Beyond Dark Waters is a special book. For one thing, it’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. Yes, we can almost guarantee that. It’s about a nine-year-old boy who can transform into other species, and while he does, he realizes all sorts of things about himself and the vast and varied world he inhabits (no matter what species he happens to be at the moment).
The author, Des Birch, has a special gift that elevates this book and makes it entirely remarkable and ultimately unforgettable. He nimbly shifts with his protagonist into the lives of creatures great and small, into their physical and emotional existence. In the end, it’s moving and mesmerizing. Check out our full review of Beyond Dark Waters here.
We were able to ask the author more about his process and inspiration as he wrote this unique book.
Q: What inspired you to write this series of novels? Did you know from the outset that it would be a series, or did it just become one over time?
A: I had the privilege of raising my children on my own and I thoroughly enjoyed teaching them about life and the natural world. Writing has always been my preferred form of communication because, unlike speech, it can be edited. Putting the two together to teach and entertain young people was the next logical step, and I enjoyed every minute of it.
Let me also tell you a secret. I wrote the preface to Beyond Dark Waters a few years before I even considered writing the book. Whether this was foresight on my part or the preface guiding me, I am not certain. I did not intend to write a series, but when I finished the first book I realized I had much more to say. Because the first book was about a boy, the second (Above and Beyond Dark Waters) had to be about a girl, for balance. This was certainly a challenge as I had to try to think like a girl. I combined our intrepid heroes in the third book (Somewhere Beyond Dark Waters) and thus the series was born.
Q: One thing that impressed us greatly was your imaginative ability to get into the skin (so to speak) of the various forms of life Ben transforms into. What was your creative method to do that so vividly?
A: It all began with an ant when I was six or seven years old. I was a somewhat turbulent youth and sneaking out to be on my own was a regular occurrence. One day I found myself sitting on the ground next to a tree, watching an ant crawling up the trunk. To block out whatever it was I was escaping, I entered the ant’s world and eventually became the creature, crawling in and out of the rough bark, examining it in tiny detail as I meandered ever higher. It did not take me long to make the figurative jump from tree to sky, after which I felt a total sense of belonging to the universal circle of life.
I write in the first person, and to do so, I become whatever person or creature I am writing about. This has led to some interesting observations. For instance, when two fish meet, they look at each other back and forth (rather than up and down). My wife Julie claims she never knows who she is going to wake up next to.
Q: Ben is such a relatable and likable character. Is he based on anyone in particular? How much is he like you were at that age?
A: I have spent a long time thinking about the latter part of this question. I was at my day job talking to a colleague called Ben. I choose my character’s names very carefully. I can’t tell you how this works, but a certain name will simply fit. I told my colleague about the book I was planning to write, and how I was trying to think of a name for the main character. He said, “What about Ben?” and the name fit.
So, was he like me at that age? I would say no, but I have lived life (in my thoughts) as the Quinling Ben, so there must be a link. I guess that Ben lived his youth the way I would have liked to have lived mine if circumstances had been different.
Q: There are many excellent messages for young people contained in this novel. What is the one thing you hope readers will walk away with?
A: Firstly, I would like them to enjoy the read; otherwise the messages might be forgotten. I would like people to question the way they and others live their lives. The whole universe is interconnected and every action we take affects our surroundings. I would like readers to enjoy discovering successive links in the chains of their lives, and to use these discoveries to enrich them. After all, doesn’t nature appear even more wondrous when you discover that it links every single thing to everything else?
We look, but we don’t really see. Go deep within a dense woodland and plant a flower. Return after a couple of years have passed, and you will see that the flower has not only grown, but reproduced to make other flowers. Why? The only reason is because it is a link in the chain of life, and it must live to help other links survive. We could learn a lot from a single bloom. If we can live our lives with respect for all other links, our lives and theirs would be enriched beyond all expectations.
Q: Do you have any new projects on the horizon? Will the Dark Waters series continue? What can you tell us about what you’re working on?
A: After Somewhere Beyond Dark Waters comes In and Around Dark Waters, in which Victoria is changed into five different social levels of cat. Starting as a pampered show cat and progressing through working-class, underclass, criminal class and even spiritual class, she views life from different perspectives. Due to a mix-up with my publisher, this is currently self-published.
Within the Flow of Dark Waters is very special. Amelia can converse with the ocean. She hears it singing to her, guiding her life through school and university. Then the story switches to Caelos — a place we visit in between our lives on Earth. In Caelos we gain talents for our next earthly life. The aim is to make the world a better place. It is written but I am uncertain when it will be released.
Lastly, I am very excited that Struggling Through Dark Waters will see me co-writing with my wife Julie. It tackles mental disorders such as anger and sadness, showing there is a unique way to talk to our bodies directly.
Yes, the Dark Waters series will continue.