Brian Jacques: Writer best known for his 'Redwall' series of fantasy novels

James Brian Jacques had the blue collar CV of a hard-boiled novelist: his jobs included merchant seaman, truck driver, dock worker, boxer and policeman.

But the fiction he chose to write was children's stories in which heroic mice fought off evil rats, weasels and stoats. His Redwall series of anthropomorphic novels is all about good versus evil with no grey areas, and they have been massively successful since they first came out in 1986. To date, they have sold over 20 million copies and have been translated into 28 languages.

A proud Liverpudlian, Jacques created this fantasy pastoral world out of his observations as a child of the behaviour of those around him in the inner city during wartime. His family hailed from County Cork, but Jacques was born in Liverpool in June1939, the second son of a truck driver, James Jacques, and his wife, Ellen. Jacques was known by his middle name, Brian, to avoid confusionwith his father and his younger brother, James. (His older brother was called Tony.)

His family lived near the Liverpool docks, which meant that for the first years of his life he had the almost daily experience of German bombs falling. The privations of wartime and post-war food rationing also had an impact on him – the feasts he so lovingly describes in his novels are an attempt to make up for the poor diet of his childhood.

His father was an avid reader of adventure stories and passed on to Jacques his love of Conan Doyle, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Malory and Kenneth Grahame were also part of the mix.

Jacques showed a precocious writing talent when, aged 10, he went to St John's in Kirkdale and wrote a story about a bird cleaning a crocodile's teeth. The story was so good that his teacher caned him, believing that Jacques must have plagiarised it.

Another teacher, Austin Thomas, a former army captain, had a major impact on him. He introduced Jacques, aged 14, to poetry andGreek literature. Because of him, Jacques saved seven shillings and sixpence to buy secondhand copies of The Iliad and The Odyssey. He liked poetry and read Wordsworth and Tennyson. Born a Catholic, he was an altar boy and his experience of the liturgy later informed the rich language in his novels.

Jacques left school in 1954, age 15, and saw the world as a merchant seaman. Eventually tiring of trips to Yokohama or Valparaiso, he settled back in Liverpool and took a succession of blue collar jobs. He even had a stint as a comic in the local clubs.

In the 1960s, when The Beatles put Liverpool on the map, he, his two brothers and four others formedThe Liverpool Fishermen, a folk group that toured the pubs and released an album, Swallow the Anchor, in 1971. In the 1970s he had humorous poems and short stories published: Get Yer Wack (1971), Yennoworrameanlike (1972), According to Jacques: a Mersey Bible (1975), Scouse with the Lid Off (1977) and Jakestown (1979). The last was also the name of his weekly radio show on BBC Radio Merseyside, which ran for more than 30 years. He also wrote three plays – Brown Bitter, Wet Nellies and Scouse – which were all performed at the Everyman in Liverpool.

He always said that the impetus for the Redwall series came from a stint delivering milk to the Royal School for the Blind in Liverpool, where hevolunteered to read to the pupils. The teenage books they had seemed to him to be "too full of angst", so he decided to write "a proper story". Because his listeners were blind,he wrote descriptively so that they could picture what he was writing about. He remained a patron of the school all his life.

He handwrote Redwall on hundreds of sheets of recycled paper he kept in a supermarket plastic bag. Jacques had kept in touch with an old schoolteacher, Alan Durband (who also taught George Harrison and Paul McCartney). He showed him Redwall and Durband, without Jacques' knowledge, passed it on to a publisher. Jacques was given a five-book deal.

Redwall was published in 1986 and became the first instalment of a massively successful series. The books are full of quests and riddles, betrayals and honourable acts, big battles and derring-do. You can see in them the blending of that early reading, from Malory to Kenneth Grahame.

However fantastical the novels, they mostly come out of real experiences. The RAF fighting off theLuftwaffe dropping bombs on Liverpool are the hares in the series; Liverpool dockworkers are the shrews. He said that Gonff, Prince of Mousethieves, is based on him when he was a tough kid hanging around on the Liverpool docks. His grandmother and his granddaughter also feature. The sea rats are based on those men he sailed with in his days in the merchant marine.

He stayed in Liverpool with his wife, Maureen, as did their two sons, one a carpenter, the other a muralist. One of his proud moments was to be recognised by Liverpool when he was made an honorary fellow of the city's John Moores University.

With the worldwide success of the Redwall series he branched out into related areas. There was merchandising – figurines and charts and maps. There was an opera version of Redwall, The Legend of Redwall Abbey, in 1998. He collaborated with the artist Christopher Denise on three Redwall picture books: The Great Redwall Feast (1996); A Redwall Winter's Tale (2001) and The Redwall Cookbook (2005). DC comics turned Redwall into a graphic novel in 2007.

Away from the Redwall series, between 2001 and 2006 he wrote three atmospheric Flying Dutchman novels. In 2006 and 2008 he produced two Urso Brunov picture books – about a tribe of tiny bears – with the illustrator Alexi Natchev. The Redwall novels usually have songs in them and 47 were collected in 2007 in Songs from Redwall, performed by Billy Maher. The 22nd Redwall novel, The Rogue Crew, will be out later this year.

His preferred place to write was in his garden under an apple tree. But his working-class ethic meant he never really regarded writing as "proper" work. He once said: "I get up in the morning and I still feel guilty about being a famous author."

James Brian Jacques, author and broadcaster: born Liverpool 15 June 1939; married Maureen (two sons); died Liverpool 5 February 2011.

Suggested Topics
Sport
The Pipes and Drums of The Scottish Regiments perform during the Opening Ceremony for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park on July 23, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.
Commonwealth gamesThe actor encouraged the one billion viewers of the event to donate to the children's charity
Sport
Members of the Scotland deleagtion walk past during the opening ceremony of the 2014 Commonwealth Games at Celtic Park in Glasgow on July 23, 2014.
Voices
voicesGood for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, writes Grace Dent
Sport
Shinji Kagawa and Reece James celebrate after the latter scores in Manchester United's 7-0 victory over LA Galaxy
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Very tasty: Vladimir Putin dining alone, perhaps sensibly
news
Life and Style
Listen here: Apple EarPods offer an alternative
techAre custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?
Arts and Entertainment
Top guns: Cole advised the makers of Second World War film Fury, starring Brad Pitt
filmLt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a uniform
News
The University of California study monitored the reaction of 36 dogs
sciencePets' range of emotions revealed
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
News
Joining forces: young British men feature in an Isis video in which they urge Islamists in the West to join them in Iraq and Syria
newsWill the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?
Arts and Entertainment
The nomination of 'The Wake' by Paul Kingsnorth has caused a stir
books
News
i100
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Marine / Shipping Solicitor - South Coast

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: SOUTH COAST - MARINE / SHIPPING Th...

SAP GRC Architect

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently looking for a PERMANENT S...

BI Develop/Analyst - £35,000 ~ £40,000 - Sheffield

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client is...

Teacher

£100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: Supply Teachers Would you ...

Day In a Page

Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform
Climate change threatens to make the antarctic fur seal extinct

Take a good look while you can

How climate change could wipe out this seal
Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier for the terminally ill?

Farewell, my lovely

Should emergency hospital weddings be made easier?
Man Booker Prize 2014 longlist: Crowdfunded novel nominated for first time

Crowdfunded novel nominated for Booker Prize

Paul Kingsnorth's 'The Wake' is in contention for the prestigious award
Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster to ensure his meals aren't poisoned

Vladimir Putin employs a full-time food taster

John Walsh salutes those brave souls who have, throughout history, put their knives on the line
Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

Tour de France effect brings Hollywood blockbusters to Yorkshire

A $25m thriller starring Sam Worthington to be made in God's Own Country
Will The Minerva Project - the first 'elite' American university to be launched in a century - change the face of higher learning?

Will The Minerva Project change the face of higher learning?

The university has no lecture halls, no debating societies, no sports teams and no fraternities. Instead, the 33 students who have made the cut at Minerva, will travel the world and change the face of higher learning
The 10 best pedicure products

Feet treat: 10 best pedicure products

Bags packed and all prepped for holidays, but feet in a state? Get them flip-flop-ready with our pick of the items for a DIY treatment
Commonwealth Games 2014: Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games

Commonwealth Games 2014

Great Scots! Planes and pipers welcome in Glasgow's Games
Jack Pitt-Brooke: Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism

Jack Pitt-Brooke

Manchester City and Patrick Vieira make the right stand on racism
How Terry Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

How Newton tragedy made iron men seek help to tackle their psychological demons

Over a hundred rugby league players have contacted clinic to deal with mental challenges of game