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Seil writer and poet Kenneth Steven has published a new illustrated children’s book called Silverwing, about a greylag goose that helps a 10-year-old boy and his father cope with the death of his mum.
‘It starts with Douglas and his dad in the house on their own,’ he explains. ‘They are going through terrible depression, because of the loss of his mother from cancer.’
‘The boy and his father haven’t been able to communicate since her death, and the house is a place of sadness,’ continues the publisher Neem Tree Press. ‘One day Douglas finds an injured Greylag goose and so begins their mission to nurse the bird, and themselves, back to health. As father and son work together and start talking together again.’
Then, Kenneth adds, ‘they find a diary written by Douglas’s mother when she was a girl, when she nursed a goose back to health. Her father was a gamekeeper: he was used to killing geese.’ Douglas blossoms by drawing Silverwing the goose: ‘It is almost like his mother has come back in goose form to bind together these two souls and restore them.’
The idea for the book, although conceived five years ago, has found its moment. ‘I hope the book will resonate now, because of the state we have been in with lockdown and loss,’ Kenneth said. ‘I hope it will reach out to children who have lost a significant carer. I have worked in hundreds of classrooms through the Scottish Book Trust, and I hope the book will be taken up in wider Scotland. It is a book that can be read by a class and discussed and really thought about.
‘It is not a sad book. This is a book about kindness, restoration, and finding hope and love. It is about animal welfare, rather than shooting everything. There is always an anti-bullying message in my children’s books, because I myself was bullied. Douglas is a very gentle soul. The worst of the bullies tease him about not having a mother. As well as fighting against his own depression, Douglas has to fight against the teasing. I want to show, not tell. I am showing through the book how goodness and hope, and love come back after terrible loss. It is a book about holding on.’
Altogether Kenneth has published more than 50 books, and his latest book of poetry, a collection of his best poems titled Iona, is also available in Oban Waterstones. Much of his poetry is inspired by the wildscape of his native Highland Scotland; much has resulted from his love of the Celtic Christian story whose deepest roots are for him found in the island of Iona off Scotland’s west coast.
He has written and presented numerous poetry programmes for BBC Radio; his feature on St Kilda – made 75 years after the evacuation of the island – was awarded a Sony in 2006. Other programmes tell the stories of how some of the greatest poems we know came to be written. His collection Letting in the Light is dedicated to his beloved little girl Willow, and many of the poems in its pages were written for her.
As a novelist, Kenneth’s most recent works are Glen Lyon and The Well of the North Wind. Their style is almost a melding of poetry and prose; they are like stones rolling down a hillside, fast and furious, refusing to let the reader’s attention relax.
His newest novel 2020 is unlike anything he has written before; a political thriller told from the perspective of a plethora of narrators – disturbing and rather eerily prescient.
‘Trying to live from a literary income is getting harder and harder,’ he said. ‘I describe myself as a literary crofter: I have to do several things to make a living.’