Arlo Lightstorm

And The Magical Labyrinth

Twenty years ago (Oh God, I’m so old!), I wrote a play for the drama club I ran at Streatham Wells primary school (ah, happy days!), based on ancient Greek myths, and that play was called Labyrinth. Because I worked at a school that truly valued drama (yes, children, such places did exist) and had a wonderfully enthusiastic bunch of young performers to work with – not forgetting an incredibly helpful, talented bunch of staff to assist with things like lighting, props and scenery – the play was a big success. A shorter version of it was performed at the Young Vic Schools Theatre Festival (wow! The Young Vic was so supportive of drama in schools, what an experience that was!) in the same year, 2000. The play (in both of its versions) is still available as a script package for schools to perform, should they wish to do so.

Many years later, I wrote a novel based on stories I used to invent for my daughter when she was little. After I had finished it, my wife suggested I write something for my son. And so I did. It took a while to figure out exactly what I wanted to write for him, but since he has a strong interest in history and also enjoys fantasy stories like Percy Jackson, I thought I would revisit this old play of mine and add my little boy into the mix.

The original play told the stories of: of Asterius and Minos (the birth of the Minotaur); Daedalus and Icarus (the design of the labyrinth); Theseus and the Minotaur; and Ariadne and Aegeus; ending with the birth of democracy (all down to Theseus, according to some myths). It was written in a rhythmical style, mimicking the rhythms of ancient Greek plays (drama evolved from song in Greece, and rhythm was an essential part of it). I thought it would be a bit much for modern readers to have a whole novel written in rhythmical (sometimes rhyming) prose, so I needed a modern element. My son was that element.

I set his tenth birthday (this summer) as a target date to get it finished and just about made it with a week to spare. I called the main character Arlo Lightstorm because my son’s name is Arlo and ‘Lightstorm’ sounded cool. The two most important aspects of the story came to me on a family holiday in Portsmouth (exotic, I know) a couple of years ago. One was to link the idea of a bull (the Minotaur is a half-man, half-bull monster) with the concept of a bully, and to make Arlo the victim. I work with young people who have been bullied so badly they have stopped going to school altogether, and the trauma suffered by many adolescents as a result of traumatic bullying episodes is one of the untold scandals of modern education, in my view.

The other important aspect was to include a powerful female character. It is all too easy to leave girls out of a boys’ action adventure story, or reduce them to helpless individuals who needed rescuing, and that was the last thing I wanted. In my original script, I made sure Ariadne spelt out (and sought revenge for) the shameful way she was treated by Theseus, and I wanted somebody with a bit of oomph to her nature in my book too. It was in a supermarket car park in exotic Portsmouth that I came up with the character of Violet Bamboozle, and for me she was the key that unlocked the best bits of the book.

Anyway, the chance has now come for you to judge for yourself whether Arlo Lightstorm and the Magical Labyrinth is truly a-maze-ing (sorry, couldn’t help it) or whether I’ve lost the plot altogether. You can download the book to your kindle for just £2 or, if you have £7.50 knocking about anywhere, you can shell out for the paperback.

Happy Birthday, Arlo. Let your story be told.