The Black Hawks


When I was about eleven, our school art teacher, Mrs Alpha, retired. She was replaced by Mrs Omega (names are obvious lies). When Mrs Alpha had been in charge, we had largely been left to our own devices: after we asked her, she had covered the back wall of the class with paper, and allowed me and David and Patrick to spend what in my memory are days and weeks covering it with little drawings, super-heroes, figures from role-playing games etc. Whadda you want? We were nerds.

Mrs Omega was completely different. Faced with a group of recalcitrant young pre-teens, she decided that the thing to do would be to give us a crash course in technique: she set us drawing homework and made us spend the first few classes sketching. She gave us little objects to work with: the first class with her we all had to sit and look at e.g. shells and pinecones and other natural detritus, and spend five or ten minutes drawing what was in front of us. If I think about it now, I guess that she must have been reading Ruskin, which is a good use of anyone’s time.

Anyhow, we all sat dutifully and drew our shells and pinecones, and Mrs Omega walked around the class telling us we were good, or bad, or indifferent. Except when she got to David’s place, and found that he had drawn his snail shell and then added a cheery snail sticking out of it, exhaust pipes, rocket boosters, movement lines, go-faster stripes, a caption I can’t remember. Her reaction is marked down in my memory (my childhood was very uneventful) as a key example of adult injustice: it was obviously a good drawing, funny, so why was she so cross?

I got older; I went to secondary school; I lost touch with David for reasons I don’t really want to rehearse here (and salient details of which I may have forgotten). And then, middle of last year: Twitter, friend request, and here we are.

And it turns out that David is still on some level drawing go-faster stripes on snails, and sketching super-heroes and figures from role-playing games, except in a more adult (which does not mean more mature), more coherent, much funnier way. His fantasy novel, The Black Hawks, came out last year and I highly recommend it: the old tropes done in new ways. I’m not the right person to review it objectively: it’s clearly excellent, but I kept on seeing flashes of the eleven-year-old I remembered behind the forty-year-old author, which means my reading experience and my enjoyment will have been more particular than is perhaps ideal. But: swords, funny jokes, cowardice, archers, mutes, corpses, cannibals, secret passages … all the good stuff. Look it out; read it; buy it (David’s website tells you how).

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