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Young Achievers: Teen reaches out through his novels

The 2011 death of “Redwall” series author Brian Jacques was a turning point for Matthew Newman: Its profound impact confirmed his desire to be an author.

Matthew, a Hough High senior, was introduced to Jacques’ work when he began reading the “Redwall” fantasy novels in the fifth grade. “I fell in love with it. Brian Jacques is my hero.”

At that time, Matthew was having a hard time making friends, and the books were a comfort. Even after he developed a group of friends, Matthew always appreciated how the stories got him through a tough time, and they became a big influence in his own writing.

As a freshman in high school, he was surprised how upset he was to hear of the author’s death. “I burst into tears,” Matthew recalls. At that point, he had already published his first novel, and Jacques’ death made him think about his future.

“If this man I’d never met had this impact on me – by writing words on a page – imagine the impact I could have if I could do that and make the world a better place. My life would be completely fulfilled.”

And so Matthew, now 18, has a second novel under his belt and is enthusiastic about a lifetime of writing.

Enthusiastic is an apt word for the young author. Without much prompting, he eagerly talks about writing and his passion for it, and about his desire to learn and improve.

“I’ve got this kid who is so exuberant, but not in a kind of, ‘Oh, I know this,’ way,” said Eric Whiteside, who taught him creative writing at Hough and now teaches English at Myers Park High. “He’s like, ‘Teach me, I want to learn to be a better writer.’ ”

Matthew practices his craft daily, at least for an hour. “I have a need to write every day as I have a need to breathe every second,” he said. “I can’t imagine life without it.”

That wasn’t always the case. Matthew loved to read, but he hadn’t considered writing a book until the fifth grade, per his dad’s suggestion.

He came up with an idea for a five-part fantasy series and finished the first book, “The Castle in the Wishing Well,” in the eighth grade. “It’s very ‘Lord of the Rings’-esque,” he said.

Matthew has decided he wants to begin his career from a business standpoint and get into the administrative side of the publishing field, then work on publishing his own books.

“I don’t plan on being the stereotypical bohemian,” he said of his writing career.

Matthew said he’s using his experience with self-publishing – which involved illustrators, editors and graphic and internal designers – to learn how the industry works. He’s also a proponent of self-publishing, he said. He believes it’s the future of publishing and likes it because authors get to keep the rights to their content.

He shuddered at the thought of giving someone else control of his writing. “Those stories are who I am. It would be like giving my child to someone.”

Writing fantasy novels for young people isn’t the only facet of Matthew’s life. He’s played alto saxophone for nine years and was first chair in the all-district band this year. Playing the sax, he said, gives him an outlet to express himself that writing sometimes can’t fulfill. He loves jazz, classical and improvising along with CDs.

He’s vice president of his school’s DECA chapter and has been a social media consultant for a local hot dog business. Matthew’s also on Hough’s varsity tennis team, and he called his experience at Governor’s School for English last summer a life-changing event.

Participating in KIPP Charlotte’s career day for eighth-graders at the writing and journalism table also moved him. (KIPP Charlotte is a public school for grades five-eight, targeting underserved communities.) “It was really humbling,” he said. “I was able to learn a lot.” Matthew enjoyed speaking with students, and he said he hoped he inspired them to reach for their dreams just as he began to do at their age.

Profits from writing, Matthew said, aren’t his main objective. “I want my writing to be about reaching out to people and helping other people.”

His guidance counselor, Alison Graves, said she immediately knew Matthew was a standout when she first met him. “His enthusiasm for life is just contagious,” she said.

“This young man is going places.”