
in an effort to see into the murky passage. He sensed that it slanted
steeply downwards. Then he passed through the gateway into the Deep ....
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Extract from The Feather and the Rose:
A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, there was a beautiful, fertile kingdom. The corn cascaded across the broad hillsides and, along the straight highways, lay newly painted houses in neatly planned gardens. On one side of the country lay the Blue Ocean and, on the other side, the Beautiful Kingdom was bordered by the Great Forest. Beyond the forest lay a poisonous Swamp but no-one knew what was on the other side of the Swamp.
The road which went through the Great Forest to the Swamp was full of holes and large rocks. The only people who occasionally passed along the road were the soldiers who kept watch. No-one knew why the soldiers had to keep watch, but that's how it had always been.
The people of the Beautiful Kingdom were very hard-working and toiled from early morning until late evening. It took a lot of time to keep the gardens free from weeds, plant the fruit trees in nice straight rows, paint the houses, starch the curtains and keep the roads in the Beautiful Kingdom tidy and clean.
In the Big City, which lay in a warm bay by the sea, lived the King of the Beautiful Kingdom in the Beautiful Castle.
This story is about him and here begins the tale of "The Feather and the Rose".
The Beautiful Kingdom
The King of the Beautiful Kingdom yearns to get away – Ma tells the tale of Birdland and the Swamp
The King walked purposefully along the newly raked gravel path in the park. On both sides of the path, late summer flowers blossomed with intense, saturated colours in the symmetrical flowerbeds.
The young man with the golden curls turned off the path into the tall yew maze that lay in the middle of the park. Now that he was hidden by the tall, green hedge, he slowed down. He let his hand run through the soft needles in the hedge, while breathing in the warm smell of sun and pollen.
The maze was large and it could be difficult to find your way round in it, but the King had known the maze since he was a boy and easily found his way to the middle. Here there was a circular rose garden. When he reached the Rose Garden, he sat down on the white bench in the middle of the profusion of flowers and let out a deep sigh. The large, blooming roses released a strong, sleepy fragrance in the afternoon sun.
The King bent over a yellow rose with a soft pink edge. He breathed in the rose's perfume, leant back on the bench and closed his eyes. He felt relaxed here. In the Rose Garden, there was nobody who expected him to be interested in the welfare of the kingdom. Here he had peace and quiet, because no-one knew where he was.
He shrugged his shoulders irritably. He wasn't especially keen on being king. It was of no importance to him whatsoever if the harvest yield was greater or less than last year. And what business was it of his if someone had built a bridge somewhere or other in the kingdom?
Suddenly, he froze. He could hear footsteps on the gravel path outside the Maze. Now they were turning into the Maze itself. Who could it be? He was surprised. Normally, there was never anyone but him in the Maze.
The King could hear the steps trudging back and forth on the complex pathways. Whoever it was out there was having difficulty finding the way. Now he could hear the mysterious person coming closer to the correct path into the Rose Garden. For a brief moment, the King considered hiding but, on second thoughts, he realised that he would look too ridiculous for words.
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This book was my breakthrough as an author and the actual process of writing it was also in many other ways a kind of breakthrough in relationship to my own life. It took quite a long time to get the story right, because I myself believed that I should merely write a shorter tale, like the ones I'd already had published.
Instead it turned out to be a long, circuitous story, which didn't immediately go the way I had expected! In fact from the beginning, when my mother was extremely ill and lay unconscious in hospital, the story really flowed. I wrote the whole raw manuscript in ten days, while I was living in her house and visiting her a couple of times a day in the intensive ward and the rest of the time I wrote like crazy. When the book came out, it attracted both wild applause and very tart remarks among reviewers, and the difference between those who liked it and those who thought it was rubbish became even greater when I was awarded the Ministry of Culture's children's book prize for "The Feather and the Rose".
I have subsequently reworked the book for drama and radio narration, as well as storytelling, and I really think the story still stands up.