Kenneth Steven’s ‘Silverwing’

by | Sep 17, 2021 | News and reports, People

Our friend Kenneth Steven, the poet and writer based in Argyll has just published Silverwing a book for children which deals with the impact of bereavement on a father and his young son.

Here are two reviews of the book by John, the first written from a Christian perspective, which appeared in the Highland News dated 12th September, and a more general review.

Silverwing  from a Christian perspective:

Silverwing is a newly-published book for children by Scottish author Kenneth Steven. It’s the story of a boy and his dad coping with their loss of Anne, mum and wife. Silverwing, a wounded greylag goose Douglas finds and cares for is central to the story, drawing Douglas and his father closer together in their shared grief.

When Douglas heard Anne had cancer, ‘he’d prayed his mum would get better and she hadn’t, no matter how often and how hard he had pleaded.’  Can the boy ever again believe, hope? Will his brittle longing to see Silverwing take to the air and head back to Iceland in the spring be similarly dashed?

This beautifully told, deeply felt story with lovely illustrations by Ishy Walters is set in rural Scotland. Despite a mention of the internet it has a retro feel, possibly reflecting Kenneth’s own 1960s childhood.

Though the book isn’t overtly Christian I know that the author’s Christian mind lies behind its treatment of universal themes, discerning the finger of God who shares our human pain as we journey forward in our grief.

Douglas finds healing through investing himself in another living creature, Silverwing and through his immersion in nature.

He finds healing in the sense that Anne, though ‘gone’ physically, was still present somewhere in different dimension, hearing him as he whispers on her grave. He dreams that somewhere in the forest he meets his mum, fit and well and notices she has wings like a bird, an angel.

He finds healing through talking with his dad about Anne, looking at old photos, living in her childhood home over Christmas, hearing about his parents’ teenage dates and sleeping in the room which had once been hers, finding something of her in himself.

He finds healing in  discovering his true gift. He draws Silverwing with such creative certainty that the image seems there on the blank page from the start simply waiting to be released. He wins a county-wide art competition.

I wonder in what form the Silverwing God gives us appears? The person, the creature, the situation where there is brokenness and vulnerability. As we intervene to bring healing so our own healing progresses. Greys dissolve into colour. We learn again to believe and to hope.

On the bittersweet day when Silverwing spreads his pinions and heads North West Douglas understands fully the pain of his loss and his dad’s loss, and lets his mother go as it were in Silverwing’s slipstream.

Is Silverwing a symbol of Christ, through whose brokenness we are healed? And when autumn comes, and Silverwing returns to greet us, will he bring our loved ones in his wake in a great skein of greylag wings?

Silverwing from a general perspective:

When everything is broken

A review of Silverwing by Kenneth Steven, published by Neem Tree Press £8.99  (9781911107330)

‘Everything was broken, even the goose.’ Douglas finds a greylag goose wounded after its long autumn flight from Iceland. He rescues it,  gently puts it in a basket in the old shed full of things his father never gets round to fixing, his own heart cradling its own brokenness.

Silverwing is a newly-published book for children by Scottish writer and poet Kenneth Steven. It’s the story of a boy and his dad coping with their loss of Anne, mum and wife. Silverwing, the goose Douglas finds and cares for is central to the story, drawing Douglas and his father closer together in their shared grief.

Douglas is able to understand something of his father’s suffering. There is a gentle place for tears: at Christmas Douglas cries ‘for the one present he wanted so desperately and the one present he knew he could never have.’

When Douglas heard Anne had cancer, ‘he’d prayed his mum would get better and she hadn’t, no matter how often and how hard he had pleaded.’  Can the boy ever again believe, hope? Will his brittle longing to see Silverwing take to the air and head back to Iceland in the spring be similarly dashed?

This beautifully told, deeply felt story with lovely illustrations by Ishy Walters is set in rural Scotland. Despite a mention of the internet it has a retro feel, possibly reflecting Kenneth’s own 1960s childhood.  Driving through the countryside in winter ‘it was like it might have been a hundred years before.’  Some of the plot details are a tad improbable, but Silverwing is a perceptive gem of a book: there’s a grace in its pages which nudges its readers forward on their journey with grief.

Douglas finds healing and hope through investing himself in another living creature, Silverwing and through his immersion in nature.  Sledging with his dad on a snow-covered hillside, letting out ‘whoops of joy’; stumbling sleepily out of bed in the middle of the night to marvel at the Northern Lights; sitting beside the car in a winter dawn as ‘all of a sudden, a bright sun burst over the top of the faraway hills and everything in its path was made rosy.’  A A 12-year-old reader comments “Despite all the sadness the main message I took away from the book was how important nature is for all of us.”

He finds healing and hope in the sense that Anne, though ‘gone’ physically, was still present somewhere in different dimension, hearing him as he whispers on her grave. He dreams that somewhere in the forest he meets his mum, fit and well and notices she has wings like a bird, an angel. ‘She was so nearly there, and yet she wasn’t there at all.’

He finds healing and hope through talking with his dad about Anne, looking at old photos, living in her childhood home over Christmas, hearing about his parents’ teenage dates, reading her old notebooks, sleeping in the room which had once been hers.  He finds something of her in himself, especially in his discovery that she, too had as girl nursed a wounded greylag and struggled to persuade her gamekeeper father that the lives of geese were precious.

He finds healing and hope – and respite from the school bullies – in  discovering his artistic giftedness. He draws Silverwing with such creative certainty that the image seems there on the blank page from the start simply waiting to be released.

It is only on the bittersweet spring day when Silverwing spreads healed pinions and heads North West with his migrating comrades that Douglas understands fully the pain of his loss and his dad’s loss, and lets his mother go as it were in Silverwing’s slipstream.

Kenneth has extensive experience of working with children in schools, and hopes to bring this book too into the classroom possibly with Scottish Book Trust funding.

Listen to Kenneth talking about and reading from Silverwing here.