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READERS GUIDE

Introduction

TALKING TO DAVID ALMOND ABOUT SECRET HEART


Q: Was there a specific reason why the reader and Joe do not find out the identity of Joe’s father? Joe is concerned that it is the leering man, Joff, that acts as a father figure to his best friend. Why did you include such a hardened character, and what effect does he have on Joe’s life?

A: I suppose it’s all to do with Joe’s uncertain sense of himself. In some ways, he’s very tuned in to his own condition – eg he believes in his own almost-supernatural strengths – but is also weak and shy. He wants a father-figure that he can identify with, but he recoils from the thought of identifying with Joff – who is cold and cruel. I did toy with the notion of exposing Hackenschmidt as his father!


Q: Joe is almost an outcast in his town. His classmates taunt him, and do not understand him. Many children throughout the world often suffer the same way. Why do you feel the kids in Joe’s town are cruel to him? Joe seems to become almost immune to their behavior. Why does he do this?

A: Kids that seem weak are often bullied/scorned by those who are supposedly ‘stronger’ – but who are in fact often ‘weaker’. There are kids in Joe’s town who look upon him with fondness – and I think that some of those who scorn and scoff are uncertain, and suspect that Joe Maloney really des have some special strengths denied to them. Joe turns away from the bullies and discovers and nourishes the strengths within himself. he also finds friends (those from the circus) who he feels have some connection with the ‘real’ Joe.


Q: From an early age, Joe seems to see and hear things that others can not. The only other person that seems to be able to see and hear these same things is Corinna. Why is this and what do you feel are they witnessing?

A: Joe and Corinna have not rejected their visionary selves.


Q: In your view, what does the tiger in SECRET HEART symbolize for main character Joe Maloney? Does it mean different things to different people, such as the circus folk? Why did you choose a tiger?

A: Ah, the tiger. I suppose it stands for the wildness (and wild beauty) that maybe exists inside us all. It emphasizes the fact that, although we’re civilized beings, we have deep and important connections with the rest of the natural world. Also, we seem very modern, but we’re also very ancient. I like the notion that our wild spirit (or secret heart) is like a wild and beautiful animal that prowls through the darkest parts of our minds and imaginations. At times the wild spirit prowls close enough for us to be able to see/hear/smell/touch it, and at other times it disappears into the remotest parts of ourselves. Joe Maloney is one of those who can recognize the wild spirit and who can walk with it. In terms of the circus, the tiger stands for a time when wild beasts were something elemental, strange and wonderful. They were like things from myths and legends. I chose the tiger for its beauty, its danger, its strangeness. And I suppose my choice is strongly influenced by William Blake.


Q: When Joe meets Corinna, he feels an immediate connection. Almost like he had known her before. How do you describe this immediate connection, and what effect does it have on Joe and his visions of the tiger?

A: I guess it’s connected with the theory of reincarnation (that we’ve all lived before and will live again). Perhaps the tiger lived at a time when Joe and Corinna lived a previous life.


Q: The circus-folk seem to be the only people who can accept Joe’s differences, and who see through to his brave soul. Why?

A: The circus people have their roots in an ancient and more ‘primitive’ time when a soul like Joe’s was accepted as a natural part of humanity.


Q: Secret Heart is about our secret selves, and in some ways about what it means to be human. What do you hope to convey to kids reading this book?

A: I just want my readers to enjoy the book, to be absorbed into its world, and in doing so to wonder about and explore their own selves and their own imaginative possibilities. Children are so often offered little but rather drab and mechanistic explanations of their humanity.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Discussion questions coming soon!




From the Hardcover edition.
 
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