Previously published as an author for adults, David Almond became an overnight sensation before Skellig even hit bookshelves in his native England, and later in the United States. Of course, the term "overnight sensation" is ironic since he had been writing for over twenty years to critical acclaim for his adult work before achieving widespread praise and popularity for his first children's book.
Born May 15, 1951, in Newcastle-upon- Tyne to James and Catherine Almond, Almond grew up in the neighboring Felling- on-Tyne. He was surrounded by relatives, including four sisters and one brother, and he spent his early childhood in a large, staunchly Catholic family. Catherine took her new son to visit an uncle's printing press regularly where he found the motion of the pages produced by the machines highly entertaining. He mentions on his Web site, ". . . maybe I began to fall in love with print when I was just a few months old." Almond always knew he wanted to be a writer.
James Almond, a veteran who fought in Burma during World War II, supported his growing family by working as an office manager in a factory. His wife Catherine had been a typist until they started raising a family. Even though the family moved several times while Almond was a child, they stayed in the Felling-on-Tyne area. In addition to his fascination with his uncle's presses, Almond frequented the public library and imagined a future when his name would appear on the spines of books on the shelves. In the meantime, he lost himself in tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, T. Lobsang Rampa, and his sister's Enid Blyton novels. As a teenager, he discovered Ernest Hemingway and sci- ence fiction, and he expanded his reading to the works of Melvin Burgess, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Ted Hughes, Annie Proulx, Cormac McCarthy, Flannery O'Connor, Philip Pullman, Gary Paulsen, J. K. Rowling, and Jacqueline Wilson as an adult. He claims Herman Melville's Moby Dick as a particular favorite. While growing up, he scribbled his own stories in handmade books. He still shows his notebooks with his story ideas to students when he visits schools to show them books do not appear on shelves without hard work involved.
While still a child, Almond's faith was tested by the deaths of his father and an infant sister, Barbara. His feelings of loss are apparent in his character Michael's struggle to deal with his feelings about the potential loss of his newborn sister. In Something about the Author, he says, "at times I was scared of what was happening in [Skellig] . . . Scared that it might all end dreadfully, scared that the darkness would gain the upper hand."
Almond grew up playing football (soccer to Americans). His assigned position was at centre-half, but like many young players, he dreamed of being a midfielder, and he is still an avid fan of the Newcastle team. He remembers his first plastic football as a favorite toy, and would put on a Newcastle jersey in a minute to live his dream of playing for them. Perhaps his dreams are realized in Michael who is considered one of the best players in his school.
After graduating from high school, Almond attained a bachelor of arts with honors in English and American literature. He subsequently worked as a hotel porter, a postman, a brush salesman, and a building laborer. At twenty-eight, he sold his house and moved to a commune for a year to focus on his writing. During the next twenty years, he struggled as a writer, earning critical acclaim for his short stories and thirty-three rejections for his great English novel before turning to teaching to earn a steady paycheck while writing. He thought it would be the best career choice for a writer. He was wrong. Most of his students were eleven to sixteen year olds with special needs. The work fascinated him, but left him too tired to write.
Then he submitted the manuscript for Skellig to Hodder Children's Books and carved out his niche in the field of literature. The first printing sold out in four days, and subsequent awards and high sales volume enabled him to quit teaching and focus on writing full-time. Most days, he works in his study at home on a regular 9:00 A.M. to 5:00 P.M. schedule, writing to reach his goal of 1,000 words per day. Almond does not let his British editor see his latest work until he is satisfied with it, and then he sends his first draft. His American publisher, Delacorte, tends to publish his books exactly as they appeared in England, giving American audiences credit for understanding them as written. British phrases are not changed, unlike the revisions made to J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter books, most notably the title of her first book from Philosopher's Stone to Sorcerer's Stone. Skellig, which Almond says came to him while walking down the street one day, took seven months to write while most of his books take a full year.
Since its publication, Skellig has received the following accolades from critics: The 1998 Carnegie Medal; the 1998 Whitbread Children's Book of the Year Award; the 1999 Booklist Books for Youth Editors' Choice- Top of the List, Fiction; a 2000 Michael L. Printz Honor Book; an American Library Association Notable Children's Book; a Horn Book FanFare; a School Library Journal Best Book; a New York Times Bestseller; a Publishers Weekly Best Book; and a Parents' Choice Silver Honor Book. It has also received praise from authors Joan Aiken, Robert Cormier, Karen Cushman, Sid Fleischman, Richard Peck, Graham Salisbury, Zilpha Keatley Snyder, Philip Pullman, and Melvin Burgess, to name a few.
Currently, Almond spends his spare time walking, watching television, listening to music, traveling when he can, and spending time with his wife, Sara Jane Palmer, a sculptor, and their four-year-old daughter, Freya Grace Almond-Palmer.