The second novel in the Heart of the World series
“Have you ever looked at the bark of a tree and thought you saw a face then looked back again and the face isn’t there? Maybe it is there. Maybe trees are alive in ways we don’t understand, watching, waiting…”
Tom Allenby’s second incredible adventure is now available to buy- see home page for details. This page includes some information and extra material about the book.
Best to read the book first before looking further down this page!
An introduction to Living Things by John C
If you stare at the bark of an old tree in a certain light it’s easy to imagine a face staring back at you and as we know trees can live for hundreds of years so you wonder what have they seen. This was the starting point for Living Things, the second novel in the Heart of the World series.
There have been a number of fantasy stories involving trees coming to life in various ways but I noticed a tendency for the idea of moving, walking or talking trees was quite prevalent. I wanted to suggest something more subtle than that, a dangerous force or energy that is somehow in the trees. I feel the idea of a root suddenly emerging from the ground or the suggestion of a branch reaching out is more potent than having trees walking about too much.
The other main focus of the book is Tom’s discovery of someone else his age who seems to share the same powers. This seemed an interesting area to explore as while Tom has some experience of elemental energy he is still very much a novice without any guide as to what he could or should do. He has to make his own decisions, a tough call for someone who is a few months away from being 14.
Though this is the second book, the plot is actually the last one I came up with while writing Elemental and planning the other books. I originally imagined it slotting in as the third book but decided the content was more suited to the second book in the series.
One of the biggest pieces of feedback I received for Elemental was that though marketed as a children’s novel it was better suited for young adults. I’ve always struggled with the idea of neatly bracketing books together especially as children’s reading ages and interest in fiction vary at differing times. Nonetheless I am marketing this book for a slightly older age group though hopefully people of many different ages can enjoy it.
It is traditional to trumpet a new work in an ongoing series as being darker than its predecessor and I would certainly say that the issues raised by this book may be more challenging. Having focussed on personal loss and relationships in the first novel, Living Things is about responsibility, conflict, bullying and friendship. And, of course, trees!
Living Things Background Information
Living Things is set about two and a half months after Elemental, in the first week of October.
Previous titles for the book included Groundshock and When The Sleepers Wake
Some bits from the third book have been added because they fit in this story better notably Jake’s dealing with his behaviour which suited this story better as it ties in with Ellie’s response to her aggressors.
A big influence on the story- and the whole series of books- is the 1975 children’s tv serial Sky written by Bob Baker and Dave Martin. The series uses some effective threats plant life and that is the vibe I wanted to conjure up.
Rosa Boswell is named after Ruth Boswell,, a tv producer in the 70s responsible for a number of ground breaking excellent children’s dramas. Miss Boswell was going to be a schools inspector or an astrologer before I settled on a counsellor. She has been at the school since the start of term.
The nickname `school in the woods` is taken from a tv documentary several years ago where some teenagers became teachers for a period in a school that was literally in the middle of woods.
The interior of the school is based on the secondary school I attended including the marble floors, polished wooden walls and the unusual structure of the building. The Quad is based on a building I once saw which had a courtyard surrounded by a covered walkway lined with stone pillars.
One of the pitfalls of writing is making things far more convenient than they would be in real life. In the original version Arthur Tyler had a work shed in which he made metal sculptures which he then utilised to make the lightning rod. It was of course an unlikely coincidence but I felt it was conceivable that someone in the area would have such equipment hence the addition of Abel Cartwright’s farm,. This in turn gave the opportunity for more action around the farmhouse giving the others something to do while Tom and co are trapped underground.
I wrote a version of the story where Tyler took the Earthstone from Tom when he traps him underground and Tom has to use crystals to wield elemental power. Again this just seemed too coincidental so instead I made the crystals dampen the Eartshtone so that Tom and the others couldn’t just escape right away.
The Slurpers went through many different guises but in the end I went back to the idea of them as like squat crocodiles. Before I thought of the bark creatures, it was Slurpers who returned for the climax as Tyler opens the gap to allow them out.
The idea of the tree creatures came quite late to create something that was more linked to the revived trees. I wanted them to be like trees but human height and moving on roots rather than walking around.
In earlier drafts Ellie had an older brother who would be the one taken over but it left too many characters so he went altogether.
The climax and the way Tom defeats the energy was changed. Originally when Tom was zoomed back to the surface he was able to make the fireball crash into the tree but I felt this was too easy and instead he is challenged to convey what is basically a lie to Ellie and her mother to create a different kind of elemental energy. It still ends up in the same act but the contradiction is noted in the story.
In the sequence when Tom is taken through three different battles I had a scene where he talked briefly to a First World War soldier whom he tries to discover something about at the end of the story. In the end this was dropped because it took too much text and I decided that the soldiers can’t actually see Tom. Having any communication suggests Tom was actually there whereas what he is seeing is like a recording of real events.
Unlike Elemental where I found an already created image that was perfect for that book, the Living Things cover was specially designed for this book by Glendon Haddix of Strretlight Graphics to a spec I provided.
Here are some scenes that are either earlier versions or else were cut from the finished book. Just click on the link below (opens into a PDF document)