Tag Archives: Andy Mulligan

Doing Doune

We went via Butcher’s Corner. This was made famous in the whole Bookwitch family when the Resident IT Consultant happened to complain about Daughter having taken a turn on ‘practically’ two wheels, back when he accompanied her on driving practice.

View from the Smiddy

Last week when Daughter was finally legally able to take her ancient mother to Butcher’s Corner – which is actually a farmshop and tearoom – we didn’t do the two-wheel thing. Instead we stopped for elevenses. It was nice being out like this, all on our own. You know, without Daddy, our regular and much appreciated family chauffeur.

Properly fed, we continued to the Antique’s place in Doune, where we could look at ‘everything’ without the Resident IT Consultant needing to ‘go for a walk.’

Hamish McHaggis

I was pleased to discover Linda Strachan lurking on a shelf, by which I mean her Hamish McHaggis was for sale, alongside much lovely bric-a-brac.

Chaos Walking

Across the aisle Daughter found a set of tied up Chaos Walking books. And as we waved at them in a friendly way, we discovered a similarly tied up trilogy of Ribblestrop close by.

Ribblestrop

This is what we like, finding friends everywhere.

Further into this massive cave of stuff, we encountered Chris Riddell sitting next to someone I won’t mention, so he had to be hidden before we photographed Fergus Crane.

Fergus Crane

I have to admit the colour co-ordination between the books was good, but limits are there to be obeyed.

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Dog

Brilliant, but darker than Andy Mulligan’s other books, Dog is a heartwarming tale about a dog and his boy. Unlike some others, this one goes slightly more wrong when things go wrong, so I was fascinated to discover in the acknowledgements that Dog ’emerged after a more sombre novel had withered and died.’ I wonder what our usually so light and amusing Andy has been up to?

Andy Mulligan, Dog

Dog is the last of the litter, not claimed by anyone, on account of him looking so weird. Which is why he only finds his boy when he’s actually given away for free. Money is a problem in Tom’s broken family, and when more things break, that means the problem gets worse. They can’t afford the mishaps that go with a puppy. A happy puppy, now that he’s found his Tom, but still rather accident-prone and someone who thinks after the deed.

This book deals with bullying; both Tom’s at school, and to some extent Dog’s (he’s called Spider…) at the hands of a spider, and a cat. It’s lucky that all the animals can talk to each other. Or maybe not. Spider believes the best of nearly every animal he meets. Who even knew fleas could be this lovely?

Finding this kind of love should be an encouragement to many readers – and their dogs – that life can improve. Both Tom and Spider make mistakes, as do the adults around them, but most problems can be sorted. Maybe not McKinley’s, though. That was rather a nightmare. As was the moth’s treatment by the spider (not the dog Spider!). It’s life. Or more appropriately, death.

That’s funny

Much as I don’t enjoy the trend of famous comedians suddenly discovering that they need to write a children’s book, and doing very well and getting plenty of publisher attention for their efforts, it has caused one improvement to the state of things. Humour is now seen as something worth considering.

I have always liked humorous fiction. I have long felt there’s not enough of it, and also that it’s been so wrong to look down on it. As though humorous fiction is to children’s fiction as children’s fiction is to Booker prize type fiction; i.e. inferior.

It’s not. In fact, I’d suggest that just like writing for children requires more skill, and not less, to write good humour means you have to be really excellent at what you do. Not everyone can do it, or do it well, but when they can, the results can be spectacular.

A couple of weeks ago Adrian McKinty blogged about his twenty funniest novels and it’s an interesting list. I agree with his choice, about the ones I’ve read. I might have picked others, and it could be Adrian doesn’t find them funny, or that he’s not read the same books I have. These things happen.

I do agree with him about this, though: ‘It’s got be funny throughout too. One really funny scene as in Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim for example just doesn’t cut it. I’m also not allowing anything that people say is funny but which actually isn’t or perhaps used to be funny but isn’t anymore. I’ve read Gargantua and Pantagruel and they are not funny. Shakespeare’s comedies are not funny. Dickens is not funny.’

There’s a lot in life that’s not funny. But there’s also a lot that is. And yes, I hated Lucky Jim the first time I read it. Loved it on the second read. But Adrian is right; one funny scene isn’t enough. (Apart from The Vicar Of Nibbleswicke, I don’t reckon Roald Dahl is funny. Not in that way.)

I’ve not thought this through enough so I can give you my own list, but Terry Pratchett is obviously on it. Would be, I mean, if there was a list. And even if I stick to children’s books, I reckon Douglas Adams has to be on it. From there it is a quick jump to Eoin Colfer and from him to many other Irish authors (it must be the water?), and then jump again, to Frank Cottrell Boyce, Joan Aiken, Morris Gleitzman, Debi Gliori, Barry Hutchison, Hilary McKay, Andy Mulligan, Kate DiCamillo. And last but not least, my fairy blogmother Meg Rosoff. She doesn’t only kill goats.

My apologies to anyone not mentioned. I didn’t go about this scientifically, but merely wanted to mention that being funny is a good thing. A good read is good for your wellbeing, and a funny read is even better. Go on, find something to make you laugh! Preferably until you cry. The hankies are on me.

Good, better, best

2015 is a rare year. Its best book happens to be my third best book ever. So no contest as to who sits at the top of the Bookwitch Best of 2015 Books list. It’s

Sally Gardner with her The Door That Led to Where. Among many stunning books, this is the stunningest of them all. The Door That Led to Where is a novel that has it all, to my mind. Just getting it out to look at again as I write this, I feel all twitchy.

It is red. Perhaps that is a sign I can re-read it over Christmas? It’s been almost a year. (And on a different note, I was pleased to see Sally’s book finally reviewed in the Guardian this weekend. High time indeed. And I’m not the only one to think so.)

Sally Gardner, The Door That Led To Where

So, now that this obvious choice has been announced, I come to the rest. Eight books stand out as having been that little bit more ‘stand-outy’ than others. They are books that made me feel all warm inside as I read them. (Apart from Helen Grant’s book which made my blood go cold. In a good way.)

These warm ones are, in alphabetical order:

Stephen Davies, Blood & Ink

Helen Grant, Urban Legends

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Sally Nicholls, An Island of Our Own

Andrew Norriss, Jessica’s Ghost

Ellen Renner, Outcaste

Jenny Valentine, Fire Colour One

Elizabeth Wein, Black Dove White Raven

On the longlist were another 25 books, so the tip of the iceberg was pretty big. But the point of a best of list is that it is a litte bit short.

Thank you to all who wrote these, my bestest books of the year. You make a difference.

Liquidator

Liquidator is a rather unpleasant drink. Or rather, it is a drink that makes you want more and more, and that’s what’s unpleasant. In the first place it’s not good for you, and in the second place, forced dependency is bad. But we know about products like these, or at least we suspect they exist. But the nice, [extra]ordinary children in Andy Mulligan’s novel Liquidator want to believe the drink tastes so good because it is good. Or not bad. Not that they are being tricked into drinking bottle after bottle of something harmful.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Liquidator is the kind of book that makes you happy to be alive. Not because of the crooks who make and sell the drink, but because Andy has – yet again – written a story about children who are so resourceful, so brave and determined, that you sort of glow quietly as you read. He has a knack of shaping characters who are kind, and who aren’t always sniping at each other, or any of the other traits so commonly used to carry a plot forward.

I didn’t read Liquidator in one sitting. It deserved it, but things got in the way, and I minded dreadfully because I needed to read this book.

The teenagers in Liquidator are about to go off and do their work experience; some of them doing precisely the kind of job they wanted to, others doing the exact opposite. Vicky ends up making sandwiches for the company responsible for Liquidator, and that’s where she accidentally discovers that not everything is all right.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

Her friends are all over the place, doing work experience as a dog walker, cleaning sewers, doing surgery (yes, really), singing with a famous pop star, flower arranging, manning the phones at a 999 call centre, journalism and so on. Varied stuff, but as you read on, you realise these children will all be needed, and so will their respective ‘skills’ or workplaces. What always gets me with Andy’s children is their resourcefulness and the fact that they simply tackle what’s coming and get on with it, all the time being friendly to classmates they might not ordinarily choose to be friends with. War time spirit, perhaps.

The people who made Liquidator are not nice. Not nice at all. They will stop at nothing. Luckily the teenagers won’t stop either. And equally luckily, they are assisted by a small number of unusual adults, who also won’t stop for anything. Sometimes literally. You know that helpless feeling you get when stuck in a motorway jam, not moving an inch? Well here’s inspiration for you!

This is a true feelgood thriller, made possible by real teenagers (I believe Andy borrows characters from life), a serious crime, and solidarity. There’s not enough of that out there. The solidarity, I mean.

Work Experience

In the end I imagine it was only chair Jane Sandell and me who had read Andy Mulligan’s new novel Liquidator.* And that’s because it’s not out yet, but they did make an exception at the book festival and keen fans could buy a very early copy there on Sunday afternoon.

Andy Mulligan, Liquidator

I was relieved to hear that Jane had had to read the book in one sitting, as I’d had the same feeling myself and wanted to know I wasn’t wrong. (Not that I usually am, obviously, and as you know, Andy writes Very Good Books.)

It’s all about work experience when you’re at secondary school, and how things can go a little wrong. Andy reckons he was lucky to be made redundant in the 1980s, which meant he ended up travelling to India to work, and then to train as a teacher, before starting to write. The man harvests his characters in the schools where he works or has worked. With the right children in the right school you have a lot of fun.

He grew up in south London, had Enid Blyton values, went to a boys’ grammar school, and so on. His father wanted a ‘real boy’ but thanks to a great teacher who encouraged him, Andy always sat in his room writing stories.

Jane reminded us of his shot to fame as the author of the book that was kicked off the Blue Peter book award shortlist for p 65. That little spat gave him more publicity than winning the award would have done.

In case people in the audience didn’t know what work experience is, Andy explained it. I suspect we have all done it, in some form or other, but these days it’s harder than ever to get something worthwhile to do. As a teacher he always hopes that his pupils will come back having been allowed to land the plane or wield the scalpel in the operating theatre, being inspired in what they could do when they are older.

Liquidator took Andy two and a half years to write, and he said his lovely publisher David Fickling was very critical at times, and told Andy to ‘make him cry,’ meaning he hadn’t yet. What Andy wanted to achieve was real jeopardy for his characters, not the Blyton style risk that ten-year-olds want.

Ribblestrop is a mishmash of several schools (which for obvious reasons can’t be named); ones with troubled pupils, and because of them, troubled teachers too.

Andy Mulligan

Asked how he knew what a rubbish dump in the Philippines was like, he explained he’d taken his public school pupils on a school trip to one, so that they would know and understand life better. And he’s very shocked that pupils don’t ever read newspapers these days.

Andy writes books covering lots of genres, but can’t see himself writing fantasy, so had to say no to the child who suggested he put a nice dragon into Trash. You’re allowed to stretch reality and you can break a few rules. But no dragons.

The next book has already reached the first draft stage, and is about a dog that wants to be a cat. (Someone in the audience said she has one like that.) He sees himself only as a children’s books author, and has never dabbled with adult books. Andy is comfortable where he is, and especially so with age group 11 to 16.

*Patience! There will be a review here soon.

Two heads better than one?

You know that horrible child in your class, or the one who lives down the road? What if you suddenly found they got a lot closer to you? Like, you suddenly acquired a second head next to the one you already possess, and the annoying brat is there all the time, saying the ghastliest things to people, upsetting them.

This happens to Richard in The Boy With 2 Heads by Andy Mulligan. Richard’s a nice boy in Y6. Growing a second head was not exactly what he wanted or expected. Rikki is pretty awful, but is mature and has a lot of opinions.

There are doctors and psychologists involved, and while things start out as normal as it’s possible to be when you grow a second head, things soon get seriously weird.

Richard/Rikki loses friends, and the doctors move in closer. It actually gets very, very yucky for a while. (If I’d read this as a child, I’d have fainted, and then stopped reading… But I trusted Andy on this.)

It is funny. But this is also a horror story, as well as a normal one about growing up. I couldn’t work out if the second head was real, or would be explained away by Richard having dreamed it (some nightmare!), or if it was more a way of describing a mixed-up boy, and that he didn’t really have two heads.

I obviously can’t tell you which it was.

The story moves in the Ribblestrop direction after a while, and goes on to a fairly satisfactory ending. Richard/Rikkis’ classmates are almost as useful as the Ribblestrop orphans. Even the parents have their moments. They knew they’d need a boat. Of course they did.

Minus the gore, this is a lovely story about growing up and about friendship (or what’s left of it), with a bit of skulduggery in the health department. (Even Rikki sort of grew on me… If you know what I mean.) Close your eyes when it gets too graphic, and you’ll be absolutely fine!

Maybe.

(I decided against a cover image. It was too distressing.)