Move over, Ratty. Sylvan's here: An Oxford academic's new children's book could rival 'The Wind in the Willows'
The adventures of Ratty and Fiver have been entertaining children for decades, but the animal stars of stories such as The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down could soon have a new addition to their ranks, straight from the imagination of a postdoctoral researcher.
Despite the illustrious literary history of Oxford academics including C S Lewis, J R R Tolkien and Lewis Carroll, the story will be the first children's book to be published by Oxford University Press (OUP) from a serving Oxford scholar since it began printing in the 15th century. Tom Moorhouse's The River Singers is his debut novel. It charts the trials and tribulations of a colony of water voles.
Dr Moorhouse is a member of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit at the university's zoology department, where he has been examining hedgehog behaviour. He is currently researching aspects of the exotic pet trade. Being an expert on American signal crayfish and water-vole conservation made the selection of his characters very simple.
"They say, 'Write about what you know'," he said, "and I just happen to know about water voles." He also pointed out that there are more similarities between the fields of writing for children and scientific research than many would think. "You have to keep it simple and fast-moving, but not patronising."
With a BSc from Durham and an MRes from York, Dr Moorhouse spent more than nine years researching water voles and the UK's rivers. In 2003 he successfully established seven new populations in the upper Thames as part of his DPhil in water-vole conservation ecology.
The plot of the illustrated book, which is for children aged nine and up, plays off the experience in following the exploits of Sylvan and the rest of his water-vole brothers and sisters. A rumour spreads along the length of the Great River, warning of a mysterious new danger that will threaten all the River Singers, and when Sylvan's mother is taken in the night, the family have no choice but to abandon their snug burrow and go in search of a secure new home where they can live in peace.
Dr Moorhouse had been writing short stories and was trying to finish a novel for teenagers when a literary agent persuaded him to give animal stories a try.
OUP, which publishes the work on 3 October, calls The River Singers "an enthralling and beautiful tale about the power of friendship, loyalty and hope", and it comes garlanded with praise from authors such as Gill Lewis and Lauren St John.
Dr Moorhouse's zoology colleagues are said by the author to be "bemused but very supportive", but he cannot escape from comparisons with two classics of children's literature, Watership Down and The Wind in the Willows. The River Singers has been called Watership Down for the 21st century; but Dr Moorhouse acknowledges that banker turned author Kenneth Grahame got to the water vole first.
"Ah, Ratty has caused me no end of grief," he said, before pointing out a crucial difference between his creations and Grahame's own river resident: "The voles in this book don't wear waistcoats or row boats."
Review: Of Mice and Men
By opportunistic local hoping to exhibit the work
Fans will be hoping the role finally wins him an Oscar
What do gigantic horse heads tell us about Falkirk?
Finnish Postal Service praises the 'self irony and humour' of the drawings
The actor has confessed to his own insecurities
Allotments are the focus of a new reality show
Arts & Ents blogs
The best movies on Netflix: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
Record Store Day 2014: Coming to a UK independent record shop near you - the best exclusives
Grace Dent on TV: Game of Thrones has jumped the shark
Misheard song lyrics: Lady Gaga and Ozzy Osbourne's lyrics named hardest to understand
The food poverty scandal that shames Britain: Nearly 1m people rely on handouts to eat – and benefit reforms may be to blame
US Navy christens huge $3 billion destroyer ship USS Zumwalt that appears as a fishing boat on enemy radar
Scottish independence: It is the English who should be on their knees, begging the Scots to vote ‘No’
Nigel Farage fatigue? Half of voters ‘immune’ to Ukip’s appeal
Nigel Farage: I’m taking on the status quo, and the Establishment’s fighting back
Refugee facing deportation from Sweden saved by fellow passengers refusing to let plane leave
- 1 KFC 'sorry' after lesbian couple are kicked out of Bath restaurant for 'heavy petting'
- 2 Dylan Tombides: West Ham confirm 20-year-old striker has died after battle with cancer
- 3 24 people applied for the 'world's toughest job', here are their interviews
- 4 'Sinful': Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy comes under attack
- 5 Saudi Arabia declares all atheists are terrorists in new law to crack down on political dissidents