As a boy growing up in Pamlico County, children’s author John Claude Bemis spent his days exploring old tobacco barns, swimming in the river, learning to play violin and guitar and, of course, poring over his favorite books. The adventuresome tales informed his passion for writing fantastical stories – he pulls many ideas from the myths, legends, fairy tales and folklore he grew up reading and builds upon them. Such is the case with his latest book, “The Wooden Prince,” a re-imagining of the Pinocchio story.
“Pinocchio fascinates me because he’s a wooden boy who comes to life,” John says. “The world around him is so new, exciting and often quite confusing. Everything ignites him with such curiosity and wonder. I love this perspective and often remember feeling that way as a young person.”
Over many trips to Italy, John grew interested in the history of Venice and the practice of alchemy. He came across the legendary figure of Prester John, who many medieval Europeans believed existed beyond the known world. “Fake letters from him circulated – the original viral sensation!” John says. “And the desire to locate Prester John helped fuel the Age of Exploration.” At first his travels were only research for an imaginary world with no particular story, but then John began to see connections to the Pinocchio tale, which sparked the idea for the book. Perfect for readers ages 8 and older – “or anyone who has ever been a kid,” John says. You can find the “The Wooden Prince” at The Regulator Bookshop, Purple Crow Books in Hillsborough or Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill.
John moved to the writers’ mecca that is Hillsborough in the late ’90s, a few years after graduating from UNC. He does most of his writing at home, which he shares with his wife, Amy Gorely, and their daughter, Rose Gorely-Bemis, 8. He and his family frequent Purple Crow Books, Cup-A-Joe coffee shop, Matthew’s Chocolates and make the rounds at all the restaurants in town. “Why would I ever need to leave?” he says.