I have only just heard of the death of author, Sam Youd, known to most as John Christopher. He passed away on February 3rd.
When I was a brand new teenager John Christopher’s books were the hot ticket in the school library. His mix of future dystopia, science fiction and boys own adventure made his books required reading. He’s best known for his Tripods Trilogy, which was made into an ambitious but incomplete BBC sci-fi series. But he produced a great number of books on a wide range of subjects, including the Lotus Caves, about two young boys mischievous adventures on the moon, and the Prince in Waiting Trilogy (also know as The Sword of the Spirits Trilogy), a brilliant mix of post-apocalyptic sci-fi and Arthurian Medieval sword play. This trilogy is less well known, but is as least as good as his Tripod books. And those covers! Yes, they’re very 70’s, but they’re so evocative! They just begged to be read.
Towards the end of 2002 I discovered Sam’s email address on a web forum. Don’t ask me how it got there – I think he might have posted on the forum at some point in response to a reader’s question. I decided to throw caution to the wind and email him. I wanted to tell him how much I enjoyed his books as a child, and had re-read many of them as an adult and found them equally enjoyable.
To my surprise and delight Sam replied, and we began a brief email dialogue. I found him to be very open and engaging. We talked about how so many of his books were now out of print, and he told me that some illegal foreign prints still surfaced from time to time, for which he received no royalties. He once received an expensive Persian rug from a foreign publisher of one of his titles in compensation!
I really wish I still had those emails but they are lost on a dead hard drive somewhere in silicone heaven.
Towards the end of our email dialogue I asked if he would mind signing a couple of his books for me. He agreed, even giving me, a complete stranger, his home address so that I could post my books to him. I sent him The Prince in Waiting Trilogy and a stand-alone novel called Empty World.
Empty World has to be one of the bleakest children’s novels I have ever read, and it has stayed with me for almost 30 years. Its a story about a plague, an ageing virus that affects adults, killing them in days. Then the virus mutates and children are affected as well, ageing rapidly, leaving only a few rare survivors – all of them children. The story is told from the point of view of Neil (you can see its appeal to me immediately), a boy who has already suffered tragedy in his life: his family were killed in a car accident. Neil soon finds himself in an empty world, wondering why he isn’t dead as well. The novel doesn’t shy away from the consequences its premise, touching on suicide, domestic violence and consumerism. And there is no real happy ending, no neat conclusion to Neil’s story. Empty World was first published in 1977, but its story is as relevant today as it was when I was a child. Its the sort of book that should still be in print, and I hope one day it will find its audience again.
So, I posted my two books off to Sam, and just over a week later they were returned to me, signed.
The Prince in Waiting Trilogy reads: Niel – Always happy to sign the Swords Trilogy, my own favourites – John Christopher.
Empty Word reads: Niel – I wrote this in Winchester, in the first months of a very happy marriage. John Christopher (Sam)
I was very grateful to Sam for his generosity and his time, especially for a gentleman in this late 70’s, at that time. He has been an inspiration to my own work, and his books have brought pleasure to countless others. My thoughts and wishes go to his family.
If, like me, you’re a fan of Stephen Lavis’s beautiful paintings on the Prince in Waiting books you can see some of his covers here: http://cloud-109.blogspot.co.uk/2010/01/narnia-covers-of-steve-lavis.html
And here: http://cloud-109.blogspot.co.uk/2010/06/more-of-fantastical-art-of-steve-lavis.html