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  • Clay
  • Written by David Almond
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  • Written by David Almond
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Written by David AlmondAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by David Almond


List Price: $8.99


On Sale: March 11, 2008
Pages: 0 | ISBN: 978-0-375-84646-5
Published by : Delacorte Books for Young Readers RH Childrens Books
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Fourteen-year-old Davie and his best friend, Geordie, are altar boys at their local Catholic Church. They’re full of mischief, but that all changes when Stephen Rose comes to town. Father O’Mahoney thinks it would be a good idea for Davie and Geordie to befriend him—maybe some of their good nature will rub off on this unhappy soul. But it’s Stephen who sees something special in Davie.

Stephen’s a gifted sculptor. One day as Davie looks on, Stephen brings a tiny figure to life. It’s a talent he has, the gift of creation—and he knows that Davie has this talent, too. Davie allows Stephen to convince him to help bring a life-size figure to life—and Clay is born. Clay is innocent, but Stephen has special plans for him.

What has Davie helped to unleash on the world?

From the Hardcover edition.



He arrived in Felling on a bright and icy February morning. Not so long ago, but it was a different age. I was with Geordie Craggs, like I always was back then. We were swaggering along like always, laughing and joking like always. We passed a Players back and forward between us and blew long strings of smoke into the air. We'd just been on the altar. We were heading for Braddock's garden. We were on Watermill Lane when a red taxi rattled past us. Black fumes belched from it. The sign at the top said it was from down at the coast.

"What's that doing up here?" said Geordie.

A bit of communion wafer was still stuck to my teeth. I poked it free with my tongue and swallowed it, then drew on the cigarette again.

"God knows," I said.

The taxi stopped fifty yards away, outside Crazy Mary's house. Crazy came lolloping out with her red hair flying. She had a big flappy flowery dress and tartan slippers on. The kid got out of the taxi. He pulled a battered brown suitcase after him. Crazy paid the driver; then the two of them headed for her front door. She looked back at us. She tried to put her arm around the kid but he twisted away and went inside. Crazy followed him and the door slammed shut.

The taxi driver leaned out of his window as he went past.

"What you two nebbing at?" he said.

"Nowt much," I said.

"Why don't you nick off back to Whitley Bay?" said Geordie.

"Aye," I said. "Nick off, Fishface."

And we laughed and belted on towards the garden yelling, "Fishface! Fishface! Fishface!"

We went through the ancient iron gate, ducked through the thorns, splashed through the edge of the clay pond, went into the quarry, went into the cave. There was writing on the wall again. We held matches up to it. All it said was 'We're watching you. Your doomd,' then a big black X. Somebody had tried to draw a skull as well but it looked like they'd given up because they were too useless.

I wiped dirt over it all.

Geordie sharpened his knife on a stone.

He pointed it at me.

"Soon there'll be a proper battle," he said.

"Aye," I said.

"It'll be just them and us," he said.

I shivered. I tried to laugh.

"The Battle of Braddock's Garden," I said.

I looked out at the sheer craggy quarry walls, the thick weeds, the deep clay pond, the ruins of Braddock's house above. The sparrow hawk flew out from its stony nest and flapped up into the open sky.

"Who was that at Crazy's?" I said.

He shrugged.

"God knows," he said. "Wouldn't like to be him, though, holed up with that loony."

He took a syrup of figs bottle out of his pocket and lobbed it over. It was half full of the wine that he'd stolen after Mass that morning. I screwed the top off and swigged and smacked my lips. The wine was sticky and sweet and you could soon feel the little bit of dreaminess it brought.

"Pinching altar wine's a sin," I said.

We laughed and snapped some sticks, getting a fire ready.

I pointed to the ground.

"You'll burn in Hell, George Craggs," I said.

"Naa," said Geordie. "Not for that. You go to Hell for proper sins. Like nicking a million quid."

"Or killing somebody," I said.

"Aye." He stabbed the knife into the ground. "Murder!" He swigged the wine and swiped his hand across his lips. "I dreamed I killed Mouldy the other night."

"Did you?"


"Was there loads of blood?"

"Gallons. Blood and guts everywhere."


"I did it here. I stabbed him in the heart, then I chopped his head off and I hoyed it in the pond."

We giggled.

"Prob'ly that'd not be a sin at all," I said. "Prob'ly you'd go straight to Heaven for getting rid of a thing like Mouldy."

"Course you would," said Geordie. "The whole world'd be better off without things like Mouldy."


We were quiet while we thought of Mouldy. We listened to the noises in the quarry.

"You seen how big he's getting?" I said.


"Bliddy Hell," I whispered.

"Aye. Bliddy Hell. He's turning to a monster."


There was no mystery. It turned out the kid was called Stephen Rose. He was from Whitley Bay. He was just a bit older than us. The story was he'd gone away to Bennett College to train to be a priest. He went when he was eleven, which wasn't strange back then in the 1960s. We knew loads of lads that did it. Like lots of them, though, Stephen couldn't stand it and he came back out again two or three years later. He'd just been home a month when his dad dropped dead with a stroke. Then his mother went mad and was taken away in the middle of a stormy night to Prudhoe. Stephen was all alone. The Poor Clares were going to take him in; then somehow they found out there was a distant aunt, Crazy Mary, up here in Felling, and so he came to her. The plan was that his mother'd be out soon, they'd set up home down at the coast again, everything would settle down again. But when I heard my parents on about it, it seemed there wouldn't be much chance of that. They'd heard she was truly barmy. She'd gone way way round the bend.

"Worse than Crazy Mary?" I said.

Mam glared at me.

"Don't call the poor woman that," she said. "She's just a devout and troubled soul."

"Sorry," I said.

"You don't know how lucky you are," she said. "There but for the grace of God . . ."

"What?" I groaned. "You worried about my sanity, Mother?"

I twisted my mouth and stuck my tongue out and drooled.

"Stop it!" she snapped. "Don't tempt fate."

She crossed herself.

"Maybe we should call her Holy Mary," she said. "Have you seen anybody else so devout, anybody else that prays so hard, anybody else so filled with yearning?"

I shook my head.

"Well, then," she said. "Did you know there's stories that there's saints in Mary's past?"


"Way back in her family. Back in Ireland, where the Doonans came from long ago."

Dad laughed.

"In the olden days," he said, "when saints walked in every village and an angel sat in every tree."

From the Hardcover edition.
David Almond

About David Almond

David Almond - Clay

Photo © Alex Telfer Photography

“Writing can be difficult, but sometimes it really does feel like a kind of magic. I think that stories are living things—among the most important things in the world.”—David Almond

David Almond is the winner of the 2001 Michael L. Printz Award for Kit’s Wilderness, which has also been named best book of the year by School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. His first book for young readers, Skellig, is a Printz Honor winner.


Miraculous beings living in a miraculous world . . .
Maybe it comes from my religious upbringing (I grew up in a big Catholic family): I do feel that we are miraculous beings living in a miraculous world. Sometimes the explanations we’re given—and the possibilities we’re offered—are just too restricted and mechanistic. Stories offer us a place to explore (as writers and readers) what it is to be fully human. I do think that young people are interested in the major questions—Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we going? Is there a God?—and they’re willing to contemplate all kinds of possibilities. They haven’t yet become tired by such questions.

Brutality has to be allowed its place . . .
Ten minutes of TV news is enough to convince anybody that the world is a pretty brutal place. We aren’t yet perfect people living in a perfect world—and we never will be—so brutality has to be allowed its place. But the world also contains great tenderness, joy, hope, etc. I suppose that in my books I explore a world and people that are made up of opposites: good and evil, light and darkness, the beautiful and the ugly. And I hope that in the end, goodness, light, and beauty will have some kind of upper hand.

Stories as a whole form a kind of community . . .
The stories in Counting Stars don’t have a straightforward chronological progression, but there are many links between the different stories. They form a kind of mosaic. Themes hinted at in one story are developed in another. Characters are seen in different situations/settings. I like to think that the stories as a whole form a kind of community or family. It’s often said that there’s a big difference between writing short stories and novels, but I’m not so sure. I think of my novels as a series of scenes/chapters, each of which I write with the same kind of attention I’d give to a short story.

A readership of four . . .
When I began to write Counting Stars, I wanted to write about my sisters and brother, and to use their real names, so I needed their permission. I worried that they wouldn’t be happy about the book. So I invited them all to my house for dinner, and afterwards I told them my plans, and I nervously read one of the first stories, “The Fusilier.” If they had said no to using their real names, Counting Stars would have been a very different book—and maybe wouldn’t have been written at all. But they said yes! Over the next couple of years, after I’d written each story, I sent copies to my brother and three sisters, so that they could see how things were developing. So, in a sense, the book was written for a readership of four people.

Staring out of the window . . .
I write at home, in a little office overlooking the back garden. I scribble in an artist’s sketchbook and type onto an AppleMac computer. I work all day—though some of that time will involve staring out of the window and eating apples. But I also travel quite a lot, so I’m used to writing on trains, in hotels, etc.

I used to wonder if I'd ever be able to write a novel properly . . .
For many years, I wrote nothing but short stories, and I used to wonder if I’d ever be able to write a novel properly. I wrote the stories in Counting Stars before I wrote Skellig, my first children’s novel. I wrote them over a two-year period. As I wrote them, I found myself exploring childhood experience from a child’s point of view. I rediscovered the powerful imaginative and emotional nature of childhood. Really, writing these stories changed me into a writer for children/young adults.

Messing about with paper clips . . .
I always wanted to be a writer. I wrote little books and stories as a boy, and wanted to see my books on the shelves of our little local library right next to my favorite books: King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, The Day of the Triffids, and The Adventures of Turkey. But as for writing, I simply like it all—right from creating new stories to messing about with paper clips. The best piece of writing advice I’ve ever received: Don't give up.

It’s often children who read the books with the most insight . . .
I think that children can be much more perceptive, creative, and intelligent than we give them credit for. I see this in the many letters I get from my readers and in the things that they say when I meet them. Some adults assume that children will never “get” the more complex aspects of my books, but in fact it’s often children who read the books with the most insight.



—A Michael L. Printz Honor Book
—An ALA Notable Book
—A New York Times Best Book

“A lovingly done, thought-provoking novel.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“An amazing work. Some of the writing takes one’s breath away.”—Starred, Booklist

“Almond makes a triumphant debut in the field of children’s literature with prose that is at once eerie, magical, and poignant.”—Starred, Publishers Weekly


—A Michael L. Printz Award Winner
—An ALA Notable Book
—A Publishers Weekly Best Book

“A highly satisfying literary experience.”—Starred, School Library Journal

“Almond has set an enormous task for himself . . . but he succeeds beautifully.”—Starred, Booklist


“An awe-inspiring, multilayered novel from a master imagist.”—School Library Journal, Starred


“[A] decidedly creepy musing on the nexus between faith and reality, good
and evil, from a master.”–The Horn Book Magazine, Starred

“Readers will remain on the edge of their seats to find out if the good in David can overcome unleashed evil.”–Publishers Weekly, Starred

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