Dave Matthews says daughters inspired his novel 'If We Were Giants', he wanted it to bring them hope
'If We Were Giants' is the debut novel from musician, environmentalist, and humanitarian Dave Matthews. The novel is set in a fantasy world full of remarkable natural environments, with a young 14-year-old protagonist named Kirra who has to fight against dangerous forces to protect the family she loves.
The novel begins with Kirra living in a peaceful community tucked away within a dormant volcano and Kirra and her father are the only two ever allowed to venture beyond the walls of the community - storytellers must explore, after all. And their journey takes them from one village to the next, where they spread terrifying tales that keeps people from discovering their idyllic little volcano town. When she hears rumors of a group called the 'Takers', Kirra ventures out on her own and inadvertently leads them right back to her doorstep and they destroy everything she holds dear.
Heartbroken, devastated and now all alone, Kirra is found by a boy named Luwan and adopted by his family, who live high up in trees within a dense forest. Kirra, once curious and outgoing, retreats into the trees, wishing to never leave again. Luwan, however, is an adventurer. And just like Kirra, he runs into the Takers. And once again, Kirra must summon the courage to face her demons - both external and within - in order to save her new family.
'If We Were Giants' is a stunning novel of community, loss, and living in harmony with nature, all told through the journey of one young girl trying to write her own story. And author Matthews says the inspiration for this story came from his own daughters.
Matthews initially conceived the story when his twin daughters were six years old. He was recording music out in New Orleans and the tale of Kirra began to form in his mind. And as his daughters played in trees he found himself enamored with nature and how we interact with it, leading him to craft a story around the idea. And while Matthews's focus was on nature and not on female empowerment, his story somehow turned out to be exactly that.
For Matthews, the story began as a way for him to share some hope in a complicated and often bleak world. Speaking of how this story turned into one depicting the strength a young girl has to change the world, he said, “I think maybe because my daughters inspire me.” They are 18 now, but Matthews makes sure to have conversations with them about nature, the environment, and current events, like the war in Syria. “They do get heartbroken," says Matthews. "Because it's their world and they're like, ‘What are we inheriting?’ I want them to realize that even if the door is closing, there is possibility to be kind and strong and intelligent because that's the only option."
Given that young girls, including teens Autumn Peltier (the Chief Water Commissioner for the Anishinabek Nation) and Greta Thunberg are at the forefront of environmental activism all over the world, this novel can't have come at a better time.
But for Matthews, who is perfectly at home creating music or playing for a crowd, writing a novel was new territory and he wasn't entirely sure he could handle putting his thoughts down for a book. So he teamed up with Clete Barrett Smith, an award-winning author of novels for children and young adults who says of the collaboration, "It was great fun working with Dave and I'm excited to share this story with you!"
Smith is also no stranger to the influence of nature on young minds. "I grew up in a place with a lot of forests and not very many houses, so my friends and I spent pretty much all day in the woods," he says. "We built forts, made slingshot shooting galleries and went dirt-sledding...I thought the forest was the coolest place in the world, and that is where my imagination was born...the woods seemed like a place where anything could happen. I started to invent stories where wild, crazy, fantastic things were happening in the forest and only I knew about them. I usually never wrote them down, though; I just sort of made a game out of walking through the woods and thinking up fun stories." At 12, his uncle Mike encouraged him to write, lest he find himself at thirty still saying he wasn't ready. And at thirty, Smith realized he was. "I remembered my conversation with Uncle Mike. I figured that if I wanted to hold on to the dream of being an author of published books...I better actually, you know, write a book or something. So I gave myself a year and wrote a story about - you guessed it - a bunch of crazy stuff happening in the woods that only a 12-year-old boy knew about."
"I’m a lot older than that kid who fell in love with the forest and with books, but the imagination has mostly remained. I still take a walk in the woods almost every day and think about stories. And it still seems like anything can happen out there," he adds.
Smith's experience of the magic within forests combined with Matthews' vision of creating a tale about nature that revolves around a young albeit reluctant heroine seems like the perfect match.
'If We Were Giants' was published by Disney-Hyperion and is currently in bookstores.