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Of mice and moles

Page 2 of 3 -- The idea of moles and squirrels as valiant warriors for good may seem comic to adults, but the dramatic situations in Redwall are as life-and-death as anything in Tolkien. And there's always a villain -- in ''Rakkety Tam," he's a dastardly wolverine named Gulo the Savage. Rakkety Tam MacBurl and his friend Wild Doogy Plumm, two valiant squirrel-soldiers, and a storied army of hares called the Long Patrol Regiment are all that stand in Gulo's way.

''I try to keep my compass points in view," Jacques said, in an accent that sounds half-Irish, half-Liverpool. ''When I'm about two-thirds of the way through a book, I'll get an idea that would make a good book. I'll keep it in my head, then I start to think, 'Where's the threat going to come from this time? From the north where the lands of ice and snow are? Or the lands beyond the sunset where it's tropical? In the setting it has to be, 'Once upon a time, long ago and far away, beneath some blue forgotten sky in a silent forest. . .' It's a place where no man's hand has ever set foot. It's always a paw or a claw."

And there's always real evil and real good, and sometimes real tragedy, in his books. There's swordplay, and evildoers are slain -- and sometimes the good die, too. ''Otherwise there's no story, is there?" he said. ''There has to be a threat or a quest. Otherwise you're stuck in a Walt Disney world, with everybody singing 'Bibbity-bobbity boo,' with singing teapots and God knows what."

Liverpool accents
Jacques grew up near the Liverpool docks, in an Irish immigrant family. Ending school at 15, he became a merchant seaman, dock worker, bus and truck driver, to name a few of his jobs, but he and his family loved books and music as well. ''I like the good old yarns," he said. ''My dad would say to me, 'You want to read that, lad; that's a good yarn.' " In the 1960s he and his two brothers, along with their father and friends, performed traditional music in Irish pubs in Liverpool.

''I was the spokesman," he said. ''They were all great singers but didn't talk to the public. So I would get up and say, 'Good evening, we're the Liverpool Fishermen, and this is a little song we used to sing at my mother's knee, or some other low joint,' and carry on like that, 'a little song titled, ''Don't Go Down to the Shrimp Boats, Mum -- Dad's Coming Home with the Crabs.' " He began to add his own songs to the classics. ''I started working up a comic routine and writing monologues -- you know the monologues of Robert Service? -- I wrote 'The Hanging of Filthy Jake,' virtually rewrote the Old Testament, all in a Liverpool accent."   Continued...

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