The Boy in The Post- Holly Rivers featuring Guest Post from Holly Rivers

The Boy in the Post by Holly Rivers

I am so excited to be hosting todays blog tour stop celebrating the wonderful writing of Holly Rivers and The Boy in The Post her second book after her debut the gorgeously spooky Demelza and the Spirit Detectors has been long awaited, and I have to tell you, it has certainly been worth the wait. And I’m lucky enough to be sharing with you Holly’s thoughts (click to jump) on how Animail came about through inspirational animals who have amazing skills or contribute to their ecosystem in awesome ways.

Written amidst the world events of the last few years, Holly allowed the Shalloo siblings story be her own escape and adventure as we were confined to our homes in lockdown, but the story she discovered there whilst offering solace and dreams to children who may struggle to remember life BC (Before Covid😉) The Boy in the Post still holds a timeless value for the world opening up.

Low Tech Low Fantasy Nostalgic World Building; Feminism and Aspiration; Sonder; Siblings

The Boy in the Post by Holly Rivers
Cover by Caroline Bonne-Müller

The Shalloo siblings face a long, dreary boring summer holidays in Little Penhallow. Their mother, having taken over the family business is perpetually busy, and has little time for her three children Orinthia, Séafra and Taber, which the eldest feel quite sharply.

Determined to do something with their summer Orinthia answers an advert in the village asking for children for summer work hinting at animals and envelopes, and most importantly something to do. Upon arrival at Tupenny Mill, the children find a menagerie of adopted children and animals dedicated to the cause of creating an animal based mail system under the watchful, if slightly messy hand of Grandy Brock.

But when Taber’s beloved hand trained pelican Geronimo goes missing on her maiden flight to New York, he cannot stand it and posts himself in a shipping crate to America to track her down leading his older brother and sister to swiftly follow, unknowingly causing a chain of events that leads the children to adventure on trains, the high seas and skies.

‘Thousands of panes of light-green glass which glimmered emerald-like, in the afternoon sunshine. Through their verdant lustre she could see that the interior was just as wondrous, with luscious palms jutting from pots, leafy tendrils crewing along walls and vines dangling from the ceilings like long lines coloured fingers.’ 

The Shalloo children approach the Animail Menagerie for the first time

The Boy In The Post is perfect for those who wanted more like the ‘not quite ours but almost can touch’ world of Damaris Young’s The Creature Keeper,  The Boy in the Post captures the magic of animals and adventure with a Low tech low fantasy not quite steampunk world with a delightful cameo for the observant from her first novel. 

One that feels almost like our own but remarkably different with a warmth and nostalgia, a sort of halcyon days before the distractions of the digital world feel about Holly’s writing. However she doesn’t deceive the reader that without these things everything is perfect, Holly is unflinching to show this world’s dark side with a neglectful working mother, illiterate and bullied child sailors and cold hearted orphanage operators. 

Holly’s writing has a poetry about it, she has an uncanny way of capturing atmosphere and setting with quirky yet ‘perfect’ passages of description that conjure worlds of imagination and place without rambling for pages. 

Holly invites us into her world with full sensory immersion throughout whether the salty gritty sting of the Atlantic Ocean, the creamy rich umami of the chowder,  or the ‘green’ and dung scent of the menagerie.

 One cannot discover new oceans unless one has the courage to lose sight of the shore

the real André Gide’s words inspire the fictional Ophelia Pearcart who in turn inspires our heroine Orinthia.

There is a quiet yet strong feminist streak throughout exploring the many facets of modern femininity and the prospects and opportunities to girls- Orinthia has an awakening of the self across the novel as we see her play mother to her brothers as well as sister, friend to the Brock children with joy, love and satisfaction in these roles.

Yet she knows she wants much more than simply these things that anchor her to Little Penhallow, she has her roots, but still needs to spread her branches and reach into the sky to find just how high she can grow. 

By fulfilling a ‘traditional’ feminine duty of rescuing her younger brother, she discovers the untraditional in other females from her mother’s ambitious neglect, to another woman indulging in trickery to others lacking empathy and then to more positive and inspiring women like Mrs Gastaldini, Betty and especially the unconventional Faris.

‘But where will your husband sleep?’asked Séafra.

“Husband?’ said Orinthia with disdain turning to face her brother ‘Famous Explorers don’t need husbands … No, the only companions I want are a compass and a map.’

By exploring the range of femininity Orinthia is able to unpack what she wants for herself, there is no shame or pause when her brother asks ‘but where will your husband sleep’ simply a direct assuredness that there is something else for her, and a little rumble of that when she reflects on how Faris’ life choices, and indeed swagger doing so shatter her conceptions of the world. 

Orinthia discovers she really does have the strength to know that we are capable if we just have ‘the courage to lose sight of the shore’ and what a journey it is with her. 

Another quietly important part of the novel is the interplay of sonder, Siblings and companionship. 

Across the novel Orinthia realises that there is a complex world out there and equally whilst some people may fit tropes and expectations, equally many do not whether it be Grundy’s Tupenny Mill being the place of deep happiness, contentment and family, to others not being so sweet as the stereotypes they present, to those who seem common and rough having deeper empathy and potential, just untapped due to their circumstances. Or indeed, that their mother is a lost cause. 

The awakening to the flaws of our family and learning to accept their rough edges as much as cuddly bits if they are willing to be empathetic to our own in exchange is a difficult stage that many preadolescent children approach, that our parents are flawed real people who mess up just like children do, and some can be even more childish or petty than their offspring. But it is a fundamental part of growing up, to recognise that people aren’t perfect, but if they endeavour to be kind, then it is worth it, and Holly really brings that home throughout the novel, as a dawning realisation happens across the Shalloo family. 

And its not just about parents and children, Holly does something very special with siblings too. Many novels throw two strangers, or newly acquainted or perhaps know to nod at each other across the playground or village then throw them together for the adventure to approach the complexities of compromise and collaboration, forging friendship, discovering commonality in differing lives and learning to navigate people as much as space and distance. 

But Holly flips that narrative and puts siblings who know each other inside out, know each other’s weak points and have a shared history together, this in itself is not unique but there is a certain magic in those books that rebuild the cracking bonds in preadolescent sibling relationships. 

Séafra and Orinthia have lost the magic dust of childhood, Séafra especially at 11 is world weary and anxious, mostly through the grieving the ‘safe anchor’ that was lost when their mother had to take the reins of the family business, that Tabor hasn’t quite realised yet, but elder siblings bitterly await the penny to drop.

And yet it is Tabor’s childlike wonder and observant nature that holds the key to the adventure that will help both Séafra and Orinthia come to a new place with themselves and each other and manifest the change needed in their lives. 

Anyway enough fangirling, lets see what Holly herself has to say about the animals in our world that are just as inspiring as those in the world of The Boy in The Post.

The extraordinary animals of The Boy in the Post By Holly Rivers

My latest book, The Boy in The Post, sees three plucky siblings getting a summer job in a rather unusual post office! The Mailbox Menagerie — as dubbed by its owner Grandy Brock— is a post office staffed entirely by animals and birds! There are homing pelican who get paid in sardines; a fruit bat who will only work the night shift; a pair of Sphynx cats in charge of licking stamps; an octopus who can deliver 8 parcels at a time; mail-franking baboons; and snakes who cane spell out postcodes with their bodies. Here’s are some of the critters as depicted by the book’s illustrator extraordinaire,  Caroline Bonne Muller.  

A the Boy in the Post Holly Rivers
Artwork by Caroline Bonnie-Müller for The Boy In The Post

As someone who loves all things feathered and furry, delving into the depths of the animal kingdom in the name of research was a complete joy and during my drafting process I came across some truly remarkable creatures. And I’m always learning — during a World Book Day event I did at Campsbourne Primary School last week, I became aware of even more animals who help us in our everyday lives. The children’s knowledge of the natural world was really remarkable.  Who says that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks eh?

Below are a selection of my favourite beasties, who make our world better in more ways than one!

Metal- Detecting Rats

Metal rat!
(Photo credit: The New York Times)

I have to admit, ever since I witnessed a rather grubby-looking rat scampering across my front garden, I’ve not been too keen on these long-tailed rodents.

But because of their keen sense of smell, they’ve actually been found to be incredibly good landmine detectors! More efficient than metal detectors, they are trained to sniff out landmines, allowing previously dangerous land to once again be utilised.

World War Messenger Pigeons 

Messenger pigeons in war
(Photo credit: Historyxtra)

The pigeon-obsessed bag ladies of Mary Poppins and Home Alone 2 might have been the stuff of our childhood nightmares, but these plump-breasted birds have long been championed .

Due to their homing ability and speed they were used as military messengers during the first and second world wars. The job was extremely dangerous and many perished during their missions, but 32 were awarded the Dickinson Medal for their bravery! 

Recycling  Octopuses

Octopus
(Credit: treehugger.com)

Move over Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen — octopuses are the kings and queens of upcycling!

Many have been observed making homes and shelters out of discarded debris and trash. So a jam jar that has unfortunately found its way into the sea, might actually get a new lease of life as a bungalow for one of our eight-legged friends! I wonder what shade of Farrow & Ball cephalopod’s prefer though?

The true magic of Narwhals

Narwhal
(Photo credit: Euclid public library)

Dubbed ‘unicorns of the sea’ these creatures are actually as magical as they look!

From studying these beautiful beasts, Greenlandic scientists have been able to discover how melting sea ice, increase in mercury, and climate change have  affected the species. Each year, narwhal tusks grow a new layer, and from their growth scientists get information about where and what the whales have eaten, and also about their habitat. All of a sudden hippogriffs seem very pedestrian indeed….

Fig Wasps — heroes of the tropical ecosystem

Fig wasps
(Photo credit: The Royal Botanic Society) 

I love figs — with yoghurt, with goat’s cheese, with honey….did I mention with goat’s cheese?

But did you know that every single one of the 750+ species of fig plant has its own fig wasp? In order to pollinate the plant, a female wasp enters an unripe fig and lays her eggs. The newborn females then take flight in search of another fig tree in which to lay their respective eggs, and the whole process starts anew.

Because figs have this relationship with their wasps, they produce figs all year round, and this means that they feed a huge number of animals. So, if figs disappeared from the ecosystem, so would lots of other creatures. 

Thank you so much Holly!! What a fascinating and richly diverse world we are lucky to still have.

I hope you take the time to read The Boy In The Post, it is a marvellous adventure full of wit, heart and finding oneself, even if that involves posting yourself to America!

Don’t forget to check out the other stops on the tour!

The Boy In The Post by Holly Rivers is published by Chicken House.

thank you so much for my copy 💜

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