Nick Lake, author of the Printz Award winnerIn Darkness, has a new book coming out in November:Hostage Three. Check out an exclusive excerpt and an introduction to the seafaring adventure from Lake himself.
I am not the
right person to introduce this book.
See, I wish
I could say what gave me the idea for Hostage
Three. The truth is that almost the entire story came to me one night in a
dream--something which had never happened to me before, and has never recurred
since. (Dreams tend to be good on weird detail, and exceedingly bad on plot.)
But there it was, this whole narrative about a rich, angry, damaged girl going
on a round-the-world yacht trip with her father and stepmother, and being taken
hostage by Somali pirates.
naturally, I woke up my long-suffering wife and made her listen while I told
her the story, lest I forget any of it. And, more or less, that story remained
the same in the book. A story about a girl and her family being held in
terrifying circumstances by men with guns... before slowly coming to sympathize,
at least a little, with the very people holding them, and even finding a way to
mend their broken relationship. A story about a girl who, ultimately, does more
than sympathize--who falls in love, or thinks she falls in love, with the youngest
of the pirates.
And a story
about how, with British Navy vessels looming on the horizon, all of this goes
very, very wrong.
though. When a story comes to you in a dream, it makes you think about how much
of the storytelling process is conscious, and how much isn’t. How much of the
warp and weft of the book arises naturally from the shape of the narrative
beneath it, and how much of it is woven into the idea from the beginning.
And I guess
what has been interesting to me is seeing how the final product ends up being a
mixture of design and accident, how much of the story I didn’t invent but only discovered. I never did
have any control over the plot--my subconscious made it up. (This is my excuse
when people say the ending made them cry.) That said, there were things I knew
I wanted to do: I knew I wanted an ambiguous sort of romance where the
characters getting together was not the essential thing, where Amy wasn’t
defined or validated by Farouz’s interest in her. Where in fact she would finally
find the ability to move on and let go of her past not through being with him, but through her own
inner strength and powers of imagination.
And yet on
the other hand, I had no idea that the book would end up being so fundamentally
shot through with economics, globalization, and power. In my dream, I knew that
Amy’s father was rich. I didn’t know that he’d end up being a banker, or that
the book would be set in 2008--and I didn’t know till half way through, when
Amy discovered it in fact, that he had actually lost his job and that this was
what had prompted his crazy impulse of buying the yacht. I didn’t know how
fascinated I would become by the pirate economy, by its ability to weaponize the
techniques and tech of western business and turn them against western business.
know how much the book would end up being about money. And yet it’s everywhere
in the story: in the fines the pirates impose on their own members, to stop
them molesting Amy and thus ruining their leverage; in the income Amy’s father
has lost and that the pirates are trying to steal; in the insane numbers of the
ransom negotiation; in the cash Farouz owes in order to free his brother; in
the simple and yet huge way that it is the pursuit and protection of money that
motivates the entire action of the plot. Money flashes and flows through it all
In fact, if
anything, money is the overriding
theme of the entire book and I had literally no idea that it would be, or
intention to make it so. Which, to bring this full circle, means that while I
wish I could tell you what gave me the idea for this book, if the conception
and writing of it demonstrates anything, it’s that writers have virtually no
control over their stories, no particular say over the architecture of their novels
beyond the most obvious struts and supports of the plot--which is nothing but a
sequence of events.
the story, and then I didn’t even notice what arguably the biggest theme of it
was until I finished it.
listen to me. I am very definitely not the right person to introduce this book.
But I did enjoy discovering it, and I hope you will too.
The excerpt There was a
noise, the kind of noise you can’t describe, but that you know is a person
moving. I sat up a bit and turned. Then a shadow to the right peeled away from
the darkness and came towards me.
was the young one, the English speaker, Farouz. He stood a little way away from
me. I could see the silhouette of his gun. He lit a cigarette, and the cherry
sparked, a little star on the yacht, though not as bright as the ones above.
Smoke drifted up, and his cheek curved just so. My mind took a snapshot – the
way minds sometimes do – that I can call back and picture even now: the precise
angle of his head, the curlicues of smoke.
like the stars?” he said. His voice was soft.
couldn’t have known that this was a difficult question. Actually, I was feeling
pretty choked up about Mom and really didn’t want to speak to him. I had an
urge to get up and leave, but – my manners kicking in – I was worried that
would be rude. I was aware, at the same time, of the preposterousness of this.
Of worrying about offending a pirate, someone who was holding me hostage,
basically threatening to kill me if he didn’t get money. Also, I was scared
that if I didn’t speak to him, he might hurt me. So . . .
wasn’t looking at the stars. I was just sitting,” I said.
then,” he told me. He pointed up.
was a tiger, trapped by spears on all sides. I looked down, mumbled:
sorry, I . . .”
smiled at me.
won’t hurt you,” he said. “Please, look. They are beautiful.”
could I do?
me, glittering, were billions of stars. I had never seen anything like it in my
whole entire life; it must have been the lack of light pollution, I suppose.
Part of me wanted to go back inside, to leave the young pirate there with no
explanation at all, to hide from the pain that was lighting into flame inside me; and
part of me couldn’t move a muscle, was locked there, on the sunlounger,
were stars I had never even imagined existed – in between the stars that I was
used to, the ones I used to look at with Mom, sitting in our back garden, a
blanket wrapped around us. I could see the Milky Way, not like a pale splash on
the sky, but like I’d seen it in a slide show of space photography: a great
white cloud, flecked with blue, billowing with fire, stretching across the
heavens. All around it, in the blackness, sparkled the universe.
taught me all the stars. So from the deck of the Daisy May, sitting on
that sunlounger, I could see Ursa Major, ofcourse – you see it all year
in the northern hemisphere, whichjust about still included us. But also
Aquarius, Capricorn,Pisces – the autumn constellations.
a moment, I couldn’t speak. I was afraid the words would break apart in my
mouth, like a Communion wafer, and tell him from the crumbling of my voice what
I was feeling.
are more here than where I live,” I said finally.
he replied. “There is the same number. But you see fewer at home because of the
English was very precise, like he was reading from a book. Maybe it wasn’t
exactly like I’m saying it, maybe he wasn’t so grammatical and he sometimes had
to search for a word, but I’m not going to apologise for that. If I said his
words like he sounded them, it would make it seem like he was simple, someone
you could feel condescending about. But he wasn’t, and you can’t. He was smart
– much smarter than me.
I know that,” I said, a little bit annoyed. “I’m not an idiot,” I added. Then I
felt like an idiot for saying something so childish. I saw him shrug. He
took a drag on his cigarette.
have heard,” he said after a moment, “that sailors used to navigate by reading
the stars. I wonder how they did it.”
don’t know? But you’re a sailor.”
didn’t really understand him.
have boats,” I said. “You’re on a boat now.”
are on a boat. Do you know how to sail it?”
no, but –“
I went to school in Mogadishu and in Puntland. To high school, you understand.
I read books. I was going to be a professor, like my father. I don’t know about
why did you become a pirate?”
stepped a little closer to me, and I could see his features now, in the gloom.
you joking?” he said. “I think you are joking.”
is no school any more. There are no professors. There is no father. The rebels
came and took most of it away. Then the Muslim fundamentalists took the rest.
course I am, but not like them. People like that . . . Do you remember 9/11?
When those buildings were destroyed in New York?”