The Many Lives of John Stone
This novel has been a long time coming: I wrote down a fragment of an idea for a book that was "something to do with eternal legacies" nearly twenty years ago. The story is special to me for so many reasons, but the most important is the link between the generations - both in terms of family and history. It's about an encounter between a 350-year-old man and Spark, a seventeen-year-old girl. Actually, The Many Lives of John Stone is two stories in one: there's John Stone's account of his formative, teenage years in the court of Versailles, and then there's the present-day narrative that describes how Spark (Stella Park) enters John Stone's life, and how each has an increasing influence on the other. There's adventure and intrigue, but it's also about coming to terms with what life throws at you, about how the old need the young, and the young need the old, and how we can all make mistakes, find happiness, and learn from each other, no matter what age we are.
Longevity and immortality are themes which are perennially popular, and there are some wonderful examples in many genres (personal favourites are Tolkien's elves, Oscar Wilde's The Picture of Dorian Gray, Douglas Adams's take on the Norse gods in his Dirk Gently novels, and, most recently, Jim Jarmusch's vampire film, Only Lovers Left Alive). But I did not want to write, here, about magic, or vampires, or superpowers, or the paranormal. What I set out to do was to ask a question: what if a man inherited a particular set of genes which predisposed him to age abnormally slowly, so that he would outlive a blue whale or a giant tortoise, though not, perhaps, an oak tree. How would he survive in the world? How would he make his way in society? Could he be happy alone? What would he see as his purpose in life? John Stone becomes seriously ill for the first time at the beginning of the story; he must face the fact that his time on earth is finite and he must make peace with his own mortality. His encounter with Spark will shape the decisions he must make.
Spark is on the cusp of starting her adult life. Like most teenagers, she is full of conflicting emotions and ideas: she is curious, ambitious, uncertain and loving. I found her a compelling character to write about: I loved her courage and emotional intelligence.
What happens to us when we are young inevitably forms us, and John Stone's character is moulded by the years he spent in the magnificent court of Louis XIV, in Versailles. Whether he is influenced for the good or the bad is for the reader to decide. I include images of Versailles to divide the sections in the book, and one of the joys of writing The Many Lives of John Stone was spending time in the company of the remarkable Sun King.
Some novels don't fit neatly into an age bracket and I think - actually I hope - that this is one of them. Like the protagonists of The Many Lives of John Stone, I'd be happy if this book's readership could span the generations!
For a recording of me reading an excerpt describing Spark's first sight of John Stone, click the play button below:
For an excerpt from the opening of John Stone's Versailles journals, click the play button below:
M.L. Stedman, author of The Light Between Oceans: "I loved this book. The world it conjures up is so vividly imagined, and John Stone, the mysterious man at its heart, so fascinating and compelling. It's a licence to imagine, and an invitation to consider deeply what we mean by "lifetime." Original, thought-provoking and moving, it's a classic in the mould of LOST HORIZON."
Publishers Weekly, Starred Review: "Delicately balancing history, estrangement, reconciliation, and hope, the story powerfully depicts the fierce, abiding love of family: natural, adopted, and found."
Booklist, Starred Review: "Exceptionally well orchestrated and a simply magnificent story."
School Library Journal: "Conjuring prose; a steady, engrossing pace; believable conflict relating to both families' complexities; and the dangers technology poses to an individual's privacy make this an engrossing title for teens... A must-purchase for libraries with discerning teen readers preferring substance to silliness."
Kirkus Reviews: "An absorbing portrait of the court of Versailles. ...Good historical fiction with a paranormal twist."
Shelf Awareness, Starred Review: "...shifts seamlessly between vividly descriptive settings... Richly developed characters... ingeniously paralleled dilemmas and an elegantly formal style lend the novel a timeless quality. Passion, intrigue and uncertain loyalties span the centuries in this slow-burning pageturner that's breathtaking in scope and thought-provoking to the end."
School Library Connection, Highly Recommended: "...well-told and suspenseful, with more than one twist to rivet readers."