Planet Plenti is a most extraordinary place – a world of incredible edible delights; of confectionery minerals, a rich array of animals, delectable flora and flavorful springs …
And yet, for children in the land of Likrishka, life is less than ordinary, and mostly very grim – as the Likrish population lives under the watchful rule of Stannic, a Master Chef, a tin-skinned tyrant who commands an army of robot waiters.
Thus nine-year-old Lydia faces a future slaving away in a Candi Land confection camp – but the girl was born with a mysterious power over metal (when she eats a special type of sweet) – a power which could hold the key to her freedom and help to overthrow the villainous Chef. If only she could get her hands on a tin of prohibited toffee …
Orwell’s 1984 meets Oz? Heracles and Ulysses meet Charlie & the Chocolate Factory?
First published by Oxford University Press in 2009, ‘Lydia’s Tin Lid Drum’ is an acclaimed epic illustrated fantasy – now available in this newly revised e-book edition.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
The tale started out as a take on Günter Grass’s famous 1959 novel ‘The Tin Drum’.
Many other ideas were then added to the mix: an updating of all sorts of mythological sources (such as giant robotic monstrosities in place of the beasts that Heracles bested; or a vale of magic sweet trees in place of the Garden of the Hesperides).
A mere seven years later (and two major re-writes) I had myself a novel, an editor and publisher – oh, and the raw material for a sequel …
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The theme of the story is confectionery – the ‘tin lid drum’ being a birthday gift of toffee I gave to a dear friend. (I subsequently wrote the novel in her memory, her daughter Lydia providing the name and inspiration for the toffee-loving girl of the title.)
The ‘Sweet Sisterhood’ that Lydia joins – their code-names, powers and personalities were also based on particular sweets – so you have the deadly Bull’s-Eye, the super-fast ballerina Hazel Whirl, the slippery mischievous Cocoa-Butter, dippy Dolly Mixture etc.
Two figures raced at a breakneck pace, the branches and creepers of the nighttime jungle shoosh slish whipping past their ears. Close behind them were frightening sounds, the sounds of trunks, the trunks of sweet trees hacked aside by giant knives. Two figures ran, a girl and a man and, though the two were father and daughter, the man’s skin, tanned from a lifetime hunting in hot sunny climes, was pale next to the deep bronze-brown of the girl’s complexion; and while his hair was fair, hers streaked from her scalp in thick black strands as she dashed through the jungle, ducking, brushing foliage branches, sensitive to plant scents shooting past her: bursts of pepper, piercing spearmint, arrowroot, grapefruit, all the sweet aroma trails. The man, Alazandr, a strapping chap accustomed to tough, to tougher terrain – even he had difficulty staying in stride with his fleet-footed ten-year-old child. Far behind them, fire raged, a royal palace consumed by flames, its butchery kitchens and sinister laboratories, serums, potions and magic liqueurs sizzling away in a fearsome blaze, bright against the midnight moon.
‘Eli- Elixa! Imminti saltia!’ Alazandr called to his daughter in her native Tangi-tongue. The girl Elixa stopped at his request, waiting under a gum tree as Alazandr stumbled up, careful of the child he carried in his arms: a younger girl, only four years old, barefoot and wearing a plain vanilla robe. This simple dress was so unlike Elixa’s rich attire: a blood red sari of finest silk, dripping with ruby berries and jewels. The man placed the four-year-old girl on the ground against the gummy trunk of the tree. The child said nothing. She stared oblivious as if in a trance, insensitive to the pain of the trio of star marks branded onto her face. Alazandr looked back frantically. He could hear, so near, the splintering crackle and chop-chop of branches. He rifled through his khaki jacket, looking for the last of his confectionery weapons.
Elixa merely rummaged in a satchel she had slung around her shoulder – a satchel full of stolen sweets, enchanted chocolates, mystery liqueurs; and from the assortment, she picked out a single crystalline mint. ‘Isi,’ Elixa hissed, shaking her father’s forearm. ‘Isi! Glasseer minta.’
Alazandr shook his head. ‘Tu skoot!’ He ordered Elixa to go, showing her the handful of tiny red grenades he’d just dug out of his jacket pocket. ‘Kirshay kabooma,’ he uttered grimly.
Elixa narrowed her emerald eyes. She nodded, then popped the mint into her mouth. Alazandr watched in wonder as the girl began to disappear. Her liquorice hair bleached white then flickered clear; likewise her bronze flesh, leaving faint X-ray bones, till in moments there was nothing to see of Elixa but a glassy glimmer in a sari and tiara.
Meanwhile, the slashing of metal fast approached and, an instant later – Alazandr turned to these monstrous insects hacking quickly through the trees: three vile metallic mantids, antennae twitching, detecting their prey. The tall copper creatures reared above him, raising their sabre-like limbs to strike.
Elixa was away, slinking into the depths of the jungle, the glassy mint transforming the very clothes she wore into an aura of invisibility. Suddenly she heard one two three successive explosions. She dared to look back, afraid for her father, for the four-year-old child he’d saved from a bloody death. Afraid he’d never make it to his boat at the cappuccino delta. Afraid he had given his life to protect her.
And now the sky erupted with thunder. Warm black coffee rain pelted down. Still, in the distance, it was possible to see fire fizz above the Mokachini jungle. Elixa vowed that one day she’d find a way to eliminate the sinister sect that had threatened her land, and finish off its bloodthirsty sorcery for good. And so, with her satchel wrapped safe in her robes, Elixa fled the cruelty of her home, her glassy moccasins splashing through the dash dash dash of coffee rain. The girl inhaled the tastes of the forest – its syrup saps, citrus layers, and musky mocha notes. Elixa gave herself to the forest, on what was meant to be her Night of Initiation.
Neale Osborne was born in 1970, in Birmingham, England.
His debut children’s book ‘Lydia’s Tin Lid Drum’ was published in 2009 by Oxford University Press.
‘The Castle of Desires’, his first work for older readers, is a ‘double-bill’ of interweaving tales: the story of a studio of animators set in the 1930s, and the legend of a castle that can fulfil all the dreams of its key-holder.
His latest title is ‘Lydia’s Golden Drum’, the follow-up to his debut, but also a stand-alone fantasy adventure, drawing on many legends and folktales, with the distinctive spicy flavour of ‘The Arabian Nights’.
A freelance illustrator since 1992, Neale’s pictures have appeared in a variety of places: posters, packaging, and in publications (such as the TLS, Gramophone, Mojo and BBC Proms programmes). Many of these pictures, including those from the ‘Lydia’ novels, can be found at his official website ‘The Land of Oz’.
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