First, there was just the empty space, a quiet room at the back of Fendalton library. Then the big banners went up, with their rich colours and images: of a castle and a dragon, and a boy with a sword. A few children gathered, whispering, and then a large cake was brought out, with the same vivid images and jewelled colours, and the word Thornspell, iced onto the top.
The children lingered... and things began to happen. A woman set out books on a long table — and through a partly open door, men could be seen putting on armour and practising with sword and shield. People began to gather around the book table and fill the previously empty space; the air was filled with the buzz of conversation. On the beanbags at the front, one of the children was already reading Thornspell.
Soon the space was full and there were even people standing at the back. The New Zealand launch of Thornspell had begun.
Grant Shanks, who writes as Andrew Grant, the award winning author of Mesquite Smoke-Dance and the best selling thriller Hawks, spoke of reading Thornspell author Helen Lowe's writing for the first time and being blown away by it's scope and richness. "Even the first three chapters told me that this was a major work. I'm an experienced writer and I couldn't wait to read more."
And then Helen herself wove together two different strands of magic: the journey of writing the Thornspell story, illustrated by readings from the book. The journey had begun with a single image — of a boy reading on a sunlit tower, and beside that tower there lay a vast and mysterious wood...
That image had evolved into a tale of magic and danger, of hunts and faerie hills, an enigmatic weapons' master and a ragged girl who cannot speak — but still helps the boy on the tower to unravel the mysteries that surround him. "
According to Helen's editor, Nancy Siscoe at Knopf (New York), Thornspell "is a swashbuckling and romantic story that keeps the heart racing." To illustrate the adventurous qualities in the story, two knights from the Southron Gaard (the Society for Creative Anachronism), armed in chainmail and plate armour, fought out the duel between hero and villain — to enthusiastic acclaim from the audience.
When all was over and the villain conclusively dispatched, Helen cut the Thornspell cake with her own sword and all those present agreed that the book had been satisfactorily launched.
"For me," Helen said, "it's what it's all about — connecting books and audiences in environments like libraries that foster the magic of reading and story. And seeing people's faces, especially the kids, as they listened to the story and watched the knights — that made it all worthwhile."