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."
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?
- 2 Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
- 3 London council removes 'unacceptable' Stamford Hill posters telling women which side of the road to walk down
- 4 The response to my Pizza Express review has been overwhelming, and taught me a lot about journalism
- 5 Free U2 album: How the most generous giveaway in music history turned into a PR disaster
Game of Thrones star Maisie Williams cast in Channel 4 drama about cyber bullying
Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea's 'Booty' music video is just a load of butts
Friends 20th anniversary: Alison Jackson photographs reunited cast
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written
Friends 20th anniversary: The highs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
Scottish referendum results: Cross-party consensus collapses amid Tory-Labour spat on the 'English question'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'
Russia freezes Ukraine into submission: Kiev admits country doesn't have enough fuel for winter
Scottish independence: The Queen breaks silence on referendum debate – as think tank warns of £14bn black hole if Scotland votes Yes