Said, S.F. 1967-

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SAID, S.F. 1967-

PERSONAL:

Born May, 1967, in Beirut, Lebanon. Education: Cambridge University, Ph.D.

ADDRESSES:

Home—London, England. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER:

Journalist and writer. Former speechwriter for Crown Prince of Jordan; Daily Telegraph, London, England, journalist. Whitbread Children's Book Award, judge. Edinburgh Film Festival, programming consultant.

AWARDS, HONORS:

Nestlé Smarties Gold Book Prize, 2003, and Gateshead Children's Book Award, 2004, both for Varjak Paw; West Sussex Children's Book Award, 2005, for The Outlaw Varjak Paw.

WRITINGS:

Varjak Paw, illustrated by David McKean, Random House/David Fickling Books (New York, NY), 2003.

The Outlaw Varjak Paw, illustrated by David McKean, Random House/David Fickling Books (Oxford, England), 2005, Random House/David Fickling Books (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

Journalist S.F. Said is the author of Varjak Paw and its sequel, The Outlaw Varjak Paw, a pair of illustrated novels featuring a Mesopotamian Blue cat with martial arts skills. Born in Beirut, Lebanon, Said moved with his family to London, England, when he was two years old. Growing up with an interest in reading and writing, he cites writers Richard Adams, Ursula Le Guin, and Rudyard Kipling as creative influences.

Said took a unique career path to becoming a novelist. He spent six years working as a speechwriter for the Crown Prince of Jordan, then attended Cambridge University, earning a Ph.D. in criminology. More recently, as a journalist for the London Daily Telegraph, Said interviewed several authors and illustrators, among them Philip Pullman and Quentin Blake.

Said's debut title, Varjak Paw, appeared in 2003. Varjak is the youngest member of the aristocratic Paw family, whose members live a pampered, privileged life in the house of an elderly contessa. Scorned by his siblings because his green eyes are not the mark of a true Mesopotamian Blue, Varjak longs for the grand, exciting life lived by his ancestor Jalal, a fierce hunter who traveled the world. When the contessa dies and her home is taken over by a mysterious gentleman and his two sinister black felines, Varjak escapes to the city. To survive on the dangerous streets, he makes friends with a pair of tough alley cats. One night Varjak has a dream about Jalal in which he is taught the Seven Skills of "The Way," a feline martial arts discipline that will enable the young cat to rescue his family. "Varjak is a spirited adventurer who evolves gradually and believably into a courageous protagonist," observed Booklist contributor Ed Sullivan.

Varjak Paw went through seventeen drafts and was rejected by forty publishers before finding a home. "Those seventeen drafts were about making the story-telling totally addictive, trying to give it the depth of a timeless, classic myth," Said commented on the Random House Web site. "For me, this is a book about being small in a big world, but learning that you're more than you think you are."

Several reviewers praised the complex interplay between Said's text and Dave McKean's artwork in Varjak Paw. The heroic feline's "world has a dreamlike quality, both concretely familiar and creepily offkilter, that's effectively reinforced by vivid ink sketches," noted a critic in Kirkus Reviews. Anita L. Burkam, writing in Horn Book, stated that McKean's "frequent black-ink illustrations of stylized, angular cats (and tangerine images behind the text in the dream sequences) give the book the edgy feel of a graphic novel."

The Outlaw Varjak Paw finds Varjak roaming the city streets with his feline companions Holly and Tam and his canine friend Cludge. When Varjak learns that the evil Sally Bones and her warrior cats are terrorizing the free cats of the city, he takes action against the leader, only to find that Sally's powers with the Seven Skills are greater than his own. The Outlaw Varjak Paw received strong reviews. "Said's spare, taut writing effectively propels an increasingly grim plot, and makes Varjak's growing maturity and leadership appear both natural and admirable," observed a Kirkus Reviews critic. In the words of School Library Journal contributor Tasha Secker, "the unique combination of animal tale and martial arts is a winning one."

Asked if he had any advice for young writer, Said told an interviewer for CBBC Newsround online: "Try to imagine the story that you would most love to read, if you could have any story at all. Then sit down and write it yourself. Make it as good as it can possibly be, even if that means working and working and working. Don't ever give up, and never let anyone tell you that you can't do it—because if I can get there, anyone can!"

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Booklist, June 1, 2003, Ed Sullivan, review of Varjak Paw, p. 1779; April 1, 2006, Ed Sullivan, review of The Outlaw Varjak Paw, p. 41.

Horn Book, July-August, 2003, Anita L. Burkam, review of Varjak Paw, p. 467.

Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2003, review of Varjak Paw, p. 683; December 15, 2005, review of The Outlaw Varjak Paw, p. 1327.

Kliatt, September, 2004, Mary Purucker, review of Varjak Paw (audiobook review), p. 65.

School Library Journal, December, 2004, Tina Hudak, review of Varjak Paw (audiobook review), p. 76; February, 2006, Tasha Secker, review of The Outlaw Varjak Paw, p. 136.

New York Times Book Review, May 18, 2003, James Gorman, review of Varjak Paw, p. 30.

ONLINE

CBBC Newsround,http://news.bbc.co.uk/ (November 14, 2005), interview with Said.

Random House Web site,http://www.randomhouse.com/ (October 20, 2006), "S.F. Said."

Varjak Paw Web site,http://www.varjakpaw.com (October 20, 2006).*